With turkey still in the refrigerator and pie crumbs yet in the pan, we started decking our halls on Friday. We could hardly wait! It is one of our most beloved traditions. I wonder if some of you did as well. Tens of red and green Rubbermaid totes carried up from the basement, ornaments carefully unwrapped, strings of lights untangled, and lights bulbs checked. But for Peter and Felicity, the headline event was the construction of Bethlehem village. Stable and inn, hillside, and tents, wise men and camels are the venue for exploring December. Bethlehem includes not only the traditional Joseph and Mary, innkeeper, and his wife, but also any assortment of characters from the dollhouse, the Hot Wheels Garage, or a construction site, even Elf Pets.
I am pretty sure that the prophet Isaiah could not have imagined Little People depicting the birth of Christ when he proclaimed, “In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.” (Isaiah 2:2) When the prophet spoke these words, Isaiah spoke a word of peace and hope to a people at war. With much more powerful players than itself surrounding Israel, the King turned to Isaiah for assurance and advice. God spoke a vision through Isaiah that the nations who oppress Israel, as well as the powerless, will come to the mountain of the Lord in peace and justice. And yet Little People alongside construction equipment and dollhouse people shows the heart of all people coming together across power divides in the days of Israel, as well as those who prefer turkey with gravy and those who favor tofu-turkey. As a people, we have much that seeks to divide us as individuals as well as nations and as world. We look more like the kingdom of Judah that needed the dream of Isaiah to encourage, and less like the community of Bethlehem that showed up this weekend in my dining room. God knew that we needed instructions. Eugene Petersen, the pastor who translated the Message, wrote verse 3 this way: “Come, let’s climb GOD’s mountain, go to the House of the God of Jacob. God will show us the way God works, so we can live the way that we’re made.” God already placed within us a way of being that reflects the very image of God; in drawing close to God, we rediscover that we are called to be ‘Menders.’ In his book, Creating a World that Works for All, Dr. Sharif Abdullah, defines a mender as ”someone who works to alleviate suffering is the way we practice our faith.” Our primary motivations do not come from anger or fear, but rather a holy desire that reflects God’s way by helping to make things better. He continues, “We are Menders when we believe the Earth and our fellow humans need to be healed from the excesses of exclusivity, and we live our daily lives in accordance with this belief… Our goal is to live as a consciously integral part of a living, conscious, and sacred planet.(1) ” Like the prophet, Isaiah calls us to return to paths of God, we seeking the mending of our world. Mending is a part of living on earth.
No matter how carefully we pack up our Christmas decorations, there are always ornaments that end up on mending pile: an arm to be reattached on a Nutcracker soldier, ribbon and hooks are needed for hanging angels, or ornaments we put away in need of superglue was not glued over the summer. Each reattached halo and arm requires complete attention and focus; however, once the ornament is mended, it can be returned to the tree where it lives! Sometimes, it is remarkably hard to fix these ornaments. For many of these ornaments, it is not the first time that they have been repaired. Their trips to mending pile are racking up frequent flier miles. It is a good thing mending, and reconciliation is full of multiple second chances!
Reconciliation takes time and is communal. Poetic Kinetics worked with the people of Berlin to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the fall fo the Berlin Wall. From the end of August through September, the artists invited the public to contribute messages for the future. Hope for the future, as well as memories of the past, were incorporated into this piece of living art that stretched from 450 feet at the Brandenberg gate were the wall previously divided the city(2) . The division between East and West, communism and democracy, families, and neighbors across the walls are being reconciled in active and public ways. Stories retold. These reconciliations build on the private restoration of relationships. Peace is more than just time healing the wounds of no longer divided. Reconciled peace is a forward movement reflecting God’s restoration of complete relationship.
When will the fullness of that restoration be known?, the disciples quiz Jesus in our gospel lesson. But Jesus, who does not once mention rapture, tells his followers, us included – that we are an Advent people. We know that Christ is coming. The only outstanding fact is when. No one knows the hour. We do know the way we are called to live as Christ’s people in this world. We trust and respond to what we already know about God, as well as what we hope about what is promised to come. Be ready for what comes next. Lean forward into Jesus’ way, instead of waiting for the full realization of Jesus’ presence.
During the war, the prophet Isaiah calls the people to take their weapons and transform them into farming implements. Creative activist Pedro Reyes in Culiacán, Mexico, describes his hometown as “the city with the highest rate of gun deaths in the nation.” Reyes took the implement of death in his city and imagined life. Reyes collected 1,527 guns for the project Palas por Pistolas. After the collection, a local military base publicly smashed the pistols with a steamroller. The transformed molten globs were recycled into shovels with wooden handles. Life begets life. The 1,527 shovels are being used to plant 1,527 trees in the city. Justice has come to Culiacán as people again imagine spending time outside, instead of fearful for their lives.(3)
So, what can we do? What is God calling us to prepare for God’s coming this Advent season? We are called to be menders. We are called to remember and restore relationships like those in Berlin. We are called to transform the world by beating instruments of death into instruments of farming and production. Like the God of us all, we are called to give and receive many second chances for peace and reconciliation to our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and our families. “There is power in walking in God’s light now, one step at a time. The future belongs to God, but the first step towards that future belongs to those of us who have glimpsed God’s light and are willing to trust that enough light lies ahead.(4) ”
This is the Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God, Amen.
(3) Amanda Froelich, “Mexican artist melts 1,527 guns, makes shovels to plant trees,” pocho.com.
(4) Stacy Simpson Duke in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1 (edited by David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor). Isaiah 2:1-5, Pastoral Perspective, page 5.
Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 2:1-5
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
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.
*Gospel Lesson: Matthew 24:36-44
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day[b] your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Meditations For Your Week Sunday, December 1 ~ Saturday, December 8
Sunday: “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.” Isaiah 2:2. On this first day of Advent, we thank God for second chances. God’s grace is abundant. There is nothing you can do to separate you from God! As many will turn their hearts to Jesus in this holiday season, pray for those who need to hear God gives second chances AND so do we!
Monday: “Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Isaiah 2:3. Consider that Advent is a time of preparation and growth. As an Advent people, we seek peace and reconciliation. Where is God calling you to walk in God’s path of peace?
Tuesday: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 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.” Isaiah 2:4. Peace is not just the absence of war but the presence of reconciliation between individuals, communities, and nations. Learning peace is as vital as not learning war. Pray for those who build bridges of peace.
Wednesday: “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” Isaiah 2:5. In the light, we are transparent. We are not defensive about our actions. Pray for our world and community as we seek to build bridges of peace and reconciliation in the light.
Thursday: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” Matthew 24: 36. Advent is the coming of Christ. As we prepare for the birth of a baby, we anticipate the full realization of God’s reign. We pray that God’s reign come on earth as it is in heaven.
Friday: “Keep awake; therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Matthew 24:43. Consider that Jesus was not advising insomnia, but rather a way of being alive that keeps us aware of where we see in-breaking of God’s reign around us. Celebrate today where you have seen reconciliation in your life with a friend, family member, or coworker. Praise God!
Saturday: “Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Matthew 24: 44. When you prepare for a trip, you lay out what you need. How are you getting ready for the coming of Christ? Have you sought out reconciliation with those you can? Pray for those difficult relationships in your life, as well as our national and international conflicts.