The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In 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 ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
It is hard to believe we have arrived at another advent, the beginning of our church year, and the time of preparation for the coming of the Messiah. We come again to a new beginning, and while we may be swept up in the holiday festivities between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we should take some time for deep reflection about what this all means. Think with me, if you will, about what it might have been like in the first century for those awaiting God’s promises.
The Jewish citizens of Jerusalem and all the predecessors of Judah and Israel were refugees in their own land. Various levels of violence and oppression characterized the dominance of Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome, but the Jews were a dispossessed and disempowered people for centuries. The small spark of hope they could hold onto was the prophetic promise that God would send a Savior. They were not thinking in eternal terms, but in very real, practical terms. They were a people counting on God to bring them freedom from oppression and the opportunity to control their own lives and destinies. Few people today can fully appreciate life in the first century. For the vast majority of the Jewish population, daily life was an exercise in survival, living hand to mouth, not sure what the future might hold, and never seeing a way to escape poverty and oppression. Hopelessness abounds.
In our own day, we feel many levels of hopelessness, anxiety, frustration, anger, and despair. We argue over politics, religious beliefs and practices, education, gun violence, warfare, corrupt business practices, immigration, abortion, and a thousand and one other issues – often with no resolution, no consensus, no agreement, no end. It often seems that negativity, confrontation, conflict, and individual rights and entitlements make civility, cooperation, and common courtesy impossible. That is our way.
But this is not God’s way. The Bible is an excellent resource to show why we need a savior. Our tendency as human beings is to find fault, to fixate on differences, to compete for power, and to assume the very worst. This just happens; it is the shadow side of our human nature. But the brighter side, the God-facing side, the side of great potential reflects God’s blinding grace, love, mercy, compassion and kindness. The glory (“glory” translates as light, brightness, or brilliance) of the Lord shines upon us, shines in us, and shines through us. We are no longer steeped in hopelessness or despair, because we are no longer guided and governed by our own selfish desires.
The coming of the Christ is the crossover point, the threshold, of a new way of being – a new reality. The old will pass away and be left behind. That amazing grace power of God works within us, shaping us as disciples of glory, grace, and love, and transforms us so that by our witness God works to transform the world. This is our United Methodist mission. If we stay stuck in hopelessness and despair, we will have nothing of value to offer the world. But once we cross the threshold, once we receive God’s Messiah in the reality of Jesus the Christ, we will be changed. We will become agents of hope, of forgiveness, of kindness, generosity, and unconditional love. Once our weapons of destruction are changed into tools of creation, there will be nothing left to fear.
Join me, beautiful people of Wisconsin Conference, to pray for the healing, transforming power of God to be born in us this Advent and Christmas season. God is already working; all we need do is make ready our hearts, minds, and spirits to receive a future filled with hope.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).