Old Testament Lectionary

For those who want a change from the Gospel

Advent 1 – Isaiah 2:1-5

I don’t know whether my readers are great fans of Myers-Briggs stuff, but I certainly am. For those who haven’t come across it, it’s a way of classifying different personality types according to how they prefer to think and act. I can remember going on a retreat in Bristol where we were ‘done’ and then taught the implications of what we had discovered in a variety of areas, including spirituality, marriage and relationships, work, preaching and so on. It was one of the most helpful experiences of my life, but the culmination was when we were put into groups of people with exactly the same personality type and asked two questions: What would you most like to say to the world, and what would you most like to hear the world saying to you? It took us all of 10 seconds to come up with our answers: ‘We know what we’re doing: please trust us!’ and ‘You were right all along!’ Any other INTPs reading this might resonate with these answers.

Isaiah 2 begins with people saying to the Jews, and to their God, ‘You were right all along’. Isaiah was writing at a time of great uncertainty, when human leaders had failed them and evil nations had captured the people of the Northern kingdom in war, and were now encroaching on the Southern territory. He looked beyond the present troubles to an age when those who had been hostile to Yahweh and his people would finally come to recognise and acknowledge his lordship and his wisdom. Rather than doing all they could to harm Judah, they would come streaming to the Temple, the place where God was available, desperately seeking his wisdom. As they learnt from him, disputes would be settled and war would be destroyed. Therefore, says the prophet, we as God’s people have the responsibility of learning from him, so that we can be teachers of his ways to the nations.

This motif is one which occurs a few times in the OT, and obviously it is one which I love. But it also makes me question the degree to which God’s people today are seen as possessing the wisdom needed to live life well and harmoniously. Of course I believe that to be true. If everyone lived generously, and gave away anything they didn’t really need, the world would be a much more equitable place, with much less poverty. If everyone followed biblical sexual ethics, imagine the difference in the world of health. No STIs, no teenage pregnancies, no sexual violence, many fewer divorces … the list goes on. If people really did forgive those who had hurt them, feuding and vendettas, and the ensuing violence, would simply not exist. Humour me for a moment: if these were more than just pipe dreams, wouldn’t the world be so much better to live in? Christians can of course see all this very clearly, but the world thinks we are just mad, and dreaming up such a cloud-cuckoo land is just not realistic. In any case, where would be the fun in that? Religion of any sort only serves to restrict my freedom to do just what I want to do, and stuff everyone else. It’s just laughable.

Into a world like that comes Advent, a season when Christians celebrate the fact that far from being a silly dream, this kind of world is not just possible, but actually certain. Advent celebrates the streaming of the nations to God to submit to and to learn from his wisdom. It celebrates the day when all those who have thought themselves much wiser than the Christian tradition will come to say ‘You were right all along!’ And of course it reminds us that even at that point there will still be others who refuse to submit and learn, and their stupidity will be exposed for all to see.

So how do we live through this season? It’s a paradoxical time, with different motifs held in tension. We prepare for Jesus’ coming as a baby into our world, but we also look beyond that to his return in triumph. We celebrate the ultimate salvation of his people from the evils of this world, but we also are made sharply aware of the theme of judgement. Those who have not already come to the judgement-seat and submitted to Christ in this life will have to do so after this life has ended, and tragically many who have rejected Christ will reject him once and for all. So our task is to prepare for all of these events, but, according to Isaiah, first and foremost to ‘walk in the light of the Lord’ in the context of a dark and lost world.

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