Psalm 122 invites us to rejoice or to be glad. Is there a difference? “I was glad when they said to me . . .” It is time to go, time to get moving, time to get up from here and go where God is, where God is experienced. “I was glad.” Most of those to whom you are preaching this week are glad to be there—or were glad at one time. Has coming to worship lost something? Is the gladness no longer there? Or is it buried under the burdens of living? We are laden with so many things it is hard to find that childlike gladness at the root of our coming to church. It is hard to find that gladness at what is coming to us. We’re afraid of what might be next, rather than rejoicing in the possibilities. We know too much to be glad.
Life used to be simpler, didn’t it? Or is that my imagination? There does seem to be a longing to go back to a simpler time, to a greater time—a time when everything made sense. But did such a time ever really exist? Oh, there were times when I thought I had it all figured out; when things were easier for me. And no doubt, there were times that were easier for you. But was it easier for everyone? I remember when I felt like everything was pretty simple, but I didn’t realize the anxiety that my parents were under to give me my simple life. And choices that I now question were made out of a fear of the moment and a desire to provide, and it made sense at the time.
Because our vision is limited. That seems to be our problem. We can’t see well. We can’t see what we need to see. We can’t see God at work in the world, and we are left to muddle through with the best we can. And our best often isn’t enough. What we see troubles us, limits us, divides us. What we see is what’s in front of our faces, the problems to solve and the roadblocks to navigate. But what if we could see better, see farther? See more? See the Word at work?
When we read Isaiah 2:1-5, we usually skip to the prophecy, and rightly so. It is what is so compelling, what is so radical. The prophecy is what drives us this Advent season. We lean into those words so completely, so hopefully. Even though we doubt the reality of the words. It’s a naive fantasy, we think, that there could be peace. All we see is war, conflict, and enemies. This makes a nice poster to hang in the kid’s room, a pipe dream for those who don’t know how the world works. A Christmas card, perhaps. But that’s about as far as we will go.
But back up a moment. Before we tackle this image, this hope, let’s take another look. In verse one, we are introduced to the prophet, “Isaiah, son of Amoz;” he has a family. And he works for the southern kingdom, Judah, and in its capital city, Jerusalem (which means, by the way, city of peace). Psalm 122 invites us to see Jerusalem as a city of peace, a city bound firmly together, a city of destination and fulfillment of the divine vision.
It seems almost ironic, doesn’t it? Jerusalem, the city of peace, in one of the most contentious areas on the planet. How many temples were built and destroyed? How many walls were built, lines drawn? How many times have the alleys echoed with soldiers’ booted feet and streets washed in blood? It’s not new, this conflict, this battleground in the city of peace. It’s been a place of struggle for centuries.
And yet. Read verse one again: “The Word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” Did you catch it that time? The Word that Isaiah saw. Saw. Not heard, but saw. Oh, I know: those prophets, what are you going to do? They are a bit . . . goofy. Living out there on the edge, shouting at passersby, running for their lives, hiding in caves, and calling down fire. Yeah, those things did happen to prophets. They didn’t have an easy life. Their main job was holding up mirrors, and no one likes looking too closely at themselves. So, no wonder they weren’t included at the best parties; no wonder they got bounced from the best clubs. No one wanted them around—for long anyway.
Except, this was Isaiah. Not the normal, run-of-the-mill prophet. Not the backwoods, wild-eyed, messy-haired, bad teeth prophet of the street corners, holding up cardboard signs scrawled with illegible doom. Not Isaiah; he was as corporate as prophets get. And as much an insider as any of them. He had an office down the hall from the king’s. He had a secretary who took his notes and typed them up for the press release. At least at first. At least before the whole house of cards fell.
Now, he didn’t spout a party line; he wasn’t a mouthpiece for the king. It’s kind of amazing that he was able to keep his job as long as he did, given that more often than not he had bad news to share, fingers to point, doom to pronounce. Maybe those in power considered him a lightning rod. As long as he was there giving warnings and calling them to a higher standard, then nothing bad would actually happen. It makes you wonder if anyone listened to him. Or whether they just shook his hand each week and said, “Nice sermon, Pastor Isaiah,” and went about their business. And he had to bite his tongue every now and then so as not to say, “Weren’t you listening?” It was a messy time, here at the beginning of the book. And then it got worse. When doom fell; when the enemies swept through; when the country crashed around their ears, and they were left in burning rubble or carried away to a foreign land where they were sure even God had abandoned them.
That all is yet to come for Isaiah here in chapter two. Now it is palace intrigue; it is ringing the bell to call the powers-that-be back to the Power-That-Is. Now it is warnings and worries and the day-to-day tedium of running a nation. And still, he manages to see something more. “The Word that Isaiah . . . saw.” What did he see? The mountain of the Lord’s house. An odd configuration, to be sure. But there it was rising above every other mountain, every other house. Not to lord it over, but to invite the world. The world. The whole world. Not to conquer, but to teach. To dispense wisdom. And what will be taught by God’s people? Peace. The end of war and that calamity that tears the very fabric of existence. The house of the Lord, the people of God, will teach peace. And farming, apparently. Well, if you aren’t going to kill them, you need to learn to feed them.
He could see all that. He could see the hope, the Word at work, even when the not-word was all around him. Even in the corridors of power that seemed hellbent on making things worse rather than better. Even as the people went merrily down the path that led them to destruction, Isaiah saw the Word. He saw another way, another hope. It seems to me that the call of Advent is not to proclaim doom, but to see hope, to see possibilities, even when no one else can see them. We are called to not give up on hope and to walk in the light of the Lord. Walk by the light we see in hope; move toward the kind of world God has in store; work for what makes for peace—even while we work to repair what is broken.
Maybe the gladness can return here as Advent begins to take over again. Maybe what we can remember is that we gather not for an empty ritual that doesn’t make any difference in the world or in our lives, not really. But what we go to the house of the Lord to do is to learn peace. And to learn how to live peace. And how to teach peace. We are being made into disciples – disciples who make disciples – of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. That is the Advent proclamation. We’re transforming the world. The whole world.
We are gathering in the Lord’s house to restore our mission, to restore our hearts, to restore our gladness. I was glad; we were glad; let’s be glad up to restoration.