1. Setting Goals
At the beginning of each year, many people make resolutions—they set goals and hopes for the coming year. And, of course, some scoff at those who do—and sometimes with good reason.
Because the disadvantages of those who like to dream and plan, is that sometimes their dreams are unreal, and they set goals which are unachievable. However, the advantages of those who dream and set goals, is that it gives them something to strive for. And for that reason alone, the idea of setting goals and hopes should not be so easily dismissed.
But whether it’s the New Year—or any other time—it’s important to set goals, to dream and to plan. But they need to be realistic goals—one’s that can be achieved. Indeed, one’s that give hope, and a reason to live, and an opportunity to put aside the negatives of the past.
And that is the opportunity that New year brings, and Advent brings. Because Advent—which marks the start of a new Christian year—is all about focussing our plans and our hopes—but from a Christian perspective.
It’s about dreaming dreams. It’s about having something to look forward to. And it’s about having goals to reach. And specifically, it relates to dreams and goals which refer to none other than the second coming of Christ.
Advent is an opportunity to think ahead to the time when the world will come to an end. A time when Jesus will bring to fulfilment the final part of God’s plan: to gather all his faithful followers to himself, and to give those who decide that God isn’t for them their just reward.
And of course, it’s a vision—a goal—we should all be working towards. And a small hint of it is what we read about in this passage from Isaiah.
B. ISAIAH’S PROPHECY (1-5)
1. The Prophecy (1-4)
Because in the prophet Isaiah we read a message given to country people and town people alike. It was a message to all a sundry. And it portrayed a time when Mount Zion—which is nowhere near being the highest mountain of the world—would become the highest mountain of all.
And, more specifically, it will be a time when the mountain will not just be noted because it’s height, but because of the role that it will play in bringing peace and blessings to all.
(Now, just a warning about this. Because over the years some have seen this prophecy only in political terms. As a consequence, there have been many scare campaigns about the idea of one world government and one world capital city—even within the Christian church. In other words the image of Mount Zion being raised above the other mountains has been hijacked by those who can only think in two dimensions. But this image isn’t a vision of some sort of political imperialism. Indeed, it isn’t political at all. Rather the image that is the more positive religious idea of a new world, which has its central focus on God. And it’s a place where justice and peace abound.)
It is God’s world that is being described, not man’s. And some of the features of God’s rule, include a time when God will rule over all people; a time when worldwide peace will be inaugurated; a time when all institutions will cease to exist. (Institutions like governments, schools, police, armies etc., and even the institutional side of the church). It will be a time when God will teach us directly, himself, what it means to be a believer; a time when God will be accessible to all of his people at all times, and in ways we couldn’t even imagine today; a time when their will be great peace, harmony, and contentment; and a time when all disputes and all war will be totally unnecessary. And, as a consequence, all weapons will be adapted for peaceful purposes.
Now if anyone else had come up with a dream or a vision like that, it would be quite understandable if people responded by thinking that that person was really off his (or her) head, or that they were a dreamer, or that they had no foothold in reality at all.
However, the sobering fact is that these words aren’t the words of a dreamer at all. Rather they are the words given by God to Isaiah the prophet. And they are the words given by God to the same prophet who prophesied about the birth of the Messiah; the suffering of the Messiah; as well as other prophecies of a peaceful Messianic age. As a consequence, they are not words we can easily dismiss as though the source is unreliable.
And the appeal (5) and purpose of those words of God? Well, what God wanted was for his people to catch hold of his vision; for his people to genuinely repent of their ways and return to him; and for his people to be active in hastening in this time of the future.
In other words there was an urgency in responding to God; there was an urgency in living the faith.
Now, as I said, if anyone other than God had given this message—this message of hope—most likely they would have been written off as a nut, or as a joke. However, because it is God who has given this vision, we are required to take it very seriously indeed. And we need to take it seriously in a number of ways:
1. We Need a Vision
Because, firstly, we need to grasp God’s vision now.
Because there are some who don’t think so much in terms of planning for the future. Rather, they prefer to let things drift—they tend to just plod along. Unfortunately for them, the vision of the future that God gives, challenges that kind of lifestyle and thinking.
What this passage (amongst many) teaches us, is that God is a god of vision—that he wants us to think in terms of what will happen at the end. And that what will happen at the end should be a major focus in our lives.
God wants us to be encouraged in our troubles. He wants to have hope in times of despair. But he also wants us to live as people who are not afraid of the future, but rather as people who are only too willing to embrace it.
And I think that when we’re down, when everything around us is going wrong, when we seem to be under attack from all sides—where things seem a little unequal—or if we’re going through those times where we seem to be aimlessly wandering, God’s vision for the future can be a very exciting and very encouraging thing.
