Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our meditation this morning is based upon the Old Testament lesson, from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 2.
Time marches on, moving us forward into a new Church year, a new Advent season. Soon the secular year of 2013 will be behind us, too.
But Jesus shifts things into reverse.
He’s the backwards-moving God.
Jesus takes things the way they are and makes them the way they should be by transforming them into what was.
He is the Second Adam, the new man who has come to make you like the first man, only better.
He creates the heavenly Jerusalem for you, a Jerusalem that is like the Garden of Eden, only better.
He is the Sacrifice to end all sacrifices, like the Passover lamb, only better.
This is what Isaiah preaches from His prophetic pulpit.
His Spirit-filled eye sees a mountain raised up so high above all others that it makes Everest look like a speed bump.
Every other mountain and hill must salute its elevation.
Rivers of nations stream upward to this peak that scrapes the very sky.
Yes, rivers of His people, flowing in reverse, rivers flowing uphill.
Take that, Isaac Newton!
Even gravity can’t put the brakes on this motion.
Splishing and splashing skyward, the nations flow up to the peak.
And upon that mountain, swords that were once forged to plow open human flesh are now hammered into the blades of farmer’s plows—new weapons that cleave open the earth for the planting of seed. Weapons for food. Tools for the sustaining of life.
Warriors become farmers.
Spears become pruning hooks.
Everything runs in reverse, contrary to the way it degenerated when we fell into sin.
Christ “re-genesises” the world.
Nothing stays the same, for the Creator has come in the flesh to make all things new, to re-create all things new for you.
So it is in this season of Advent.
Jesus comes to us.
He “advents” to make all that was once and is now dead, alive again.
And the world to which He comes stands in dire need of His arrival.
This sphere on which we dwell is, in fact, dead on His arrival.
An ugly place it is, for we are an ugly race of creatures.
Oh, we’ve tried to put makeup over it, but such vanity is truly in vain.
The face of the world is pockmarked with graves; scarred with sepulchers, tattooed with tombstones.
We can’t perfume away the stench of death that wafts through our air, oozing out of our rottenness.
Even before you were born, you wiggled your arms and waved goodbye to innocence. You eventually rolled over, and began careening downhill toward your doom. And soon you took your first tottering steps, and staggered onward, toward the edge of your waiting grave.
Most hours of most days, we live in a delusional world of make-believe and denial; we pretend it isn’t so. Disneyland and DKR; Jerry World and Schlitterbahn; Tahiti and Taj Mahal—they’re temporary distractions from the reality of our impending destruction.
We pretend that we act from pure motives. Pure they are, perhaps—purely self-serving, that is. Even at their best, they are a motley mixture of mediocre, bad, and worse.
We pretend honesty, but in truth, we twist our stories, claim credit for that which did not arise out of our own abilities and efforts, exaggerate our innocence, and impute false motives to others.
We repeat our lies so often, we even begin to believe them ourselves.
Our ears grin at the gossip whispered into them.
Our adulterous hearts have a Triple-X rating.
It does us no good to deny this.
It would be like someone staggering down 6th Street after a long Saturday night of bar cruising, slurring loudly to anyone who will listen, “I’m perfectly fine; I ain’t . . . (hiccup) . . . drrrunk.” Yeah, right.
Your pride in your depravity is nothing more than an attempt to make evil seem good, and good seem evil.
It does no good to deny it.
It is only in confessing it—to say what is completely true and yet so very, very scary about yourself—that good arises.
It does the good of repentance, the good of owning up to the death within us. In repentance we find Another’s Death to our benefit, and in a still different death with which He blesses us, we find life everlasting.
You find it, because it is for you, the staggering Dead, that Jesus lived His life.
Advent is His present to you. Its color may be blue, but its wrapped in the living colors of His skin and flesh, bones and blood.
He comes running to us; we who cannot even begin to crawl to Him.
