Advent 1 Year A – Stewardship with loving joyful service
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
In the small portion we read from Isaiah we have an amazing vision of the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God as we know it. The people of Israel and Jerusalem itself would be the people and the place that the nations would hear the word of God. They would be so inspired by the word of God they would transform their weapons of war into implements for producing food. However, if we had started reading in chapter 1 we would have heard Isaiah’s brutal critic of Israel and her people. And if we had read on beyond the point where we stopped, we would have heard more judgement of the house of Israel.
Mostly 1st Isaiah is predicting God’s wrath to be metered out on the people of Israel for their unfaithfulness. Scholars believe the first 12 chapters of Isaiah were written before the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem. That invasion led to the exile in the Babylonian empire and the destruction of the temple. So let’s not forget the harsh criticism of the people of Israel and the call to repentance. We need to have that ringing in our ear as we capture the vision of the new Jerusalem, a new era in human history.
Our Gospel reading is set on the mount of olives looking across at the very impressive Temple mount and the new temple build by King Herod. Remember at the beginning of the chapter Jesus says, not one stone will be left standing on another. That is what triggered the whole teaching on the end of the present era and the coming of the Son of man in glory. Jesus didn’t offer a time when this would happen, he said be watching and ready, be awake! Just as you can look at the signs in nature and know what is coming next you can see signs in the world that will give glues to what is coming. The poincianas are flowering, Christmas is only weeks away. If we see riots in the streets, then we might surmise that wars are coming!
The beautiful temple that Jesus and the disciples were looking at was completely demolished 40 years later. People like Barabbas were stirring up insurrection and soon the whole weight of the Roman empire would fall on Israel. I fear for the protesters in Hong Kong. We don’t want to see the massacre of Tiananmen Square being played out again.
Now even if both Isaiah and Jesus were speaking about their expectations of what would happen in the near future, the church has heard these prophecies as relating to our time. We are to look forward to a time when Jerusalem is a beacon of the word of God and a profound example of peace that other nations follow suit. We are to look forward to a time when the Son of Man will come in glory. But if you look back at the history of Jerusalem it is hard to imagine Jerusalem every be an inspiration for world peace. If we look at the world in general, it is hard to imagine a time when Jesus will appear in glory. It seems absurd.
NT Wright in his commentary tells a story of agree to a visit to the historic house they lived when he was bishop. The local historical society were keen to look through his house. They set the date for several months in advance. When the time came for the visit Wright and his family had all long since forgotten about the visit. The house like most family homes when you have adult children and grandchildren visiting was in certain disarray. When the historical society arrived, he had to do some very quick thinking. He invited them to wander around the yard and look at the house from the outside first. Then after he and the family rushed around cleaning up the debris, he invited them inside. His point was the ease with which we forget to keep an eye out even for an expected event. Do we as Christians forget to be ready for the day of the Lord, it was planned 2 000 years ago or more?
But even if we still cherish the day of the Lord, what should we be doing? How will our lives and actions express this watchfulness? St Paul in his letter to the Romans gives us a couple of clues. First, he tells us that love is the fulfilment of the Law. Love does no wrong to a neighbour. As we know from Corinthians 13 Paul sees love expressed in kindness and patience etc. He says put on the armour of light and elsewhere about being clothed in Christ. So, in a sense our waiting our watchfulness is express in being Christlike. As such we become harbingers of the day of the Lord. One of the great things about being in a community like ours we see people who exude these qualities of love, humility, and joy with a willingness to serve. I trust they draw out form each of us something of these qualities.
We get another simple clue when we read the next couple of verse following the Gospel for today. Jesus speaks of the master of the house returning from a long journey at an hour unexpected. The master is delighted when he finds the Steward in charge of the house has maintained everything in order. The other workers have been getting on with things in his absence. The steward has kept on eye on everything as if he had been home all along. This little story suggests simply getting on with the chores of every day life with faithfulness and generosity is an expression of watching and waiting for the day of the Lord.
So how do we live this out in everyday life? May be picture for a moment the tapestry at the back of the church. There are threads running from the bottom to the top. Woven into those are the various colours from side to side creating the picture bit by bit. The image of the phoenix is kept in mind by the artist as each thread is woven in. It seems to me, that we make the love and clothing ourselves in Christ the underlying treads running from the bottom to the top of our lives.Then this is woven together with the day to day chores of house work and the other work and roles we have. All of this while seeing that vision from Isaiah or at least the notion of a Christian community, part of the kingdom of God as the picture we are weaving.
So as parents nurturing young children the chores are cleaning up the Lego with the kids, getting them into baths and ready for dinner, then stories and bed. The messy arguments on when play time or bath time end or whether they have to eat broccoli at dinner are somehow woven in to.
As Grandparents it is taking time to listen to each grandchild, making them feel special. Fitting that in around the messy life stuff of going to doctors appointment and worrying about will our super be sufficient as we get older.
At work, teachers treating each pupil/student with special care; or accountants checking each clients books with the utmost care, are the threads woven from side to side. Each role we have will have ways we can be a blessing to the people we encounter. All of these things will be woven into the love, humility, generosity and the willingness to serve running from the bottom right to the top. The phoenix rising from the ashes takes shape as keep our minds eye on the vision of a world where weapons are hammered into tools for producing food, education and health care. That vision includes communities where each person is cherished, supported and encouraged. I guess, as my small part of the tapestry is put together with your small parts, the tapestry that is this parish community grows. It becomes a part of a wider tapestry between parishes and churches of various colours. Bit by bit over time our small part in a world wide tapestry is coming together as Isaiah’s vision and the vision Jesus gives us in his life become one glorious tapestry of the risen Christ in all his glory. So keep on faithfully with those day to day chore like the good steward. Hold firmly to the threads of love, humility, generosity and service. Keep the vision as the over arching goal. We are already part of the coming of Christ in glory as we do all this.