We have considered this morning already that God might well be a God of surprises, and that we have to keep our wits about us.
Sometimes surprises by the way can come in the weirdest manner. Only last Saturday, we went to the supermarket in the morning and were regailed with a very tinny version of Hark the Herald Angels sing! My first thoughts were NO! This is too early.. followed closely by No! They are mullering one of my favourite Carols. Perhaps, however, our less than welcome surprise may have caused someone else to ask what the song is about and perhaps even to find out about the “new born King”.
And yet all too easily we fall into a trap of complacency and think we know all about advent and Christmas; assuming there is nothing more it can tell us, nothing more that can surprise us How often will you hear things like Christmas is all about family; it’s all about the children. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without……you can insert whatever you choose here.
Advent contains more than one idea, or thought. We are all familiar with preparation for Christ’s coming at Christmas, some of you will no doubt be familiar with a preparation for Christ’s coming at the fulfillment of time. There may be more still!
Let us look at Isaiah. Of immediate interest is that this particular picture of the Lord’s mountain is replicated in Micah 4:1-3. Did two prophets come up with the same storyline independently of each other? Did one prophet borrow from another. Mirror images of storylines is something that occurs quite a lot in Isaiah, so already we have scripture throwing us surprises and asking or encouraging us to re-evaluate our interpretation.
The Highest Mountain referred to is generally considered to be Mt Zion, but the thing is Mt Zion is not the highest mountain by any means, in fact it is highly unspectacular, and yet Isaiah and the psalmists insist on claiming that his unspectacular of hills is the Holy Mountain where the Temple of God will reside and that will become the centre of the world, with all nations coming towards it. So the Temple of God is suggested as coming to reside on something or perhaps someone who will look surprisingly ordinary. Can you see where this is heading? Jesus wasn’t a high ranking diplomat or High Priest, he was a young man born to a poor couple of peasant stock and yet on this unspectacular individual the Spirit of God fully resided and dwelt with such that Jesus was and is the Temple of God in human form, and it is through this Jesus that all the nations would come to God for the new age, a time after judgement when Heaven and Earth are to be recombined. It is true that Isaiah’s piece does actually also give a glimpse of a fulfilled age when swords are turned to ploughshares and a time of peach and growth and righteousness is achieved, the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven, this is a picture of a culmination of the new age, but look at how it suggests that the Kingdom is going to be different, that the world flock to a focus point different to what you would expect, the new focus would not be of power and might, it would be something else.
Our Gospel reading paints a more realistic version in some respects, Matthew has Jesus filling in the blanks so to speak of how hard it is going to be for the work to be done. Jesus focus in Matthew’s apocalypse, is like most works of an apocalyptic nature on the near future, he talks of an immediacy, of an urgency in a coming of Judgement, and of increased violence and tribulation for those who follow the way. A word of warning, we are not meant to read either piece literally, they are deep pieces of scripture with multiple layers of meaning. I sometimes wish the Bible came with a large flashing light that flashed loudly whenever we jump to conclusions in our interpretations. Jesus it seems is actually talking about a totally different advent, an advent of horror and violence that will shake Jerusalem to its foundations. There is good reason to consider this is in part relating to the events of the coming days, when judgement is served on Evil at Calvary.
I would like to make an argument that far from these two pieces of scripture talking solely about the end times, a suggestion that they both are, being often made, that alternatively they also speak directly towards a judgement conducted in and through Jesus, the cross itself, the beginning of which we prepare to celebrate at Christmas.
That’s crazy I hear you say. Advent is about preparation for Christmas, or the end times; what does this have to do with the Cross. Jesus’ life was about announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God, and everything he said and did suggested that this was being done in and through him, it led him inexorably up against the Roman Empire, and to him being killed in the cruellest way imaginable. And yet, this very event was the culmination of a life that according to scripture was hailed by skies full of a heavenly host and let’s face it some very odd phenomena. Advent it seems points to the beginning of something that is very great, a time when the world will change, when God arrives in human form.
Advent, then can mean many things. Some will look to Christ’s birth, others may see the Cross, for others again the second coming. I am not sure one can be certain that it is one or the other, however I am clear that it is terribly important that we continue to ask questions about Scripture. If we don’t we sell ourselves and our understanding of God short, and we then run off on a mission that is our own making rather than God’s.
To delve deeper that what we see on the surface of scripture is absolutely necessary, to battle with scripture, to seek meanings even when we know we can never really get to the full meaning. Why, because if we don’t do this, we fail in what God calls us to do.
Perhaps in this period of Advent, we will seek time to think deeper and reflect on what Christmas may mean, what Easter may mean, Who Jesus was and what he meant to others in the 1st Century and what he means to us now, and on to the question of what he is calling us to do now as disciples. Who knows? You may just be in for a surprise
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit