One Sunday after church, a mother was talking to her young daughter. She told her daughter that, according to the Bible, Jesus will return to earth some day.
“When is he coming back?” the little girl asked.
“I don’t know,” replied the mother.
“Can’t you look it up on the internet?” The little girl asked. (Joyful Newsletter, Jan. 2004, p. 2, “The Lord’s Laughter, Jeff Tottenham.)
Well, you can find lots of interesting things on the Internet, but to read an authoritative source about the return of Christ, you will need to look elsewhere.
Eight hundred years before Christ was born, the prophet Isaiah foretold his coming. He didn’t use a search engine like Google. Isaiah asked God for some assurance of where and when the promised Messiah would come. We heard the answer in this morning’s Old Testament Reading from Isaiah.
“In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 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 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 plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
First Isaiah speaks of humanity’s universal desire for God. “In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be establishe as the highest of mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 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.’”
Isaiah is reflecting the human desire to know God. Humans are created to be spiritual creatures. Despite the changes in today’s culture which have influenced the ways people practice their faith, when you talk to individuals, you often find that human beings are indeed spiritual beings in human bodies. They have a hunger to know God. This is partly because of the magnificent design of the natural world and the spiritual longing that is instilled in every human.
We live in an incredible universe. Even scientists cannot explain how it could have happened by chance. Interestingly, M.I.T. Professor Alan Lightman says, “Contrary to popular myth, scientists appear to have the same range of attitudes about religious matters as do the general public.” (Breakpoint commentary, Chuck Colton).
Often when people say they do not believe in God, it is because they have had a painful situation in their lives when they felt let down by by their family, their church, or even by Godself. But most of us are by nature religious.
And we long to reach out to God, but much in our lives is beyond our control. We worry about our family or friends who are facing difficult times. Or perhaps we are having a life-changing crisis in our own lives. At such times we long to connect with God, to find the reassurance that God is there and God cares.
The Associated Press talks about a post office in Israel that is covered up with mail from people trying to reach out to the Divine. “Try sending a letter to God, and chances are it will end up at an Israeli post office in Jerusalem where they are read and sent on to the holy Western Wall where one worker started taking the letters. “From there, the worker said, its not in our hands.” (Kingsport Time-News, 10-2-2003, p. 4a.)
One author suggests that children’s letters to Santa reflect that same desire to reach out to God. There is a tiny town in Finland called Rovaniemi, that is the official international site for sending letters to Santa. It receives thousands of letters from all over the world. Although most are answered by form letters, some of the most heartrending ones are personally answered by a volunteer tam of university students.
One postal clerk at Rovaniemi says, “We can see everything that is going on in the world through the letters.” Children in war-zones ask Santa to send peace on earth. Children of parents who are dying ask for the miracle of healing. Some kids ask for toys, others ask for enough food, or peace in their families or countries.
But why do children and adults write to Santa for both tangible and intangible things. One clerk said, ” People used to have saints to call on when they felt they couldn’t reach God. Now some of them think, “If God can’t help me, maybe Santa can.” (“Dear Santa” by Barbara Sjoholm, Smithsonian, December 2003, p. 128.) There is a universal need to connect with God. At some time in our lives, we all look up an say, “Please God, listen to my need.”
There is a universal yearning for God. Christmas speaks to that need. When we could not reach God, God reached out to us. An unknown author wrote, “Christmas is love tugging us back to God with the powerful clasp of a tiny hand reaching out from a bed of straw.”
There is a universal need for God and there is also a universal need for love and peace.
Isaiah writes, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 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 any more.”
Academics report that since 3600 BC the world has known approximately 300 years of peace. Instead, there have been over 15,000 wars in which over 4 billion people have been killed. Hundreds of square miles of property and the economies of many countries have been destroyed.
Humanity’s sinful nature is most often seen in terrorism, racism, genocide,, and wars. Where will it end? Isaiah tells us. It will end when God’s Messiah is crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords: “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 no more.”
Here is where scripture conflicts with the wisdom of the world. In the world, the way to deal with your enemies is to pulverize them. A better way is to attack the conditions in the world that promote war, injustice, poverty, and abuse of power. According to scripture there is another way. God will judge between the nations and arbitrate for many peoples. Isaiah is saying that God will intervene to create justice and lasting peace on earth.
In West Africa, the casings of bullets fired during the Liberian war of the 1990s are being made into crosses by former soldiers and local artisans. The crosses serve as a reminder of the yearning of all people for peace.
Our job is to work to create peace out of hopelessness. To transfer symbols of death into symbols of life and love, symbols of hopelessness into symbols of God. How do we do that? One small act of love and concern at a time.
Every Hanukkah, the Markovitz family in Pennsylvania lit a menorah and placed it in the window of their house. It stood out in contrast to all the Christmas decorations in the windows of their neighbors. One year, vandals broke out the front window of the Markovitz home, the window that held the Menorah. The whole Markovitz family was shaken by the senseless hatred of this act. After the window had been repaired, they left to spend the day with their family. That evening, the Markovitzes returned home to find almost every house in the neighborhood had a lit menorah in its front window. As Vicky, the eldest daughter said, it was their neighbors way of saying, ” If you break their windows, you will have to break ours.” (“A New Light” John Fitzgerald, Reader’s Digest, Dec. 2003, pp. 120-122).
That’s where hope, love, and peace begin, they begin with us when we seek to be God’s people in the world, loving our neighbors as Christ has loved us. The Advent season speaks to our need for God and our world’s need for peace and hope, and it shows us a better way, the way of love. Let us follow the example of Christ’s sacrificial love, bringing hope and peace into our hearts, our lives and our world.
Please pray with me that the world will be filled with hope, love, and peace.