A view from above

October 8th, 2019

Isaiah 2:1-5

This time of year is a real mixed bag.

Advent and Christmas can be very difficult for some people. Depression and suicide increase more than any other time of year. Loneliness and isolation prevent some folks from enjoying the holiday. Hymns and carols can elicit feelings of melancholy and make people withdraw. High blood pressure rises due to the rat-race nature of finding the right gifts and getting to that next party. We stretch our sensibilities and sensitivities to the snapping point.

Churches are no different. From lessons and carols to Advent Series to pageants and choral cantatas, along with the demanding rehearsal schedules, church folks barely find the time to fit all the festivities in a schedule. Things like silent time and moments of reflection on Advent readings from Scripture are at a high premium. Many times, the premium is too high. The only moment we have may be at worship, if we can fit it in.

It’s also a time when frustration can lead to anger. Conflict over priorities emerges as expectations run rampant. Worship is the place we may run to for help, for confession, for forgiveness, for being redeemed in the midst of the holiday season. It’s a place where we can sort out our priorities.

It is the time of year, perhaps, when we need God’s help more than any other.

I recall seeing a Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown is sitting under a tree and thinking about a reading from the Bible. It’s about Moses hearing a word from above. Charlie thinks of what it must be like to be able to hear God’s voice. He looks at his sidekick, Snoopy, and asks him if he’s ever heard a word from above. In a little bubble over Snoopy’s head are the words, “Attention K-Mart shoppers.” This time of year we find ourselves trying to keep as much of the noise out as possible but too often find ourselves in Snoopy’s predicament and exhausted by all the Christmas barkers.

Thus the text from Isaiah calls to us once again and asks us to grapple with the purpose and meaning for being in worship on Advent’s first Sunday. Is it not the place to which we run each week to hear a word from above, a place to quiet the noise inside us to hear that “still, small voice”? I believe so. But maybe it’s more than that.

Worship can also be a significant Advent location for us to discern and believe “He’ll show us the way he works / so we can live the way we’re made” (Isaiah 2:3 THE MESSAGE).

How can we worship and live in ways this Advent that demonstrate less time spent on Wall Street and more on Church Street?

First of all, in our places of worship, let us hear God saying how we’re to act and behave “out there.” An example may help us understand this. Several years ago I was in a local town meeting sponsored by our mayor to address the issue of gang violence. Several from our church attended the forum. Among the huge turnout of citizens, representatives from eight different faith organizations gave insights and reports on how they were dealing with the issue.

I recall feeling that God was at the meeting. I perceived that God was working through the presenters’ faith communities. It was clear to me that the people of faith in that room were sincerely interested in the issue and wanted to do something to help. Put another way, they were acting out their worship in very real and significant ways.

As we listened, we were told the police department in our town had identified 287 people of various ages and backgrounds as gang members. But much of what we were hearing was about efforts being focused on youth in our city and county who were not gang members. It became clear the meeting was basically about preventive measures to keep youth out of gangs.

But what about the 287 identified gang members? Was God interested in these folks? Or were we to just write them off as unreachable, nonrecoverable? A couple of us voiced such concern during the break time and even spoke to the mayor and the police chief about what was happening or what was being planned to reach those who had already been victimized by gangs and were presently involved in gang activities.

What we later found out was that there was a plan to develop a hotline of professionals skilled in the area of counseling who would take calls from anonymous callers and direct them to those who could help them leave a gang. It was clear to us that preventive measures alone would take an enormous amount of community effort in such extremely dangerous and complex work. Rescuing the victimized youth would be extraordinarily hard and risky and even harder work.

This is where Isaiah gets under our skin. Some of us in the room that night sensed we were being called to join the cooperative effort to let gang members know that they were on our radar screens, not as targets but as victims, and worth every one of our efforts. We felt they were our children, our neighbors, and we were being moved to reach them and begin the process of learning, educating, and helping them reassimilate or be restored to their community. They didn’t have to be isolated, fearful, hateful, and angry toward our town. We wanted them back with us. We left the meeting that night feeling compelled to support efforts addressing the gang issue in our town and reaching out to them.

Is this not the way God wants us to respond in what really matters in this life? After all, is this not the way God behaves toward us when we go off the path? Isaiah’s calls for advocacy, those who can “arbitrate” (Isaiah 2:4) and help bring resolve and solution to life’s most challenging and demanding concerns.

Make no mistake about it, addressing such concerns as gang violence is a huge mountain to climb. They are Mount Everest–sized challenges. It takes time, money, and sweat equity to be God’s advocates. But with God’s help, the church can help a community make the climb.

How do we begin such journeys of rescue? Isaiah says, “Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!” (v. 5).

How will knives ever be turned into shovels and guns turned into tools of learning if we are not first enlightened by God? Advent is a wonderful time for enlightenment from above.

Having said all this, I still believe this time of year is a real mixed bag of things. Some of the things are of little or no value; some are invaluable, even eternally valuable. A view from above every now and then helps sort them for us, especially during Advent.

comments powered by Disqus