He comes to you and He puts everything bad about you in reverse: He moves guilt to forgiveness; He erases your lies and instills His truth; He undoes your shame and uplifts you in joy; He even destroys your death and covers you with new life in His Name.
Yes, He’s the backwards God, and He’s ready, willing, and able to take you back.
He is so willing and so able, in fact, that He’ll take you back to a place you’ve never been before—He’ll put you into a state of innocence and perfection.
In fact, He’s already accomplished it.
It’s a done deal, a deal done for you.
Isaiah prophesied, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains.” [v.2]. This is God’s turf. This is the place where He is found, this peak of peaks.
It is the mountain called Zion, the city of the living God.
It is the mountain named the Church. It is here that He has promised to be, and we with Him. It is here where He dwells and dispenses His gifts; it is here at the font that He both kills you and adopts you. It is here that He gives you Himself in Word and Spirit, water and bread and wine, body and blood and faith, and with it all He forgives, renews, and enlivens you.
For when the Creator is lifted up to hang bleeding and dying between heaven and earth, there He lifted up this one, holy, Christian and apostolic mountain, too.
A new and better Zion was formed from the raw materials of His flesh and blood.
By His living, bleeding, rising, and ascending, He crafted the high hill where death and sin are no more.
You are a citizen of this Zion.
On this mountain is your home.
Adam and Eve were booted out of Paradise, but you are pulled back in by the new Adam, back up to the Eden that has now become one with Zion.
Eden is Zion, Zion is Eden—and all are one in Christ Jesus.
Here He is, and there you are.
Near the Zion of old was the temple where God dwelt among His children.
But on this new Zion, there is no temple of wood and stone, but a temple of skin, and blood, and bones. An object of worship with punctured hands and feet—and a side sliced open, from which another River of Life flows freely.
For the Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us.
Our temple, our center of worship, is no longer a building, but the baby who suckles at the Virgin’s breasts.
You have entered into that temple. You were washed into it, really—swept in by the flood of the baptismal stream.
All the nations flow up to this mountain, says Isaiah, for they are carried there on this river of salvation.
Through the door of the font, you flowed into His flesh.
And in that body of the Son of God, you are cleansed.
Here is not imagination, but reality.
Here is not ugliness, but beauty.
All the hideous wretchedness of your sin vanishes; you are made lovely in the eyes of the Father.
Gone are the lies of devil, world, and you. Here in their place is truth—the truth that God’s heart is fixed on you, that He wants you, that you are His blessed child; the apple of His eye.
Until the last trumpet sounds, men with blood in their eyes will haunt this world.
Bombs will explode; bullets will penetrate; swords will slash.
Peace from human strife will remain an ideal, unattainable by our human effort.
There is a Peace in this World, but It is Not a Peace of this World—It is the Peace of Zion.
The Christmas peace on earth is not between man and man; it is the peace come down from heaven; conceived of Spirit and not by man; born of virgin, not of diplomacy. In it there is reconciliation between God and man.
Within the dying flesh of God’s Son, the conflict ceases.
God’s fiery wrath against you and me is doused by holy blood.
God is one with man; those born Jew are one with those born Gentile, and all are unified in Christ Jesus.
He has shifted everything into reverse.
Paradise is regained.
We who lived in the lowlands of darkness and the dunghills of death ascend the holy mountain, to walk in the light of the Lord.
Our sin is traded in for righteousness.
Our guilt is replaced by peace of heart.
Our mortality is swallowed up by immortality.
For all this Jesus came.
All this He did because He wanted you.
And now He has you.
Never, ever, will He let you go.
Welcome to the mountain of peace called Zion, the Church of the Firstborn of life from death. Your names are written in heaven, in the crimson blood of the Lamb.
Behold, your King is coming to you, from heaven to virgin to manger; from manger to colt to cross; from cross to tomb to heaven above. And all heaven resounds with rejoicing. Hosanna! Hallelujah! Amen, and Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!