Sometimes Advent comes like an invitation. This year Advent arrives as a discipline that must be obeyed. I strike the match and light the first candle. “Hope!” it insists.
I turn to Isaiah, the prophet who most challenges and comforts me. I listen to what he says. He tells of a crumbling city. The weight of injustice, not glory, presses upon Jerusalem. He looks around and sees institutions breaking down, the economy gripped by rampant corruption and compassion for neighbors waning. He knows, as prophets often do. This is just the beginning of an end.
Amid the collapsing cityscape he closes his eyes and dares to hum an old song. The tune carries words about God’s city – the Lord’s house on the highest mountain drawing all people upstream, against the tide of hostility and hate. The people ride the river to learn new ways taught only by the God of Jacob. As Isaiah sings the old song, perhaps he imagines a future day when people will hunger for shalom.
The song becomes a dream as he sings of swords melted into plowshares, spears beaten into pruning hooks. All the tools of violence at last disarmed. Those who once fought each other instead harvesting and feasting at a common table – true shalom imagined. He bellows louder still about nations putting down their swords and closing the war colleges.
Who needs to learn war anymore? Who needs to remember the battles? Why not allow those details to fade into a hallowed amnesia? The Victor will rewrite the history of war and the new lessons of shalom in the redeemed city. “Hope!” the song insists.
Isaiah opens his eyes. The city is still riddled with rumors of war. The break down is happening in real time around him. He knows hope is thin. He knows hardship predates the hope. The coming destruction of Jerusalem remains on the distant horizon, he’s not disillusioned about reality. But for a moment he looks beyond the current crisis. “Hope!” he insists.
Maybe the discipline of Advent this year is entertaining hope – just for a moment. Maybe it’s closing your eyes, singing the ancient song and dreaming of a world where all are safe, all are valued, and all are welcome in the Lord’s house. Then – open your eyes and see the work to be done.
Honestly, I don’t feel hopeful right now. I cannot seem to look away from the present train wreck. But if the prophet can, maybe I can, too.
“Hope!” Advent insists.