There’s nothing quite like the idea of a world where everyone is equal; where there are no disputes; where we can live in peace and harmony; and where one can lap up the direct attention from God to raise one’s spirits.
Now, I know that we can enjoy a direct relationship with God now. But that is nothing to the relationship we will enjoy, as described in God’s vision. But we need to embrace it.
2. Running with the Vision
Secondly, however, we need to not only accept the vision, but we need to run with it.
We need to bear in mind that this vision isn’t just a personal vision—one given for our own personal peace of mind. Because the emphasis in this passage is not just on capturing the vision, but has also to do with being actively involved in bringing it about. And in order to do that, God said that we need to be genuine about our repentance, and we need to be genuine in our turning back to God too.
If we are genuine, then not only will we enjoy and be fulfilled in what God has planned, but that we will then be reflected in our being very active in working towards God’s goals.
And that will involve being totally focussed on God’s vision; not allowing other things to distract us from it; and being eager to share God’s vision with others no matter what the cost—whether at the cost of being ridiculed, or at the cost of letting things go that we hold dear. And everything that we do will have its focus on the coming of God’s kingdom (in all its fullness).
Now, some might point out the two extremes that are often seen in God’s church. The first extreme: those who nod in agreement but do little or nothing. And the second extreme: those who are totally active—indeed, some might even say who are ‘overboard.’ And then they may point to the need for a middle ground.
The danger with that, however, is that there is no middle ground. Indeed, the Apostle John recorded these words of God to the church at Laodicea (recorded in the book of Revelation): So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I will vomit you out of my mouth’ (Revelation 3:16).
In other words God’s church—his genuine church—is about people who are totally committed and totally involved with his vision. There are no other options.
3. The Urgency of the Vision
And, thirdly, we need to embrace God’s vision urgently.
God’s vision does not allow for people to have time to adjust to the idea of thinking anew, as if they have all the time in the world. It’s not about going through a process where we can change gradually and we can work over years to adjust to new ways. It’s not even about trying to make any transition less painful than it could be.
Rather, the emphasis in this passage is that we need to accept the vision for ourselves; and that we need to be actively involved in bringing that about. But there is also an urgency in the task. (An urgency that all God’s people should be willing to embrace.) And that is that we need to be active, and be doing all we can NOW, to hasten the bringing in of the kingdom.
The call isn’t to wait, to arrange committee meetings, or to wait until certain people die or move away before we can even think about doing certain things. Because that is not being genuine in the faith at all.
With genuine faith, is the idea of the need for urgency. And the day to start that hastening isn’t in five years’ time or even five months’ time. Rather, it is today.
So, if you haven’t committed your life to Jesus yet, then today is a good day to choose. If you haven’t committed yourself to the church community yet, then today would be a good time too. If you haven’t committed yourself to sharing your faith with the people in this community, then today is a good day to start. If you haven’t been involved in removing some of the obstacles to faith, that we so easily surround ourselves with, then there’s no time like the present. And if you haven’t committed yourself to helping others find Jesus who live a long way away, then today is a good time to do that too.
Indeed, the time to start in all these things is NOW.
Now Advent, is the beginning of the church’s year, and it is the ideal time to make New Year’s resolutions—but from a Christian perspective. And the best New Year’s resolution any Christian can make, is: To commit themselves to God’s vision; to commit themselves to the idea of repentance and the need to return to God; to commit themselves to being active members of his army (the church); and, most importantly, to commit to doing all those things NOW.
Of course, there were very good reasons why God gave Isaiah a vision of the future to share with those who would listen. Because for most of Isaiah’s life the people went through a rough time (and mainly of their own making). Despite that, however, God showed that he cared. And while they needed to live out the implications of their actions, God did give them a vision of the future to catch hold of, to embrace, and to give them hope.
For most of Isaiah’s life, the people, in general, were not active in expressing their beliefs. And as a consequence got themselves into the great difficulties they faced in the first place. Indeed, they chose to do things their own way, rather than God’s.
And for most of Isaiah’s life, the people, in general, did very little to promote faith in God. In fact by their slowness, and their lack of enthusiasm, they probably did the exact opposite.
And it would be easy to conclude, with the state of the church today, in many parts of the world, nothing has really changed. However, despite that, we have God’s vision, handed down over the centuries.
But are we prepared to catch God’s vision of the future? Are we willing to be genuine in our repentance and in the need to return to God? And are we willing to express our faith in an urgent manner, in order to hasten in God’s kingdom?
Because that is what God called his people in Isaiah’s day to do. And that’s what he calls us to do, today, too.
Posted: 26th August 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis