Psalm 122 (call to worship)
Matthew 24:36-44 (children)
Isaiah 2:1-5 (message)
Romans 13:11-14 (benediction)
Our theme this year for Advent is “As the Prophet Foretold”, from the traditional readings in Isaiah. Before we go on, we need to address what Advent is, and what prophecy is (in the biblical tradition). First, prophecy. Walter Brueggemann, one of the premier biblical scholars today, says that we need to read Isaiah with a “bi-focal vision” (1998, Isaiah 1-39, 12) on the “near history” and the “far history”. For Brueggemann, that refers to the “near history” of judgment on Jerusalem and the “far history” of anticipated restoration. Chapter 1 of Isaiah is full of judgment. These opening verses of chapter 2 look to restoration, before diving back into judgment. The main character in this history is NOT Israel, but God. God brings judgment and God restores.
Jacques Ellul, one of my favorite theologians, describes the vocation of the church as prophet: “to understand and dominate the present from the point of view of the future, as an historian understands and dominates the past from the point of view of the present” (The Presence of the Kingdom). When Isaiah says, “Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!” (2:5), Isaiah is inviting God’s people to live in light of God’s future. The faithlessness of Jerusalem in the text is tied to repeated compromises made in the present, compromises that make no sense at all in view of God’s future, though they look pretty here and now.
Second, Advent. The word itself is rooted in Latin for “arrival” or “coming”. The parallel Greek term, in the New Testament, is “parousia”, and this term has a bit broader meaning – not only “coming” but “presence” (as opposed to “absence”). In the non-Christian culture of the New Testament era, “parousia” had two main uses. First, for the “mysterious presence of a god ... particularly ... in healing”. Second, “when a king or emperor visits a colony” (N. T. Wright, 2008, Surprised by Hope, 128-129).