Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
Does the holiday season feel like this yet? Is your calendar full yet? Are you stressing out about Christmas presents yet? How about company? Are you wondering what you are going to do will all of your company that’s coming in? Or dreading driving in all of the holiday mess?
Though Hollywood and popculture tell us that it is the most wonderful time of the year; I think for many people it is the most busy time of the year, perhaps the most stressful time of the year.
I know for me I have many things to do. And when I look at the schedule I have to be honest with myself and realize that there is no way that I can be at every function. That some things are going to have to wait. That I am going to have to say to no to some invitations.
During the holidays it’s likely that you will receive so many invitations. Perhaps the office Christmas party? Perhaps a Christmas party at your kid’s school? A food drive event for the community? An invitation to neighbor’s house for coffee?
Did anyone respond to the invitation of Black Friday shopping? Only twice in my life have I gotten out on Black Friday. Once was when Hope was working at the mall and I took her into work at some ungodly hour. And the second time was when I was living with parents and my dad woke my brother and I up early to go to Dick’s sporting goods and purchases bullets that were on sale—I don’t think I’ve purchased ammunition since then, but I guess we got a deal.
Another invitation is the invitation to over eat. Everyone cooks something special, receives cookies to share. If you work in an office, I am sure that the treats abound and invite you to take part.
The toy catalogs come in the mail and invite children to makes wish lists. Perhaps the jewelry or the tool catalogues come in and invite you to do the same.
I believe with all my heart that each of these invitations means well. Whether it is to another Christmas outing, to the neighborhood party, to work overtime, to eat those homemade desserts. Each of these invitations alone are well intentioned to spread cheer, but when you combine them together they create chaos.
When you take the countless invitations we receive our lives easily become cluttered. The joy of the, so called, most wonderful time of the year seems to be sucked out of the room. In its place a pile of invitations, a mountain of to-dos, and too much chaos.
In the midst of the holiday busyness that we find ourselves in, I want to share with you a scripture passage from the prophet Isaiah. This is a very traditional text that is read on the first Sunday of Advent, but I think it gives us a very important message during this time. In the midst of all our invitations, in this passage we see invitations of a different sort.
1 This is what Isaiah, Amoz’s son, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house will be the highest of the mountains. It will be lifted above the hills; peoples will stream to it.
As Isaiah starts tell the story, we see that he is talking about the future. “In the day’s to come,” he says. This is a little clue that tells us that Isaiah is about to give picture of future. He is about to share with us a vision, a dream. It’s a vision where God takes up residence on the earth in place a power. And all people hear about this and all people start coming to see God.
Isaiah continues to tell the story in verse 3:
3 Many nations will go and say,
“Come, let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain,
to the house of Jacob’s God
so that he may teach us his ways
and we may walk in God’s paths.”
Instruction will come from Zion;
the Lord’s word from Jerusalem.
Different kinds of people see this as an invitation are excited about going to this mountain to meet God. Isaiah sees them accepting an invitation from God and waiting to learn about God and learn how to live the way God desires. It’s important to note that we aren’t just talking about religious people. Isaiah is writing to Jews, but it is not just Jews who have heard this new invitation. In the future, Isaiah see Jews and non-Jews; for us, Christians and non-Christians, hearing this invitation and flocking to see God. Religious and non-religious people hear about God and are interested.
If you think this vision sounds a little bizarre, listen to what happens next in verse 4: Isaiah writes:
4God will judge between the nations,
and settle disputes of mighty nations.
Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war.
These peoples are flocking to God forming a multiracial, multicultural, multilingual community and they are ready to learn from God. They answer God’s invitation to come, now they await instructions from God. Then God judges between the different groups; God arbitrates the disputes. The different people groups, the different nations are learning from God the secret to making peace.
You have a picture of groups that used to enemies that have now responded to the invitation. You have Americans and Mexicans. You have ISIS and Iraq. You have Russia and the West. You have Pakistanis and Indians. And believe it or not, you have Democrats and Republicans. And God is making peace amongst them.
So sure is this peace that they take their weapons of war and turn into farm implements. They beat their swords into plowshares. Their guns into gardens. They re-purpose nuclear arsenals for civil use. If you thought it was bizarre that all of these groups were coming to the same place, think about it now. Through the peace of God, an economy of war is transformed into an economy of peace.
This powerful vision that Isaiah sees, we are told that it is in the future; remember, in the “days to come.” In the future when God returns to make all things right. What that day that will be.
Now I know that is an interesting picture. You may think it is just wishful thinking. That maybe this is something God can do in the future, but right now it’s not possible. Right now we have too many competing invitations at the holiday. Right now there are too many wars and rumors of wars. This is pretty picture and of some far off, pie in the sky idea—meant for church but not real world.
And truthfully, I might agree with you if Isaiah stopped there.
But there is one more invitation that Isaiah gives us. In verse 5, Isaiah writes:
5Come, house of Jacob, let’s walk by the Lord’s light.
If you were thinking this whole scripture passage was about some far off dream, Isaiah brings it home; Isaiah brings it to the present. No longer is he talking in the future tense; now we are talking in the present tense. There is no getting around the fact that this is a message for us today.
And it is a message with a very specific invitation: “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”
During this season—a season most refer to as the Christmas season; a season the church refers to as Advent, you will get many invitations. You will get many invitations during the holidays, but the one that matters most is the invitation from God.
And here it is.
We can’t know what the future holds. There is no way to know how God will fulfill Isaiah’s vision, but we have an invitation from God that is for us this very day; this very hour, this very minute.
Today God extends God’s hand to you; if you accept this invitation and focus on what really matters during the holidays, perhaps the chaos won’t win.
If you listen to the radio, TV, facebook, the hallmark channel we are in the Christmas season. The message says that it’s time to accept the countless invitations and celebrate Christmas. But the church says something different. The truth is we are not in the Christmas season. Today begins a new season, but it is not Christmas. For Christians, for the church, today beings the season of Advent. Advent comes from a Latin word that means coming, and refers to the coming of Christ at Christmas and the second coming of Christ. And the church has historically used this time as a season of preparation for Christmas. As season of preparing for Christ.
So, this Advent, God is offering you a most important invitation—he say, “Come, walk in the light of the Lord.” In her book, Hurry Less Worry Less at Christmas, which is a great little book, by the way, Judy Christie talks about Advent as great time pause from the chaos of countless invitation and focus on the one invitation that matters. She writes that “Advent is important as a time of prayer and preparation for the presence of God, when we pause and reflect on Christ and one God’s love and deliverance. By remembering that Advent is a season in and of itself, we can begin to focus on it and on ways to grow spiritually and sense God’s nudge in our lives” (Christie, 37).
This is what we are going to do over the next four weeks. God is inviting you to join us as we sift through the chaos, listen for the invitations that truly matter, grow spiritually, and prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus.
God’s invitation is here, calling to you, how will you respond?
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.