David Augsburger is Senior Professor of Pastoral Care at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. He and his wife, Leann, are co-pastoring a homebase church in Claremont, California. Author, pepper gardener, counselor, chocolatier, blogger, sculptor, and mediator, he is retired from faculty meetings and committees, but not from the fun of work.
Lectionary reading from Isaiah 2:2-5 (Isaiah quoting from Micah 4:1-5). A series of metaphors, from Isaiah the Poet, of unsurpassed beauty:
A mountain rising above all other mountains,
Its crest, crowned with the house of the Lord God;
Crowds of seekers from all nations press in ascent,
Shouting a common chant:
“Come everyone, let us go up,
Go up to the mountain of the Lord,
Go up to the house of God,
Go up to be taught God’s ways,
Go up to walk in God’s paths.”
Then the Go-Between-God steps down from the mountain, to stand between the nations as the voice of justice; then the In-Between-God mediates the meeting of many peoples as they come together; then the nations give up their private gods of offense and defense and step back to make space for the God of in-between-nesses, and the impossible becomes possible:
Weapons, now obsolete, find new uses
To care for creation,
to bid it grow and flourish.
To turn and till the earth,
earth that once drank blood,
Swords become mattocks, bayonets hoes.
Spears become tools; blades for pruning.
Earthworks are plowed under, trenches filled
Boundaries fade, the wall will fall.
Humanity– open arms with no arms;
War at last, a thing of the past.
The God-of-in-between-nesses is the God of Advent, the God who will appear. These are the central metaphors of Advent in Isaiah’s borrowed text and in Micah’s original ancient vision: meet God above the treeline, meet God at the old battle lines; meet God on the mountain top, meet God in the valley; sing as you climb, drop all defenses as you kneel.
The vision of a light to the nations runs like a fresh rivulet flowing throughout the whole prophesy of Isaiah and then pours out of the Advent story.
Zachariah alludes to it in his prophesy, “To give light to those who sit in darkness, to guide our feet in the way of peace.” (Lu 1:79) “Simeon quotes the metaphor. “A light for revelation to the nations,” (Lu. 2:32) John the Baptist quotes from Isaiah. “All humankind shall see the salvation of our God,” (Lu. 3:6)
Jesus knew this text and it is one of the great passages that lies behind his declaration, “I am the light of the world,” (John 8:12). Revolutionary that Jesus was, he turned the metaphor of Isaiah 2 around. His company of disciples will become, like their Lord, “The light of the world—a great city—set on a mountain top—which cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5: 14)
My late colleague Glen Stassen wrote about Matthew 5:14, “The background of this text in Isaiah 2:2-5 must be kept firmly in mind to forestall any separatism to which we might be inclined to today. Disciples are a ‘city on a hill’ in the Isaiah 2 sense only if we invite and draw people of all nations ‘up the hill’ and through the gates into an experience of shared eschatological community. Much as the neon sign of a hotel invites the weary traveler to rest, so is our light to be an invitation.”
Stassen then quotes Luise Schottroff, “What is meant is precisely that according to God’s will Jesus’ followers will transform the whole of humanity through their lives. More and more people will join the community of those who orient themselves on the will of God.”
Advent calls to us, “Come up. Meet Him on the mountain, high point. Come back. Meet Him in no-man’s land, low point.”
Both are sacred meeting points.
Citation: Stassen, Glen and David Gushee, 2003. Kingdom Ethics, IVP. 471.
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