The First Sunday of Advent November 29, 2009
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
73, 606, 56, 465
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; 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 and let us walk in the light of the Lord.
In the name of Jesus, who brightens both our present and our eternal future, dear fellow Christians:
What would happen if the President issued a proclamation tomorrow stating that in order to reduce our carbon footprint and conserve oil, all Christmas lights would be banned? You could put up a tree in the living room and hang ornaments on it, but it would have to stay dark. You could set up lawn decorations, but forget about the icicle lights on the eaves and the illuminated wreath on the front door. It just wouldn’t seem right, would it? I imagine there would be millions of upset citizens swamping the White House switchboard and calling for an immediate repeal of the law.
We like lights. Christmas tree lights cast a warm, inviting glow, and give our homes a magical look. Outdoor lighting up and down the street helps us forget worries for a time, and lifts our spirits on cold wintry nights. It just wouldn’t seem like Christmas without lights.
There is another kind of light which does more than make it seem like Christmas. Without this light there would be no Christmas! Isaiah in our text calls attention to it and invites: “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”
This light is not the soft twinkling light given off by hundreds of tiny electric bulbs strung together on a tree. It is a beacon shining from the mountain of the Lord’s house. The Old Testament Jews would have thought immediately of Solomon’s magnificent temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. For 400 years it stood in all its gleaming golden glory. People would travel to it from every corner of the kingdom and eagerly watch for the first glimpse of it off in the distance. It was the spiritual heart of Israel for in the Most Holy Place the Lord promised to dwell among His people. At the temple daily sacrifices were offered. Innocent victims were slaughtered, picturing the sacrifice of the Lamb of God to come.
But bigger and brighter things were on the way. Isaiah saw the Word of God telling him what would happen in the latter days. It would be astonishing! The mountain of the Lord’s house would become higher than any other mountain on earth and the light shining from it would be brighter than any other light. God was not speaking of a physical transformation which would make the Jerusalem temple and the small limestone hill on which it was built a huge mountain. Rather, it is a reference to the highest and brightest point in the world’s history. The prophet was looking ahead to the time when God Himself would come to earth and shine out with the light of His divine love. The latter days is the time between Jesus’ first coming as Savior and His second coming as Judge of all.
Mount Zion is not the actual city of Jerusalem in the Middle East, but the city or congregation of all believers—the Holy Christian Church. We read in Hebrews: “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched…But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:18, 22-24 NIV).
Let’s walk in the light. Jesus promises: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The darkness of sin is all around us. By nature we ourselves are dark and dead in sin. Left to ourselves we could only stumble blindly through life toward eternal punishment in Hell. But in His love, “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6 NIV). The light shining from Mount Zion is a mega-watt spotlight aimed at the cross where Jesus suffered and paid for all of our sins with His own blood.
Let’s walk in that light. Stay close to it during this season, for it alone has the power to cut through the darkness around us and in us. Don’t let all the extra demands on your time stop you from looking to the Lord’s light for guidance and encouragement. Spend precious time in the light through worship opportunities and personal devotion. What would the season or our lives be without the light?
Light has a way of drawing people in. See a lighted Christmas tree and you just have to get closer. The light beaming from Mount Zion shines out into the whole world and draws people in from everywhere. It is not just for Jews or middle class Americans. It is also for the Muslim gas station owner down the street, the homeless downtown, the Arabs, and the Pakistanis. “All nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.’” [vv.2bf]
Picture how all the highways and streets leading to a large stadium fill up with bumper-to-bumper traffic before a big game. Expand that to a view of people streaming in from every corner of the earth to Mount Zion to receive all the blessings of salvation free of charge through faith in Christ. It began at Pentecost and continues still today. Through the proclamation of the Gospel Christ’s light shines far brighter than any man-made light.
The darkness is oppressive. There are wars and terrorism, sickness and death. People harbor hatred toward others and are self-centered instead of self-giving. In addition, there is the gnawing dread in the pit of the stomach that there must be a judgment or accounting at some point in the future. It all blankets the world like an ominous black storm cloud. “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples” (Isaiah 60:2 NIV).
The only light the world offers is dim and ineffective. Some hope that somehow everything will work out fine, even though they have no idea how it is possible. Some believe that they can take charge and be the masters of their own destiny. Others hope that if they try to be good, God will call it good enough. All of that is like counting on a flickering flashlight which dies just when you need it most. It is not surprising then that especially during the holidays many become depressed and try to escape with drugs or alcohol.
The light from Mount Zion, however, pierces the blackest darkness. Jesus’ forgiveness covers the greatest sins. His grace is there to help in the worst situations. The life He gives extends through this earthly existence all the way into eternity.
As people are drawn to the light of Mount Zion, they themselves become lights. We not only walk in the light, we are to draw others into it. Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden…Let your light shine before men” (Matthew 5:14, 16).
How are we shining? We send missionaries to Africa and India. As a congregation we are working to reach out to those in our community who are not now walking in the Savior’s light. And we have even more opportunities as individuals to shine out. Let your light shine by keeping your priorities in order. Let your children and friends see by how you manage your time that Jesus is more important than parties, games, and work bonuses. Share the message of a Savior in your cards and conversations. Invite everyone you can to come to Mount Zion and see Jesus as the light of the world.
Christmas lights can create a peaceful mood, but it is really just a temporary illusion. The underlying restlessness still remains. At this time of year people dream of “peace on earth,” and imagine a world without war or conflicts of any kind. When it doesn’t happen, they wonder why. The light from Mount Zion does bring peace, but it is not the outward, earthly type the world envisions. The Savior’s peace is a deeper, permanent one. It works from the inside out. It is the perfect peace between God and man which Jesus earned on the cross and which is applied to our hearts by faith. Martin Luther wrote: “The way of peace is simply to rely, without merits, no, despite the greatest demerits, on the mercy of the Lord, just as the psalm bids us do: ‘Cast your burden on the Lord.’”
All is well between us and God. We love Him because He first loved us. On Mount Zion there is no need for swords or spears or training for battle, because the war has already been won by Jesus. Despite all the differences among the nations who flow into the Holy Christian Church there is perfect harmony since we are all one body in Christ.
Our lives are completely transformed by the gift of peace. Having received the peace of God, we desire to live in peace toward everyone. Instead of holding grudges and seeking revenge, we want to practice forgiveness. Instead of thinking the worst about others, Christ’s peace moves us to take the words and actions of others in the best way possible. Rather than running down someone’s reputation, we want to stand up for them. Let’s walk in the light by putting peace into action wherever we may be.
This is the season for lights. Over the next few weeks more and more trees will be lit, and homes will sparkle with lights of all shapes and sizes. It’s a regular cycle that has been repeated for generations.
The light from Mount Zion, however, is not like that. It began with the start of the latter days ushered in with Jesus’ first coming. It is shining brightly now, but those days are quickly coming to an end. There is no time to wait, hesitate, or avoid it, because when the latter days end, there will be no second chance. Time will flow into eternity, separated only by the Lord’s return in judgment.
Now is the time. Now is the time to come to the light of the mountain of the Lord’s house. Now is the time to shine that light into the lives of those whom we know and meet. Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! Amen.
O’er the distant mountains breaking
Comes the redd’ning dawn of day.
Rise, my soul, from sleep awaking;
Rise and sing and watch and pray.
‘Tis thy Savior, ‘Tis thy Savior,
On His bright returning way. (TLH 606:1)
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.