Sunday, December 5, 2010

Heading to the House of God Isaiah 2:1-5 December 5, 2010

I have always been impressed by those who run with perseverance. I know that Bruce gets up and runs miles every day. Steven McConnell’s Facebook entries often record with glee the number of miles he has run with a friend. I remember that when Steven was still new in his relationship with us he ran the Memorial Marathon half marathon, finished the race, grabbed a quick shower, and was in place at the organ for worship. Steven now runs marathons all over the country. Early in my story here I was amazed to listen to Jerry Barnett and Jamie Stephenson talk about their preparations to run the Memorial Marathon. I recently asked Jamie to tell me about his experiences. Hear a part of what he said;

“With the Memorial Marathon in OKC, there is not only the race itself, but the focus on why the race is being held, and the remembrance of the lives lost in the Murrah bombing. One of the most moving experiences of race day is the 168 seconds of silence just before the race begins, honoring the 168 lives lost. Another vital and memorable aspect of the race is the incredible support of so many along the way. Thousands of supporters and volunteers throughout the 26.2 mile course are there to offer encouragement, sustenance and entertainment.
While the focus and reason for the marathon are inspiring and the words and actions of so many along the way are uplifting and encouraging, after about 15 to 20 miles, even with all the hard work and preparation, the body starts to say that this is not fun! For a good portion of the last several miles, even with the encouragement of others, it becomes as much a test of will as fitness and endurance. Coming down Classen, then winding through Mesta Park and Heritage Hills, small victories are won not by the number of miles run, but by reaching the next traffic light, intersection, or parked car.

But then something pretty remarkable happens. In my experience when the going is toughest, I mentally focus on making that left turn onto 12th Street, heading east to run by the church parking lot, then turning right on Broadway to first glimpse the finish line. Particularly in my first marathon in 2004, having a number of church members providing encouragement and support as I went by is something I will always cherish and remember. “

Thank you for sharing your story, Jamie. I think part of why I particularly appreciate your story this time of year is that for many it seems the Advent season becomes a marathon of shopping excursions, parties, and friend and family commitments. There seems to be little time for moments of silence to remember why we run the race; few voices of encouragement to call us forward. In fact yesterday in the Penn Square Mall parking lot I watched people offer words and gestures to one another, but they were clearly not one of encouragement. If we are not careful the fatigue and frustration can make us miss the joy of running the race and running it well. The prophet Isaiah envisioned a day when God’s Kingdom would be established and people would begin the race to the house of God. Hear Isaiah’s vision and its Advent call. 2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.2:2 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.2:3 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.2:4 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. 2:5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD! In birth Christ we see this prophet vision fulfilled. Advent invites us to join the race heading to the House of God.

The tree sits in the same spot, with the same lights, and the same ornaments. You do not really have to think about how to decorate your mantle or which wreath will hang on your door. You will do it as you always have. You know the Christmas story by heart. You do not even need to look in the hymnal or at the worship guide for the words of the Christmas carols. You have sung them so often they are a part of the seasonal memory and the words just flow. You walk through the placement of the manger scene with a well established mental check list: Mary - check; Joseph - check, babe in manger -check, three wise men, one shepherd boy, one camel, one donkey, one cow, a scattering of small sheep –check. Angel on an odd ledge on the upper left of the manger scene -check. When you combine the marathon of expectations and the established routines of the season, it is easy to forget the incredible promise of God realized with the birth of Jesus.

This passage from Isaiah speaks to the power born in simplicity. The prophet knew that when the Kingdom of God came to earth we would have the opportunity to hear the teachings of God’s way and we would be summoned to follow His path. Isaiah knew that when the Kingdom of God came down that everything would change; that the sword and the spear– the symbols of power, would be replaced by the plowshare and the pruning hook, the symbols of servanthood. He knew that when the Kingdom of God came down God would offer a different kind of peace – that the way of war would be replaced with a sense of community that would transcend the boundaries that had so long separated people one from another. We are the living testimony of that community with worshippers in our midst from North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. This is an incredible display of the movement of God, and powerful reflection of the global way of grace. Hear that the coming of the Kingdom of God expressed in Christ is no ordinary event, no holiday tradition, and no religious routine. It is an invitation to see God up close and personal, to see God change everything by coming and walking among us to show us the way of God.

I have to believe that Isaiah’s vision was shaped by the grand processionals of worshippers coming to the temple. He would have experienced the powerful moment when the horns blared out beckoning the worshippers forward. In Jamie’s story he described what it meant for people to cheer him on. This too was a part of the worship processionals. It is the reason we hear the Psalms like the one we heard read earlier in our worship service and will hear sung in the moments ahead. It seems that Isaiah understood that when the Kingdom of God came down an even grander, more global call would go out. He envisioned the cry going out, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. This is the Advent call, the hope of what is possible in and through Christ. It is this Advent call that beckons us to the manger to see the face of the Kingdom of God that has come down to change the story of sin and judgment to a story of redemption and grace.

It is time to stop spending our energy running to the mall or working to make sure that our home is decorated in a fashion worthy of a newspaper spread. It is time to stop running place to place, event to event, trying to meet everyone else’s expectation. It is time to stop worrying about whether the gifts are wrapped to perfection. It is time to stop and remember that we are called to come and see the Kingdom of God that has come down.

It is time for us to join the journey to the manger in earnest. Come to the journey, not out of habit or tradition, but out a sincere need to have a fresh encounter with God. Part of what I love about Jamie’s story is that it makes it clear that although he ran as a part of a crowd of thousands, the race was very personal. The prophet Isaiah also was clear that although the invitation was to all, those in this race, this grand parade to the house of God would be defined by the people who took the journey. We must not be so captivated by going through the motions of tradition we forget why we celebrate. We must not be some consumed by the calendar demands that we forget where we are heading. It is a choice we must make together as a church family, and individually as worshippers of God. Join me in the grand march of the worshippers heading out to experience the presence of God. What we will experience is not a static manger scene but a live encounter with the living and loving God. Come and go with me to the mountain of God, to the house of the God of Jacob, the manger of the babe named Jesus. Come and walk in the light of the Lord and let nothing stand in the way.

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