First Sunday of Advent: The Mountain
Old Testament: Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalter: Psalm 122
Epistle: Romans 13:11-14
Gospel: Matthew 24:36-44
The image of the mountain towered in Judah's collective memory. Isaiah and his compatriots vividly recalled a time when God was as close as breathing. God had summoned the people to rendezvous at the holy mountain of Sinai, and there Almighty God had come down and met with the people. Those were the days—days when God was so real, the issues were so clear, the convictions and commitments so sincere! It's like us looking back on the year we made confession of faith; or the time God spared the life of someone close to us; or the time we got a second chance and were bathed in gratitude. Those are the moments that help us interpret all other moments in the journey.
It was in Israel's adolescence that God seemed so real and so close. God came near and gave the gracious Law and the Torah. God created a holy community bound by the covenant and sealed in the "Ten Words" from Sinai's heights. Others might grasp and grope to seek the light, but Israel's God had drawn near and shined the flashlight of the Law from Mount Sinai. Because of these events, the mountain was forever fixed in Israel's memory as the moment of meaning, the moment of beginning.
Isaiah meditated on the image of the mountain and realized that Sinai's mountain was intimately related to Mount Zion, on which the Jerusalem temple stood. By Isaiah's time, Israel's youth had been exchanged for adulthood, and memories of God's unique love affair with the people were blurry. Sinai's certainties had been replaced by Zion's ambiguities. Ritual had begun to replace righteousness, and holiness was defined by rites of purification, ramifications of diet, and regulation of behavior. The shell remained, but the soul was eclipsed.
Yet Isaiah was not ready to give up. As the prophet peered forward, he felt in his bones that the best days for Mount Zion and its temple were yet to come. Isaiah deeply believed that the mountain of God was desperately needed as a place of holy living (the Law); as a place of holy believing (2:3); as a place of universal shalom (2:4).
One day, or as Isaiah says it, "in the last days," the mountain of the Lord's house will be established. What was local will become universal, ("all nations will stream to it.") What was holy talk will become a holy walk ("he will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.") What was only peace of heart and mind will now become a less violent world, with the possibility of global shalom. ("They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.")
The holy-mountain image teases the prophetic imagination of Isaiah as he stretches forward into tomorrow and concludes his oracle: "Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD" (Isa. 2:5).
The imagery of the mountain continues beyond what the prophet could envision:
Now when he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples [the church] came to him, and he began to teach them, saying "Blessed are the poor in spirit..."
What Isaiah could only stutter, Jesus of Nazareth would embody. The "sermon on the mount" was not as important as the preacher on the mount. The mount was now occupied not by another religion, another corpus of doctrine, or another guru, but by God's stand-in, Jesus the Jew. Isaiah could only vaguely promise, "in the days to come," but in Jesus the day dawned.
"Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus," arr. Marie Pooler, unison plus 2-part, Enthens
"Dona Nobis Pacem," R. Vaughan Williams
"O! for a Closer Walk with God," Foster
"Prepare the Way Before Him," Burck
"The People that Walked in Darkness" (Bass Solo)/ "Their Sound Is Gone Out into All Lands," Handel
[from Messiah (Schirmer)]
"Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying," Tunder
"Walk in the Light of His Love," Wagner
(Note: Many other suggestions for congregational and choral music based on the Scripture lessons for this Sunday are included on page 30.)
For the Children
Prepare a road sign: TEMPLE MOUNTAIN—STRAIGHT AHEAD
Show the group the sign. Then invite the children to imagine that they are traveling with you on a highway toward a beautiful place called Temple Mountain. As you travel the highway, ask the students to picture Temple Mountain in their minds.
Explain that on Temple Mountain the air is free of pollution; the water is fresh and clean; the streets and roads are spotless, free of litter. You can walk the streets of Temple Mountain without being afraid. There are no guns there, no crime, no sadness.
Invite the children to help you describe this perfect place where everyone shows love. Would there be fights on the playground? Would people be cruel to animals or to each other? Would anyone go hungry? Would there be anyone with no home, with no one to care for them? Would police be necessary? Wonder together about what this place might be like.
Explain that in the passage for today the prophet Isaiah is looking forward to a time when the King of heaven— Jesus—will rule the earth. He will bring peace and happiness to people of all nations. And Temple Mountain will become the new home of all who love this wonderful King. Also explain that we can start traveling toward Temple Mountain right now. How? By obeying God and showing love to each other.
HOW - TO
We've heard several positive comments about last years' Advent banners and bulletin cover ideas. It's satisfying to hear that people are using these ideas and adapting them to their particular worship situation.
Along with the positive comments came heroic stories of late-night Velcro hunts (where can you find 30 yards of the stuff at 2 A.M.?) and the amazing work of lay-engineers who actually figured out how to safely hang the banners each week. For those folks, this years' design is simpler to construct and hang—and just as effective.
The banners illustrated on the following pages are meant to be added to one another throughout advent. The last two—one for Christmas Eve/Day and the other for the Sunday following Christmas- are to be hung separately, either alongside or in place of the Advent banners.
To make hanging easy, attach wide loops to the top and bottom of each banner. When you are ready to hang the next banner, simply insert a wooden dowel through the interlocking loops.
Bulletin covers illustrated with the banner art are also supplied, and are ready for photocopying. They are designed to be centered on one half of an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper.
Banners designed from ideas supplied by Janet and Paul Sisko.