December 7, 2008
Edwards (Knox) United Church
Year B, Advent 2
Click here for an easy to print or email Adobe PDF version of this post.
The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
Isaiah gives us dramatic and beautiful images of peace that comes from God. In the metaphors of the valleys joining the mountains is the affirmation of the presences of God in the world. The mountains made low is a metaphor that God has come down from home of the gods to be the God of this world.
Isaiah gives us a picture that no place is God forsaken. The highway through the desert is the metaphor of God claiming this earth as the place of God’s love. For the desert is metaphorically the place that is full of terror and chaos - it is seen as God forsaken. So the highway carries the people through times of chaos and terror. God is on the journey with the people as guide and support. There is nothing outside God’s shalom, God’s peace.
In a world that is perishing, is finite, where there is an end to personal experience, Isaiah reminds the listener that despite the fact of endings, God is eternal. Endings do not define. The fact of loss does not determine the meaning of life. It is true that we fade but God is here eternally. What is most true are beginnings.
The poetry begins in comfort and peace - peace that is more than the absence of war. God’s shalom is the true vision of reality. Living in the comfort of God’s shalom the people are energized to face whatever life brings. No matter what disaster happens the people can face it for God journeys with them.
The movement of the poetic images allows one the cry of absence because one knows the peace of God. It is letting go of that which imprison us. This is to affirm a spirituality of absence that opens our reality to the presence of God, to the shalom of God. This moves the reader to new heights - a new transformed reality. Lift your eyes, the poet cries, and see the peace that the kingdom of God brings - shalom. It is here, in this moment, in one another, and in you.
The poem is about the providential nature of God. A poem about the peace that comes from the comfort of God, the image of being held in the everlasting arms of God, as an old gospel tune puts it. The power of God is one compassion and persuasion. God provides an aim of peace and we can respond out of free will. We can, the poet says, join in this journey of God, be part of this dream of God. For God is in the midst of every moment offering the possibility of peace, peace that is beyond our imagining.
In times of crisis we are tempted to define ourselves by our past. We are tempted to think that what goes around comes around. There is an appeal in this idea of eternal return or karma. In it some justice can happen, some resolution is made. Yet there is a fatalism in the view, a sense that we are controlled by others and the past.
The dark side of the power of the past can also haunt us. We can give into a pessimistic view of life, that our present and future is defined by who were, and what we have done. Then we live out of the past and create identities based on the past. The comment “he was always like that, I expected this failure” suggests how our consciousness has been formed by a sense of predetermined reality. It is easy to be caught by the images of, that person will never change, or I cannot change, or I am a victim and will always be a victim.
The past does press in on us. Our habits are formed and they can seem to be immovable, immutable. It is easy to say that once something has been put into action it is hard to stop it. This is particularly true of habits of thought and action that become built into our world, and we begin to think this is the natural course of events. We turn habits into unbreakable laws and say this is how it is. We can become prisoners of the past. We can become bound to our idolatries, our regrets, our greed, or our fears. So it is important to cry out - this shall not be. We shall not be caught in the negative reality. We shall not be victims.
For many, the hard question is how do we know God actually does affect the outcomes of every event, so that the past does not determine the future. My teacher, John Cobb, said that miracles are not a stopping of the natural order, a supernatural event. They are outcomes we never saw coming, were not predicted. It is true many influences create every event but the outcome can still be an unexpected, an unimagined outcome - could not be predicted. In this sense there is a transformation of reality, the present actually changes the course of history. Transformation brings in a new beginning, a new way of seeing. Before the transformation we saw reality and said this is how it will be in the future. A transformation event changes reality and how we see - we cannot go back to old ideas and methods.
Like the Isaiah passage Mark reflects a community’s experience of transformation. He connects a beginning passage with the experience of resurrection. The end of the narrative is in its beginning. It is an affirmation that there is a reality breaking into every moment that heals and brings peace beyond all understanding. This is the gift of God, and the community found it their interaction with Jesus.
The providential love of God is found here and now, the kingdom of God is continuously breaking into reality. Jesus is another moment of transformation.
Advent is a time of spiritual practice that prepares us to see how our reality has been transformed. It changes our hearts so we can see that the shalom of God is the true word about reality. God’s peace is here and we can let it inform our hearts and heads so we live out of values of the kingdom. Advent invites us to stop so we can begin again - see in the movement of history and our lives the love at God at work. It is to shake off old ways of seeing and preparing our hearts for the shalom of God to inform us. In preparing space in our time and hearts for God we are re-energized, to be the witnesses and workers for transformation. We break the bounds of fear and live boldly for the sake of the world, to be the voices of compassion and care. We are the voices in our contemporary wilderness speaking words and acts of peace - to cry out God is here, join in the care of all.