Monday, December 03, 2007

Something’s Coming—Grace

Isaiah 2: 1-5

Speak a word to us, Isaiah, as you spoke long ago.
Tell the news that comes from Zion; bring the hope we long to know.
Swords and spears are found in gardens tilling soil and pruning trees.
Schools of war are closed and shuttered; from that madness all are freed.
-used by permission of the author, John Thornburg

When I was born, my parents lived on the top of a mountain. It was on the eastern range of the two ranges that made, in the middle, the Napa Valley. It was pretty high--they told me that on clear nights, with a telescope, you could see the exterior elevators going up and down on the Fairmount hotel in San Francisco, some 60 miles away. There are pictures of people standing on a rock outcrop, and behind them are vague outlines of the other side of the valley, and far below, the valley floor. They tell me they used to watch clouds float by below them, the fog roll in from the bay, and planes would fly below their level, too.

It's a mountain like that that I see when I imagine this mountain of the Lord's house established as the highest of the mountains. I can see that view.

When Isaiah is speaking about Zion being the mountain all nations climb to receive God's wisdom, he's saying that somehow the actual hill the tourists call the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem, will somehow become the highest of all. He's having a vision, and while the idea of the mountain is interesting, what happens on it is the most important bit. This vision is so strong that both Isaiah and another prophet, Micah, use the same imagery (Micah 4: 1-3)!

All the nations of the earth will come to the lord God, for counsel and guidance and because God is the judge and the teacher for the world. In this vision, there is no more need for the peoples of the earth to argue, fight and war with each other. They will no longer need to learn the proper way to swing a sword. They will no longer need to know how to shoot a machine gun. They will no longer need the algebra and the geometry needed to put a 3000 pound shell on a target 12 miles away, or a intercontinental missile a hemisphere away. Nether shall they learn war anymore.

This, this, is Christ the Lord. This is what we as Christians wait for. The grace to be judged mercifully by God, rather than have to rely on human beings. The grace to be able to approach God and to know that we will be treated fairly, with mercy and forgiveness. Jesus, our Christ, the one who comes at Christmas, is the advocate for us on that mountain. The mountain with the long view, the one I can see in my mind's eye.

It is interesting to note that in Isaiah's view, when we are given instruction by God directly, that is when there will be no more war. When God involves himself in the world, in Isaiah's vision, there will be no more peacekeeping, no more police actions, no more surges. No more war. The baby whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Eve is not coming to provide us the grounds for declaring war on the world. The man that baby grows up to be will not expect us to fight in his name. He will expect us to take cannons, to take bullets, to take armor plating, and make life-giving tools out of them, like tractors, like sprinklers, like plows. Can you imagine an F 16 crop duster?

If faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, then perhaps grace is the willingness to act according to our faith, maybe grace is the action of the people of God in the world. Maybe grace is acting as if we are assured, as if we are convicted of the love of God, and the coming world. Grace is certainly what we received from God when he gave us his son. Our response, in love and gratitude, is to act in grace to the world in God's name. To be a peaceful people. To approach the mountain of Isaiah's vision in our hearts for judgment and mercy, even though it isn't fully arrived on earth yet, and then to act as if it is true, is our grace to the world.

Acting as if something is coming. Maybe that is what grace is.

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