Each year when Advent comes round; I love hearing the words of Isaiah as we have shared and proclaimed them here today, “A herald’s voice in the desert cries—make ready the way of our God”—clear a straight path.
Advent is all about the expectant waiting. We can think of the times we have waited for a loved one’s return, from a trip, coming home from school—our kids were 6 hours away, so only came home at the holidays and “expectant waiting” described the feeling well at seeing them again. The arrival of a new baby is another occasion that comes under the category of expectant waiting. For Isaiah, it is a longing for all that this expected one will bring—peace and justice that he speaks of in another scriptural passage where he announced the coming of John the Baptist who will call the people to prepare.
In Luke’s gospel which we didn’t read today, there is a longer account of who John would be and of his call to the people for what would be needed from them. We read, “Every valley will be filled in—every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight—the rough ways smooth.” Nothing will, nor should get in the way of Jesus’ coming—neither at that first appearance nor now, in our hearts this Christmas season.
God wants to get close to us—come into our hearts and reside there, help us to find our way, living our lives to the fullest. But often, the path to our heart isn’t straight, it is cluttered with “rocks and dead wood”—the obstacles that we put in the way, just like the woods on our farm used to be before we made trails. It is hard for God to get through when we throw up barriers. We need to look often into our lives and check where our focus is—our way isn’t cleared once and for all—but needs constant checking. Are we always busy with things?–always keeping active so that no time is available for quiet reflecting, having a talk with God about the bigger issues? Even though this is a busy time, I am simply asking us all to consider balance between the “busy-ness” and the quiet.
A friend of mine told me that he takes 10 minutes or so of quiet each day, with his coffee, lights a candle, and goes to the “basement of his heart” as we spoke of last week and checks in with the Source of All Life. He says that it makes all the difference in his days.
The beautiful reading from Isaiah today gives us a wonderfully concise picture of just who “this shoot from the stump of Jesse” will be—that in fact we should keep our focus on. The Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, counsel, strength and reverence for God will reside in this One, we are told. Justice will gird him and his care for all the poor and lowly will be evident. Those who are not about justice, love and mercy will be put in their place.
There is something wonderful in the air it seems at Christmas time when folks tend to reach out unlike other times of the year—I so long to make that Christmas feeling extend throughout the year! I believe that Isaiah was speaking of a future, peaceful time such as this; that the world only got a glimpse of when Jesus walked the earth—the wolf lying down with the lamb, the cow and bear as neighbors and so on.
All this peace and good will are our challenges my friends to bring about in our world; one small step at a time—one act of kindness at a time. We all love the stories of “paying it forward” when someone does us a kindness and we want to give them something back and instead are told, “Do something good for someone else!”
Advent also calls us to look at our world and its people with bigger eyes and larger hearts and to get at what causes people to suffer. I was having a conversation with a family member on Thanksgiving and shared about the collection we are doing for Standing Rock and it got me to thinking—wouldn’t it be great if there were no reservations, if we all could truly be one, living together in peace—that, truly would be “the lion lying down with the lamb!” Our country has a like opportunity right now with the “Water Savers” at Standing Rock in North Dakota.
Paul reinforces Isaiah’s message of peace and justice toward all in his letter to the Romans. He lets them and we know that our strength comes from our loving God who will stand with us, and be for us, in our pursuit of goodness, kindness, peace, mercy and justice. We never have to do it alone.
We are moving into a season in the Church Year that for many of us; if not all of us, is that one time each year that we really manage to open up our hearts, if they have been closed, even if just for a day or two, a week or two, and that is why this holy day/holiday is loved by many. We all as individuals, peoples, nations, want, more than we would say or admit perhaps, to live in a world that truly responds in love, care, joy, belief in others, gratitude, peace, generosity, justice, regardless of what we heard in the past political campaign. That is what Christmas is all about, extending our best selves to others, to our world and this is what truly “makes America great!”
In tribute to a prophet of our times, who died this past year, Fr. Ed Hays, who founded the Shantivanam Prayer Community in Kansas many years back; I would once again like to share his notion that the Christmas Crib and Santa Claus should go together. I have always felt this idea to be right, even before I discovered he felt that way too! Great minds I guess….
Ed Hays was a gifted artist and writer along with being a fine human being and several Christmases ago, he designed a card depicting both the baby Jesus and Santa. A baby was born out of love and self-giving and ever since, followers of Jesus have celebrated his coming among us by generously and lovingly giving to others at Christmas time.
I have heard some people who try to separate the two, Jesus and Santa and while I understand the intent, I don’t agree with the action. What I would say is needed, is again—balance. We should not have Santa without Jesus, nor should we have Jesus without Santa. When we balance the two we have love that is expressed. If we have Jesus and no Santa—then we fail to respond to God’s great act of love freely given—we simply must respond! If we have Santa and no Jesus, we have forgotten the reason for the celebration and our gift-giving is hollow.
Therefore Friends, my prayer for each of us is that we strive for that balance this Advent Season—make our ways straight, let nothing get in the way of our God coming into our hearts this Christmas Season, and be close to us then throughout the year, responding with love as we reach out to everyone we meet! May God bless us all, and give us the strength to be true followers of Jesus, the Christ, our Brother and Friend.