Somewhere between a prophetic vision and an apocalypse, there is Advent. The beauty and wonder of the season often gets lost in the shopping and parties and full schedules. I remember my first few years as a pastor, Advent was full to bursting with additional responsibilities with little time for rest and appreciation of what the season meant. In fact, I was not a fan of Advent. I felt as if I just had more things to accomplish, more tasks on my to-do list, than I had time for. I missed the power of the season. It’s likely that the congregations I pastored in those days may have also missed it, so busy were with extra services and activities. Visions of what could be and apocalyptic warnings seemed far from the hectic rush that filled the weeks before Christmas.
Now I hear Isaiah’s words and long to discover God’s holy mountain where all learn holy ways. I imagine what it might be like to embark on highways where all are welcome, and all live in the light of God. Humanity has spent its entire history learning the ways of war, that the thought of turning our weapons of death into instruments of life seems little more than a fantasy. Yet, this was God’s promise to the people of Israel so long ago. This promise of peace was never revoked. The invitation to journey to God’s holy mountain, travel on holy highways, and carry the light of God still stands for any who want to seek it.
Of course, this journey to God’s mountain would require that we stop complaining about the way things are and endeavor to change some of what is broken. It would mean that we can’t just sit and lament the romanticized past; we would have to set about creating a present that is more hopeful, more life-affirming than what is. We couldn’t just point fingers at those we disagree with and claim that we are different. We would have to actually be different. What do I need to set down to make it possible to find me feet traveling God’s holy ways? What do you need to let go of in order to carry God’s light into the world?
These are the questions I find myself pondering on the brink of this Advent season. No one can argue that world needs hope. What can we, who call ourselves Christians, do to embody hope for the people we encounter? What kind of light can we bring to alleviate the despair that settles in all around us, sometimes in us as well? Maybe we can focus on giving what is needed to someone who expects nothing, not just during this season but also into the new year. Maybe we continue to advocate for justice, even when it seems nothing changes or that our small voices go unheard. Maybe we stop responding to hate and fear with anger and rejection. What would it look like to respond to the vitriol of politicians with love? I suspect we would be closer to God’s mountain and further from the ways of war.
The apocalyptic warnings throughout scripture are not news. Humanity has always been on the edge of destruction. Every time we develop a new weapon or make the lethality of war more distant, we run the risk of forgetting that our enemies are human beings who also bear the image of God. We also forget that the resources of the earth have limits and there are things we ought not to be doing if we want the earth to survive for future generations. Greedy impulses don’t need to dictate the fuels we use or keep us believing that everything is disposable/replaceable. If we repent of our limited sight and foolish willingness to believe those in power, the end of the world need not come. There is a better way.
The prophets told of holy ways long, long ago. Jesus embodied those ways and invited us to do the same. God promised peace and new life to all those who journeyed to God’s holy mountain. The promise remains. This is the Hope of the Advent season. God invites us once again to embark on a sacred journey. At the end of the journey we may kneel before a Child in a manger, and we will have learned something about being the Body of Christ along the way.
Let’s set down all that no longer serves as we seek God’s holy ways. In setting down those things we will make room to be Hope in the world, traveling in the light of God.
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RCL – Year A – First Sunday of Advent – December 1, 2019