Ready and Waiting

‘Let us walk in the light of the Lord’ (Isaiah 2:5)

During this Advent season all four Old Testament readings are drawn from the prophet Isaiah and all four gospel readings come from Matthew. This is unique to Lectionary A and offers an opportunity on each Sunday to explore the interplay between the two readings. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, foretold by Isaiah and others, in whom God’s purpose culminates.

Isaiah proclaims a day when “the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established . . . and all nations shall flow to it” (2:2). Many people shall come to that mountain so that the Lord “may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (2:3). This is not presented merely as a hope or a dream, but with a voice of certainty.

When that day comes, the peoples “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” (2:4). However often we sing “God bless America,” that mountain seems to be barely visible over the edge of the distant horizon. One cannot help but wonder if we as a nation, now engaged in a so-called pre-emptive war

are even moving in that direction. The 24th chapter of Matthew ‘s gospel is Jesus’ response to this question from his disciples: “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (24:3). Like Isaiah, the disciples believe that a new age will come. Jesus paints a grim picture of the signs: “the Sun will be darkened … the stars will fall from the heaven” (24:9).

The passage for this Sunday speaks directly to the first part of the disciples’ question: “When will this be?” The answer is simple but troubling: “But of that clay and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (24:36). “Watch therefore, for you do not know on what clay your Lord is coming” (42). “[F]or the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (44).

What Isaiah and Matthew share in common is the firm conviction that such a day of the Lord’s judgment will come. The faithful are challenged “to walk in [the Lord’s] paths ” and to be ready. One cannot study for the final exam or practice for the big game. The Lord wants to “teach us his ways,” but this is only possible if we are prepared to be among those ready to learn.

Look It Up

Isaiah 2:4 (swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks) is and often quoted biblical passage. For those who prefer beating plowshares into swords and pruning hooks into spears, there is always Joel 3:10.

Think About It

If somehow we were told in a definitive and authoritative way exactly when the Son of Man would come “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30), what difference would it make?


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