A Universal Work

First in the Advent/Christmas series, “What Has God Wrought?”

Isaiah 2:1-5 (NRSV)

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
   the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
   and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
   Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
   to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
   and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
   and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
   and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
   and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob,
   come, let us walk
   in the light of the Lord!

For thousands of years, God has been visibly at work to save us from sin and restore us to holiness. During this Advent season, we’re going to use prophecies from Isaiah to understand that work a little better.

To me, the key word in today’s text is Zion. Until we grasp Zion in full, we cannot see the magnitude of what God promised through this great prophet.

At its simplest, Zion might be seen as a synonym for Jerusalem, the center of worship and governance in ancient Israel. There is nothing simple about the concept of Zion, however. When we say “Zion,” we capture all the promise and potential of God’s work.

Somehow, Zion is raised high. Somehow, Zion becomes a place of instruction for all the world, a means for the word of the Lord to spread globally. Somehow, that word is so powerful that even war is brought to an end.

It is a beautiful idea, isn’t it? God’s truth becomes so clear that people of all cultures stream to it. It is forced on no one; people simply are drawn to it, look at each other and say, “Come, let us go.” Such truth would have to be intensely attractive, it would seem, if it were to reach people from all cultures, languages and places.

From a human, modern perspective, Zion in its fullest frankly can also seem impossible. Division is our norm; world peace has never seemed remotely possible.

Even modern-day Jerusalem is divided. The temple mount that once was the center of worship for the Jews is now occupied by a Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock. If there is no unity in Jerusalem, how can we trust Isaiah’s words? How can such a divided place be the basis of Zion and bring unity to all of creation?

To answer these questions, it helps to understand the deeply symbolic nature of Zion, and to remember God works in very surprising ways. Despite the seeming impossibility of it all, we Christians continue to share this vision that dates back more than 700 years before Christ. We share it because we know that Jesus Christ shared it, taught it, and ultimately lived it. He showed us the path toward what seems impossible.

Keeping the idea of Zion in mind, look at some of the stories of Jesus and how he ministered. For example, whenever Jesus went to a mountain, it was as if he created around him a bubble of holiness, a place freed from worldly division, set apart even from the ongoing effects of sin. We know the people were drawn to him to learn; this is obvious in Matthew 5-7, the account of the Sermon on the Mount.

More happened at these mountain gatherings, too. The sick were healed. Ultimately, in Matthew 15, the hungry were fed. The miracle was broader than the feeding of the 4,000 men and their families, however. On that mountain, in the presence of God’s pure word, there was no room for pain or hunger of any kind.

Our great Christian hope is simple, and fully aligned with Isaiah’s vision. As God’s word spreads—as person after person and nation after nation seeks God’s word—these mountain miracles of teaching and healing continue. Jesus lived among us to affirm the promise of Zion.

Yes, complete fulfillment of the promise remains to be seen. There is some waiting involved. It is expectant, active waiting, like a mother who knows a child will arrive any day. Preparations are made. People begin to live as if the great change has already happened.

In contemplating Zion, I will first go this far: Christ is Zion, the fulfillment of that great promise made centuries before his birth. On the cross, he was lifted so high that the world continues to see him. In his death he exposed a truth about God’s love that continues to attract people of all kinds from all points around the globe.

And I will go further: In his resurrection and ascension, Christ resumed his place as part of the Godhead, but God also continues to reside in us through the Holy Spirit. The universal church also is Zion, meaning we as its members are already citizens of a timeless, holy realm.

Do you live as such? Do you understand God’s truth as revealed in Scripture? Do you carry God’s word to those who need it? Do you do all that is humanly possible to let God’s truth create those bubbles of holiness and unity around you?

Don’t wait for Zion. Be Zion, live Zion, until the day we find ourselves visibly in Zion. Oh house of Christ, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

The featured image is “The Prophet Isaiah,” Lorenzo Monaco (circa 1370–circa 1425) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


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