Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord

Published 3:42 pm Monday, December 2, 2019

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By Charles Qualls

Nipper was a mongrel, born into 1884 Bristol, England. He was thought to be part Fox Terrier or part Jack Russell. His name came much as you might imagine, for he was known to occasionally “nip” the back of visitor’s legs. His original owner died when he was quite young. However, the owner’s siblings saw to it that they cared for and kept this dog right within the family. They became the ones who sustained his life and whom he loved. He lived a fairly normal life of 11 years.

He was put in his place of rest at Kingston upon Thames in 1895, the same year that Babe Ruth was born. Truth is, probably no one would have ever heard of Nipper. Except that his legacy was anything but normal.

You see, during his time this little dog was the model for a painting that became well known, done by one of these siblings who cared for him. The painting was entitled “His Master’s Voice.” There in the picture is Nipper, a small white dog with his mostly black ear cocked, and his body leaning into the bell of an Edison cylinder phonograph. A record player. Listening to the sound that is coming out.

This painting lent itself perfectly to a growing company that wanted to tout their sound quality as “…so good a dog can hear his master’s voice” coming from within the player. Soon, this company began to give birth to more related companies. Each time, little Nipper’s image became their logo. Today, there are as many as 11 different businesses that have used this iconic dog and record player as the face of their corporations.

Our Advent 1 text in Isaiah 2: 1-5 opens as an expansion on a vision of judgment that chapter 1 spelled out. God has raised children and brought them up. Oxen on the farm recognize their owners. Even the donkey knows its master’s crib. But, humanity does not know or understand its own God’s voice in Isaiah’s prophecy. Humanity has turned a deaf ear rather than an eager one.

In the opening chapter, Isaiah has laid out the complaint. However, words of hope lace this harsh and troubling judgment. As the prophets always did. Isaiah pronounces that Judah’s sins are like scarlet but can be made like snow; they are red, but can be made like wool. Now, in this second chapter as we read today, both the judgment and hope are to be expanded on.

A people who had lost their ability to heed their God’s voice, who had rebelled to the point of cutting themselves off from Yahweh, have now heard God’s voice and recognized it. God has called them to Zion and they will gather. Just in time, they have inclined their ears and have heard their Master.

Advent is here!

There is just one problem. What does all this mean? Perhaps most compelling in Isaiah’s words is the beloved run in v4 where we hear “… they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Surely that sounds like a world we would like to live in. In an era of mass shootings and the threat of war, when will the Christ child hurry up and usher in such a peaceful time?

These words were spoken a long time ago by the prophet Isaiah. Where is their fulfillment? How can we understand them in the context not only of history, but of our own day and time?

God will judge between the nations and arbitrate, or as Duke says, God will give a hearing to all who might have a grievance or an inquiry. In other words, God’s promise here is justice. The actual work of peace will be ours to do alongside God.

This is the good news of our sacred season. God wishes to work in the lives of humanity, as well as in all of Creation, to make possible a new day. Yet, we will have to discover our roles in bringing about this promised reign of God.

While we wait for God to do something, texts like this one remind us that God is not the only one who needs to make a move. A small part of Advent’s good news is that we now have cause to live into our own roles within God’s Christmas promises.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.