“WALKING IN THE LIGHT”

Isaiah 2: 1-5

The Reverend Tasha Blackburn

November 27, 2016

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When I graduated college, my parents took my brother and me to Europe. We spent a whole
24 hours in Paris which means we literally ran through the Louvre, that most famous and gigantic of museums. Even in the rush there was one painting we knew we had to see: the Mona Lisa. It was easy to find her. She was surrounded by a crowd 10 people deep, all straining to get a glimpse. We finally got our turn. And she was, well, she was…she was a disappointment. I apologize to all of you who love her but, come on! First off, she is smaller than you think she’ll be—only 1 ½ feet by 2 ½ feet!—and, secondly, it is hard for a novice to see why she is so much more special than the other paintings around her.

My father was especially upset. He had never been out of the country before this trip. He’d never even imagined he would ever travel to a foreign country. So he was expecting something this famous to be exotic and overwhelming. He walked away from her pointing to all the other paintings on the walls as he passed. He kept asking, “How is she better than this guy? Or that one? Or this?” By the time we left the museum he was pretty sure the only difference between the Mona Lisa and other paintings of her era was that Da Vinci had a better PR agent.

Some journeys are like that. We build them up in our own minds, expecting so much from them and then they don’t live up to the hype. Some, but not all. I would venture that no one who has ever dreamed of seeing the Rocky Mountains has been disappointed when they drove around a bend and saw those peaks for the first time with their own eyes. Surprise and awe are more likely responses in that case.

These journeys we take change us in some way. Some paths make us less trusting, some make us more hopeful and some give us the surprise of our lives. Every place we’ve been leaves its mark and every trip asks something of us. The only difference is whether or not the journey leads to somewhere worth going.

In Psalm 122 we hear from a singer who is on a journey. He has chosen to leave his home and travel to Jerusalem. We have talked about the “Songs of Ascent” before and this is one of them. They were songs the people would sing when they were on their way up to Jerusalem. It is a curious idiom in Hebrew that, no matter what direction you travel from, you always go “up” to Jerusalem so each of the songs are labeled at their beginnings with the words “for climbing.” In Psalm 121 the pilgrims are on their way and in our Psalm 122 they have arrived.

And why did he travel so far? Why leave his home behind? Because, to be in Jerusalem, within her gates and in her holy Temple, that was the same as seeing God. The singer firmly believes this. Which is why he exclaims, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” He knows there is no way this trip will not have been worth it.

I wonder if you’ve felt the disconnect. I’m sure you have because it happens every year. Everyone around us is hanging red and green lights and yearning to sing “Joy to the World” and so are we. But then we come to worship and we light a purple candle and we sing about waiting. “Where are the carols?” we wonder. “And why are we holding back?” It is because in the Church we are on a different journey than other people are.

For us, it is not yet Christmas. Instead it is New Year’s Day. Because today is the first day in the church’s year which means it is the very best of what any first day is, with the extra meaning that this first day is all about your faith. This is the day when you can begin again…in your faith. It is the day you start fresh in your relationship with God. The past is behind you. A new year has begun.

And the first word in that new year is a prophet’s lone voice calling to us: “In the days to come,” he says to us, “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’”

This is the journey we are on and it is a journey that begins today. We are on the journey where we stream toward the Lord’s mountain. We are on the journey where we learn from him. We are on the journey where we start to walk as he walks. The goal for us this season is not to race to the baby in the manger but to travel this road so that, when we meet the baby, we will know him for the Lord of lords he is. To do that, we have some climbing to do.

So I offer up for all of us this New Year’s resolution: to begin this journey again, the one that travels up the mountain, and not take the other paths that will inevitably disappoint us. Because they will, those other paths. Only the path where we seek God and have him teach us is worth the trip. The rest of them just have good PR.

When a journey is long, as this one is sure to be, it can become overwhelming. So let us just focus on our first step on this first day. And what is it? That first step is celebrated in our candle this morning. It is hope. It is hope, not only in the next world, but in this world too. When Isaiah writes, “in days to come” that is not a phrase talking about heaven or the next world. That phrase means sometime on this earth, sometime within some generation’s lifetime. On this earth there will come a time when we beat our swords into plowshares. In someone’s generation we will learn war no more.

Do you believe this? It is certainly hard to believe. Spend this week climbing toward greater hope because this hard-to-believe thing has been promised by God. And God keeps promises. Continuing on this journey means we will need to grow in hope. Hope that the future does belong to God and that the first step into that future belongs to those who have seen enough of God’s light to live in hope that there will be enough light left to guide us all the way to the mountain. Every journey leaves its mark and every journey asks something of us. Today let’s begin with hope the journey that is definitely worth the trip. Amen.