The following observation is obvious but important to say anyways: the readings from the Bible we hear on Sunday mornings come from somewhere. When the Holy Spirit first inspired these words, she gave them to specific people in specific places. Those people could, through prayer, worship, and study, understand them. As these words were written down, compiled into books, and passed on to us centuries later, the Holy Spirit shepherded that process so that these words could make sense to us too. When we pay attention to where these words come from (i.e their context), we discover the word God wants for us. These verses come from somewhere and where they are in the Bible matters too.

With that in mind, we need to remember that today’s reading from the book of Isaiah 2:1-5 does exist on its own because Isaiah has a chapter one. Chapter one is not an easy book to read. Many of its verses sound like a lawsuit where God indicts and sentences the people of Israel. The people and their leaders failed to live up to the vision God had for them and war has come their way. Although chapter one placed the prophet Isaiah in the early 700s (when the Assyrian empire destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel and eliminated 10 of the 12 Israelite tribes), the final form of this book knew the entire history of Israel, including how Babylon in 587 BCE destroyed the Temple and depopulated Jerusalem. Even though the people worshiped God faithfully through prayer and rituals, the people’s relationship with each other was broken. Everyone cheated; everyone sought their own self-advancement; everyone fought to maintain their own privileges; and no one cared for the common good. The test God gave God’s people was to see how they cared for the most marginalized and powerless (widows and orphans in ancient Israel). Seeing their plight ignored, God ended chapter one by declaring Jerusalem judged guilty and putting them under threat from the God who once made them prosper.

But then, chapter two comes and we hear an unexpected word of hope. We expected the lawsuit to continue yet we are given a vision of a new future. Chapter two is not designed to cancel out chapter one. But it does say, quite boldly, that God is not done with God’s people. The vision God has will, someday, truly come. And God’s purpose for God’s people will be lived out. All people, regardless of their faith, will trust God because God’s people will show, through their care for the marginalized, the future God wants for us all. We begin this Advent season by being honest about our own context. We come from somewhere, with our own challenges as an individual and as a community. Yet in our baptism, we are grafted onto a new vision of God’s future where all people thrive. And this vision will require all people to re-evaluate their way of life and their identity. God’s vision isn’t about continuing our life as it is now. It believes in a change that will require sacrifice, prayer, and a willingness to be honest about makes us who we are. Yet there’s hope in this hard work because when we walk in the light of the Lord, we see a new kind of life where competition, self-centeredness, and violence are replaced with forgiveness, mercy, and love.