I was hoping that they wouldn’t find me this year, since I moved. You know, all those catalogues that inundate the mailbox at this time of year? But last week there must have been twenty catalogues that arrived in the mailbox, all telling me that they had just the thing for all of the people on my Christmas list. The covers are beautiful with the greens and reds, the pine and the snow, with dogs and cats snuggled together with families wearing matching pajamas, but these companies really don’t know me well, because I do not really like shopping. And even if I did like shopping, I know, deep in my heart that the perfect gift for all people on my Christmas list cannot be bought from a catalogue company. Or online. Or in a store.
Every year, the scripture passages for Advent always remind me of a certain yearning that the prophet Isaiah spoke about in the second chapter. It is this yearning that draws each of us to this picture that Isaiah paints with words that show us that the highest mountain will be the place where God’s house is established. In this picture are amazing sights, captured vividly. All nations will be seen streaming to this place where God’s home is established. I can imagine a long, long line of people streaming, pouring into the journey up the mountain. There will be children skipping and playing and singing among all the people. People will call to and fro: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, so that the Lord may teach us, and we may walk in the path of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2)
Certain knowledge can be imagined from this picture and this prophecy—that God will be the judge between the nations. God alone will be the judge. It will be God that will settle disputes between the nations. The word of God will make a difference in the way the world works. We will see this too. The inequities of the world, that keep people beaten down and in oppression will be brought into balance. The shackles of bondage, that hold people back from freedom and hope and fulfilling their potential, will be loosened and broken and wrongs will be righted. And on top of all of this work of justice, transformation will occur in the lives of the oppressors as God’s judgement and grace falls upon all people.
Transformation will occur because of God’s judgement and grace, because of God’s instruction. Weapons of violence will be transformed into equipment for producing food, which means that no one will be hungry. Transformation of the nations will be occur as each nation puts down their swords. There will be no need to train for war anymore.
If we are deeply honest with ourselves, this picture of God’s presence among us and the transformation that will occur is what our hearts yearn for.
Hope. Love. Joy. Peace.
Lasting hope, love, joy, and peace.
This is what we long for, for ourselves, for those that we love, for all people.
Isaiah, the prophet spoke to this longing and to the yearning of our hearts
For shared openness to the Divine Way of God
As a contemplative who takes a lot of photos, I look for ways to take pictures that illustrate this hope, love, joy and peace. I look for beauty and ways to capture expressions of unity, justice, openness to the Divine Way of God—peace. It is not easy to capture these characteristics of Shalom, but if I close my eyes, I can see it so vividly and I see that it is almost indescribable. I want it so deeply. We want it so deeply. So deeply that nothing else really matters.
But do we really believe that this vision, this picture of the mountain, where all the nations stream to the home of God and learn of God’s way and God’s love and grace and peace, can ever truly come to pass? Ever? Even in the time beyond time, in the end of all things, do we really believe that this transformation can take place?
The prophet Isaiah spoke with authority on behalf of God. The words that the prophet used were: “In the days to come. . .” Even though these words do not give us a specific time or manner to expect this fulfillment, these are words that come to us through the prophet, from God. God’s promises are true. They must be fulfilled. That is the nature of God.
“In the days to come. . .” implies that it WILL happen.
Years ago, my first year in seminary, I had an experience that taught me the meaning of Advent—this yearning. This longing. I have told this story many times, but every year the experience comes back to me and that longing that I felt in a flash, in a moment, comes back to me.
During my first few months of living in Washington, DC I had learned much about the presence of nuclear weapons in the world. This sounds silly now, but I had no real idea of the threat that existed—that exists—worldwide and the possibility that nuclear war could occur. In the first few months of seminary, the topic came up in classes and among our conversations outside of class. I began to spend Monday afternoons in the library reading everything I could about the topic, from journals to newspapers to books.
