Mountain Climbing with Isaiah
I'm currently in the second semester of the Doctor of Ministry for Preaching program at the Aquinas Institute of Theology. Throughout the course, my fellow students and I are asked to write postils - brief homilies that usually take around three to four minutes to preach. The passages we're assigned to preach on come from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Below is the first of these postil assignments I've completed. I've put the full passage from Isaiah that we were supposed to preach on, along with the intened audience for the homily.
This is what 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 mountain
and raised above the hills.
All nations shall stream toward it.
Many peoples shall come and say:
“Come, let us go up to the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
That he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.”
For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and set terms for many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
One nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.
House of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the LORD!
(For the seminarians of Mundelein Seminary on the First Sunday of Advent)
In August of 2018 I went out to Denver to visit friends. Born and raised as I was in the prairies of Illinois, I couldn’t get enough of the mountains. When landing in the airport or driving around the city, I was always trying to get a glimpse of the vast bulk of their majesty. Just when I thought they couldn’t get any bigger, suddenly I saw the snow-white tip of a mountain taller than what I thought was possible. Something was stirring in me: a desire to climb those heights, to scale those peaks, to see what could be seen from such a lofty place. I felt attracted, drawn to those mountains, and the taller the mountain, the deeper the desire.
This desire is what Isaiah wants to stir up in the people of Judah. “The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills.” The majesty, the height, the glory of that mountain draws all nations to itself, because it provides the answer to the longing desire of the human heart. The tall mountains of Colorado hint at the vast majesty of the infinite God, and just as contemplation of those mountains made me want to go mountain climbing for the first time in my life, the contemplation of the majesty of God draws us in, spurs us to climb the heights of holiness. God reveals that majesty, that glory to us because he wants us to stream toward him, to attempt the climb. The vastness, the height, does not scare us off. The fear comes later, of course, when we find ourselves in a difficult spot in the climb, unsure of where the next handhold will be. But at a distance, the allure of the mountain remains undeniable. It is that allure, that promise of something higher up, that motivates the mountain climber to find the next handhold and the next and the next, no matter how difficult the climb, because the mountain, by existing, has made a promise to those who would dare to climb it. God, by existing, has made a promise to all those who seek him, who desire to climb the Lord’s mountain to the house of the God of Jacob. The climbers of that mountain seek union with God, no matter how difficult the climb.
Isaiah knew the climb would be difficult for the people of Judah – they are a long way from the summit of right relationship with God. We, too, here at the start of Advent, know that we are still a long way from the summit. Yet God gives us the promise that stirs our desire and motivates us to make the climb. When you find yourself in that difficult spot in the climb, when you don’t know where the next handhold will be, remember the vision of the mountain and trust in the promise God makes. He lights our path to show us the way to the summit of his love.