This Sunday, we began the new Church year. Fr Bosco Peters presided and preached at the 10am Mass. In his sermon, he especially focused on the reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 2:1-5).
Read on for the sermon and a video of the service.
Happy New Year!
Today begins a new Church Year, and Scripture’s first words to the church in Advent has the curtain rises, Isaiah walks into our midst and starts to sing וְהָיָה בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים נָכוֹן יִֽהְיֶה הַר בֵּית־יְהוָה He is singing of a mountain; he is singing of all the nations streaming to it; and making peace with each other. And as our reading continued we heard the ringing sound of hammers striking metal, the sounds of swords and spears being beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks.
If you go to New York to the United Nations headquarters and to the North Garden, you’ll find a famous statue given by the Soviet Union in 1959 to the United Nations. The bronze statue has a man holding a hammer in his right hand above his head and a sword in his left and he is beating the sword into a ploughshare – a ploughshare is the sharpest part of a plough – the cutting edge that cuts into the earth and turns the soil over.
And with this statue are today’s words:
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah lived about 28 centuries ago when the northern kingdom of Israel – what we might think of as Galilee and Samaria – that had been invaded and basically destroyed by the Assyrian Army.
Things looked pretty hopeless from Jerusalem – the capital not many kilometres further south. But Isaiah is not going to give into this hopelessness, he is not going to despair. And he is going to try and spread hope and a positive attitude to those despairing around him.
He is looking forward positively to the future.
When we look at the news nowadays, hope for the future is usually the last thing that springs to our minds – we can be forgiven for not believing Isaiah. We can easily join another important Advent figure, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and saying, “How can this be?!” How can this mess – climate change; war; and so on – how can it be that this will be better as you promise?
Advent is the promise of a unimaginable better future. And Advent is a journey, a pilgrimage in the direction of that promised better future.
The irony and boldness of Isaiah’s prophecy is that he is describing a the small hill overlooking the city of David – it’s actually about 60 meters lower than the Mount of Olives. On this was the temple of Solomon – not the grand one that was there in Jesus’ day that I’ve described before, but a much smaller, simpler construction.
In days to come – this little hill, says Isaiah - 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."
This morning, after listening to Isaiah, we sang Psalm 122. I spoke last Sunday about Jesus going up to Jerusalem, leading the crowds on their pilgrimage. This was the psalm they were singing. Psalm 122 is the psalm Jesus was singing as they were coming down from the Mount of Olives, into the Kidron valley, and up to Mount Zion.
When we sing the psalms, Jesus is singing them with us. Jesus is singing them in us. We are singing them in Jesus.
The word advent means looking forward to an important arrival. People read this passage from Isaiah and see in it waiting, looking forward to the arrival of God at Christmas time in the birth of Jesus, in the incarnation. God became as we humans are so that we, we humans might become as God is.
There was a looking forward – in the centuries before Christ; and now Advent is the period looking forward to celebrating that birth at Christmas time. We are waiting, looking forward to the arrival of God, of peace, of beating swords into ploughshares, of meaning, of joy, of better times - through the birth of Jesus. We, you and I, each one of us, and all of us together, are on a pilgrimage to becoming as God is. Because God became as we are so that we might become as God is.
We live this pilgrimage in our ordinary, every-day lives, because for us, for us who follow Jesus on our pilgrimage, who follow Jesus on his pilgrimage, for us, our God is a down-to-earth God. We are working in our field, an ordinary ever-day activity – one is taken, one is left. We are baking in the kitchen, the ordinary activity of grinding flour – one is taken, one is left.
Pay no attention to the American fundamentalist heresy that created a so-called “rapture” in the 19th century. The image Jesus is using is probably the exact opposite of their nonsense where they want to be among the ones taken.
But those taken are like the ones swept away in the flood; those taken are carried off by the Roman secret police, like a death squad.
In any case, the Jesus we follow on his pilgrimage is no meek and mild no crying he makes baby Jesus –- this is Jesus the thief who comes unexpectedly. What might Jesus steal from us this Advent as we walk with our heavy load on our Advent pilgrimage. How might Jesus, the thief who comes at night, how might he lighten our load?
For many people, this time of year is a delight – anticipation of family get-togethers, presents, work parties, summer holidays; but for many people this time of year can be one of dread – dysfunctional family get-togethers, financial stress, loneliness, grief.
If you are going through hard times; whenevery you are going through hard times – terrible times maybe – hold onto this hope, this promise – this is YOUR Advent time – this is your looking forward to a more positive future. The important arrival of better times WILL come.
And if you know someone is going through hard times – terrible times – you be that person of hope for them. You can be the Isaiah in their lives promising them, giving them hope, helping them look forward positively to the future. You can be the unexpected presence of Jesus in their lives, lightening their load – we can grow more and more to become as God is, the God who is love.
As we are nourished at today’s meal here, more and more we can become what we eat. We become more as God is who became what we are. Today, we are nourished here to set out on our Advent pilgrimage.