Choosing a Journey of Peace
Journeys begin with a choice. Shall I go or not? Shall I stay and embrace the known and the comfortable, or shall I go and maybe find something wonderful, or maybe be unsettled, upset, uncertain? If you are a backseat person, you may not feel like you had a choice; you were dragged along by those in charge of you. But even there, you have a choice. Are you going to enter into the spirit of the journey, or sit with arms folded and head down, grumpy face on? Your choice is whether you are going to add to the joy of the journey or make it miserable for everyone, yourself included. Journeys begin with a choice.
Our Gospel text from Matthew talks about those who don’t even know there is a journey going on. They are just there, doing their thing, not even noticing that plans are being made, that reservations are in place, travel snacks have been purchased. They’re too busy to pay attention, too focused on the tasks at hand to notice that there is movement, that the keys are being jangled, that the car is pulling out.
The call in Matthew’s Gospel, indeed the call of Advent, is to wake up and pay attention to what is going on around you. The tasks described in the text are not bad things, not anti-faith things. Whether it is the life things of eating and drinking, or sharing life in committed relationships and extended families; or whether it is the labor of our hands, tilling the fields, grinding the corn, punching the time clock, filling in the forms, tightening the screws—all of it is work that needs to be done. All of it is about building a life. And the call isn’t necessarily to add more to that already busy schedule. That’s a problem that we often have in our preaching: we load our hearers up with an even longer to-do list. Come to worship to get your marching orders for the week!
Instead of a to-do list, Jesus wants us to have a pay-attention list. “You must be ready,” he says, “for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Regardless of where you stand on the return of Christ issue – whether it will be like a thief in the night, or on the clouds of glory, or whether the Son has already come and we are living in the working out of the reign of God time – that we need to be alert seems to be our call. But the real question is, “Alert to what?”
While some might be content to wait for a supernatural appearance that will answer all our questions and resolve all our doubts, most of us would rather have something a little more real-world to look for, something a little more practical for us to do; or else we’d prefer to keep grinding our corn.
That is why we need Isaiah. “Wait,” you’re thinking, “What in the world is ‘practical’ about the text from the Hebrew Scriptures this week?” It’s a vision, a dream, a glance into the unreality of what isn’t in the midst of what really is. Even Isaiah admits that. “In days to come,” he says; not now, not today; one day, someday, maybe. It’s beyond our reach, pie in the sky. “Let’s live in the world as it is,” we claim, not as what we wish were true. Except . . .
There’s an old joke about sculpting. How do you make a sculpture of a horse? You get a rock and carve away anything that doesn’t look like a horse! OK, maybe it doesn’t work for sculpting, but might it work for the people of God. What could be more practical than taking our lives, our culture, and our community and carving away anything that doesn’t look like the vision we have for God’s reign? With Isaiah’s vision for peace as a guide, we could make the choice to journey toward the realization of a dream that could change how we live in the world of today.
Advent is about anticipating something that is on the horizon, something greater than we can imagine on our own, something that speaks of God breaking in to the world we know. The season, and the sermon, calls our communities to choose the way of peace, in their homes, in their communities, and in their online presence—as the beginning point. From there, the season calls us to begin having an influence around us in the way of peace, to call for peacemaking in our schools and neighborhoods, in our local government and community priorities. We are called to take considered stands on policy issues that have an impact on all of us as citizens, but also as followers of the one who comes.
We can wait in all sorts of postures. We can be inert, knowing that true transformation will come only from God. Or we can choose to journey toward the world Advent promises by walking in the paths of peace, even now.