December 4, 2020 / Helen Lee

An Advent Invitation: Leaning into Words of Prophecy

Editor’s Note: This year, members of the Missio Alliance team will be offering weekly Advent devotionals on the themes of Promise, Prophecy, Peace, and Praise and contemplating how we are to live missionally in accordance with each theme. This week’s reflection comes from Helen Lee, our director of content and resource development. You can find our first entry by Krystal Speed here. We hope these devotionals will encourage and serve you as we share in the celebration of the Christ child’s arrival.

Seventy years ago today, my dad, his older brother, and their father left their hometown of Pyongyang in what is now North Korea, joining a teeming throng of refugees who were fleeing south for their lives in the midst of a growing civil conflict. My 13-year-old dad said goodbye to his mother expecting to see her again in a couple of weeks after she planned to join them along with his uncle. She never made it. Though a 1953 armistice brought a tenuous ceasefire to the Korean peninsula, the divided nation is officially still in a state of war. Now nearly 83 years old, my dad is the last remaining member of his nuclear family; he often laments that when his life on earth comes to an end, none of these family members will be laid to rest on the same national soil. He will be buried in the US, while his mother’s remains are in North Korea and his father’s are in South Korea; his older brother eventually immigrated and died in New Zealand. His is one of the millions of family separations resulting from the trauma of war.

In fact, at this very moment there are ongoing militarized conflicts happening everywhere in the world, which so many nations are weathering on top of our continuing global pandemic and any existing domestic crises. And we need look no further than our own nation to see the shameful, painful reality that hundreds of parents are heading into the holidays still separated from their children. It’s into the midst of these current heartbreaking struggles and conflicts that we enter into this second week of Advent.

The Israelites in the time of Isaiah were no strangers to living in a state of wartime and chaos, whether due to impending invasions from the Assyrians or due to divisions among themselves. And into this context, God speaks prophetic words through Isaiah, pointing to a future reality when the unthinkable happens: worldwide, eschatological peace and harmony:

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Is 11:6-10

What we celebrate during this season of Advent is both an affirmation of God’s promise to us and also his prophetic word about the eradication of this world’s brokenness. The picture that Isaiah paints is difficult for us to comprehend in a reality where there is still predator and prey, oppressor and oppressed, evil and innocent. Just last week, one of our friends had to put down a beloved pet due to a backyard coyote attack in their suburban neighborhood. It seems beyond all understanding to imagine a world of total and complete peace, without an iota of fear, where absolute trust exists between all creatures on the earth; based on the recent presidential election results, we can’t even envision harmony and unity in the church.

But as the text makes clear, the reason for the harmony is straightforward: “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord”—this is the key, that all of creation is aligned in its knowledge of the Lord, ensuring the perfect unity across the diversity of all creation. Unity comes through our mutual understanding and fear of the Lord, which is reflected in the first part of Isaiah 11:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

Is 11:1-2

In Advent, we are not only celebrating the arrival of the Christ child, but we are also acknowledging the prophecy of God which has already spelled out for us what will happen when he returns. And again, we see reflected in this description of the Messiah (twice) that he both knows and delights in the fear of the Lord.

Might there be a lesson here for the church today about how we are to pursue God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? The evils of this age are rooted in injustice, oppression, and violence, and those who perpetrate these evils are devoid of both the Spirit of wisdom as well as the fear of the Lord. Perhaps the church’s call is to model the kind of radical community that is portrayed in Isaiah 11, one in which God’s people, in a posture of awestruck, worshipful humility, choose submissive love over power and dominance.

Perhaps the church's call is to model the kind of radical community that is portrayed in Isaiah 11, in which God's people choose submissive love over power and dominance. Share on X

So as we celebrate the first coming of our Lord and Savior, let us not forget our future hope, expressed in prophetic words from thousands of years ago, that “the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place” (Is 11:10). It will be an incredible contrast to the world we live in today, wracked with global and civil unrest, sorrow and lament, where even immediate family members can find themselves separated, scattered, and mourning. May we allow God to use us this Advent to follow the lead of Jesus and bring prophetic hope and healing to our broken and divided world.

Practices for this Second Week of Advent

Consider one or more of the following practices as we lean into this second week of Advent and embrace the prophetic words of Isaiah depicting a world of peace and unity:

1) Read the history of the hymn “Come Now, O Prince of Peace” by Korean composer Geon-yong Lee and then listen to this arrangement in Korean and English. The hymn expresses a longing for reunification, which applies to the Korean peninsula as well as to divisions within the body of Christ and around the world.1 Pray the lyrics as an expression of hope and supplication, for Jesus to come and bring his peace and unity.

2) Spend some time learning about a global conflict that is occurring at this moment. Pray for peace in that particular location and protection for the lives of all those affected. (Operation World provides a number of helpful prayer resources, including its book Window on the World which is geared for children to learn about and pray for the global church, country by country.)

3) Listen to a version of “Lo, Ere a Rose is Blooming,” the lyrics of which are based on the text of Isaiah 11. Here are some options to choose from; follow or sing along with the lyrics as you listen.

4) Read and pray the prayers of lament in this Christianity Today article, “Grieving Our Broken Border.”

1With thanks to Angie Hong for introducing me to this hymn. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @AngieKayHong.