The night before I left to go home to North Carolina, for Thanksgiving, a special TV movie aired, called “The Day After.” It was about how a nuclear bomb was launched and hit Lawrence, KS and the fallout and trauma that occurred in the days that followed. I remember that many of my classmates were required to watch this movie for a class and there was a watch gathering planned in the dorm where I lived.
When the time came for the movie, I could not go. I was so anxious about the whole issue and about the violence in the city and the world, the Cold War with the then Soviet Union, and so many other situations that I could not watch anything else. My mind and my heart were overloaded. I spent the evening pacing and crying. I had never had so much fear or felt that deep of anxiety. As I drove home to NC the next day, I thought about the topic for the whole seven hours. I thought about it while I was home with my family. I thought about it on the drive back to Washington, DC. I thought about it as I prepared for finals. I couldn’t think of anything else, really and the whole thought of nuclear war invaded my consciousness during all my waking moments.
How I managed to make it through exams I don’t remember, but on the evening of the last exam, my friend Clark and I decided to walk to Friendly’s to get ice cream to celebrate the end of exams. Clark asked me what had been troubling me so much and I told him as we walked. He let me talk as I spoke about all the anxiety and fear that had taken hold of my life. I remember stopping in the middle of Connecticut Ave., stomping my foot, and shouting, “I just wish Jesus would come back and fix everything!”
I just wish Jesus would come back and fix everything—the wars, the violence, the evil. I just wish Jesus would come back and bring us peace.
Clark walked on, but I stayed in that spot, because in that moment, I realized the yearning of my heart was and is exactly what the prophet Isaiah described in the second chapter and suddenly, I understood Advent in a way that I had never understood it before. This longing, this yearning of my heart was for Emmanuel—God with us. It was for the Prince of Peace, not only in the life of the world, but in the individual lives of everyone. I wanted the Prince of Peace in my heart, that was so anxious, so fearful, so drenched in apprehension.
Every year, at the beginning of Advent I reflect on this moment in my life. Over the years, I have come to understand another layer of Isaiah’s prophecy, in light of that moment.
“. . .Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that God may teach us God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.” (Isaiah 2:3)
The prophecy includes something that is very important. It includes us learning the ways of God’s justice and peace and placing them into our own lives. It is easy for us to long for and desire God to fix everything, but that will not fulfill the prophecy. It requires us learning the ways that make for hope, love, joy, and peace.
We begin Advent again and our world is still in the darkness that I felt that Advent night in Washington DC in 1983. How do we take seriously the prophecy from Isaiah? How do we learn the ways of God, to walk in God’s paths? How do we keep before us the vision of a world that is so in love with God that the ways of violence and war are forgotten? How do we keep this focus in our hearts, even while we are keeping up with all the other activities of the season?
People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Guest, is on the way. (Eleanor Farjeon, 1928)
For some reason, this Advent hymn always helps me remember what we are doing during Advent and indeed all throughout the year. Eleanor Farjeon, a British writer, known mainly for her children’s stories was imaginative in the poetry for this Advent hymn. Looking to the east is to look to the place from where Emmanuel—God with us—was thought to come. And Emmanuel will come into our ordinary lives as Love, who comes to us a guest, as a rose, something precious, beautiful, fragrant and flourishing, as a star who watches and together with the moon and the sun brightens the sky and shines upon the earth, as the Lord, whose arrival is announced by angels and sets the peaks and valleys humming. This description of the coming of Emmanuel is the description of shalom that our hearts yearn for. It is something that we long for and yet, it is something that we already have for Emmanuel—God with us—is already here, already with us.
Every day, there can be a moment when Emmanuel—God with us, Jesus—floods into our lives and reveals to us something so deep, so profound, so transforming that our lives are never the same and our lives touch others in loving, forgiving, hope filled ways. This is the way of God that Isaiah is talking about. This is the way of our Advent preparations. This is the way of Love the Guest, Jesus Christ. This is the way of Emmanuel, God with us.
Come Lord Jesus. Quickly come.
Soli Deo Gloria!