Devotions for Advent: Week 1, Monday

 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and 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.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they 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 anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Isaiah 2:1-5

 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
Matthew 8:5-13

The hope of Advent is the hope of all nations. Yet in so many ways and places the Scripture makes plain that this hope is not embraced by all nations. What is a faint whisper in Isaiah 2 is unmistakable in Matthew 8.

The hope of Advent is nothing less than God dwelling on earth. It is not too much to say that this is the hope of the Old Testament: I will be their God and they will be my people.[1] No, this is the hope of the New Testament as well.[2] It is the conclusion to which the entire history of redemption is moving toward: Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.[3]

But this word that is “concerning” Judah and Jerusalem in Isaiah in Matthew is shown to be the word against Israel. All nations will flow into Jerusalem, but it is not for the sake of the city itself or for the Jews who live there: it is for the Lord, God, his law, his word. What sanctifies the place is the presence of the Lord. The prophet concludes by pleading with his people to be a part of this great throng of nations: O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD. In his understated way he is telling the people that geographical proximity or simple ethnicity is no guarantee of inheritance. There must be a decision. A person must will to walk in the Lord’s light.

The great hindrance to this is pride. The centurion was not proud. His military life had taught him at least one thing: chain of command. The centurion knew that ultimate power of life and death existed and that it did not exist in him. He was not the final arbiter of life and death. The centurion recognized and yielded to the authority of the Lord. This soldier of Rome was a citizen of the kingdom. On the other hand, the “sons of the kingdom” would have no part in it.

The coming kingdom is a kingdom of peace for it is ruled by the Prince of peace. When peace is achieved there is invariably a humbling that accompanies it. The victor subdues his foes. The defeated give up their weaponry. The Jews were not willing to do this. They were not willing to give up their positions of respect and power; their traditions of legalism and enslavement.

May it never be so in my heart. May it never be so in the church. The hope we look for is the one we live in. May Christ the mighty victor subdue all his foes. May he destroy all the weapons I form against him.

 

Batter my heart, three-person’d God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

 John Donne, Holy Sonnet XIV


[1] Ezek. 37:27; cf. Jeremiah 24:7; 31:33; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 37:23; Zechariah 8:8

[2] 2 Corinthians 6:16; Hebrews 8:10

[3] Rev. 21:3

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