In this first week in Advent we have begun a journey as we are invited to the Mountain of the Lord. The beautiful first reading of the First Sunday of Advent (Isaiah 2:1-5) sets the stage for us to begin the watching and waiting for the Lord. However, Isaiah reminds us that it is not a passive waiting, but rather an active one. While prayer and silent waiting are very much part of this season, the prayer must move us outward to journey toward Him. The Lord of All will come down from Heaven to become one of us on earth, but He is asking for us to journey to meet Him, also. The reading from Isaiah reminds us that our waiting means we will have to be looking and listening for Him during these days of waiting.
Think of what was going on from the moment the angel spoke the words to Mary and she said yes. Heaven began preparing to touch earth, but earth needed to be receptive. Mary did not sit passively and wait for the birth. Instead her heart led her outward to her cousin Elizabeth who was also with child. When Joseph learned that this child was the Son of the Living God he began to prepare his heart for whatever was to come. At some point the magi had to begin their journey in order to get to Bethlehem in time. The Scriptures do not give us an accurate time line of when they began their journey or when the Star of Bethlehem began to shine, but we do know that they came a great distance, which means that as soon as they were aware of the Star, they had to prepare for the trek, and then move outward to wherever the Star led them.
All of the people involved in the familiar Nativity stories had to begin to prepare room for the coming Messiah, whether they understood fully or not. All of them had to make changes. There was Zechariah who became mute due to his reluctance to believe the message of the angel when he had his encounter in the Temple. Being mute meant he really had to learn to listen on a new level. It seems Elizabeth chose to do that, because Luke tells us that she reflected on what happened by going into seclusion for a while to pray and discern the miracle of becoming pregnant when in her old age.
Isaiah's message is that all people are invited to come to the place where God is, which he refers to as the Mountain of the Lord. This is clearly a reference to the Exodus event in which God revealed Himself to Moses on Mt. Horeb and then gave him the Law on those sacred heights. Isaiah is using this as a symbol for the kingdom God wishes to establish. He was foreseeing a time when all nations would stream toward the mountain of the Lord looking for instruction, which is to say, seeking the Word of God. He is foretelling of a time when there will be no more war and we will "beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks”; a time when war shall cease and peace shall reign. That is the true Kingdom which God intends for His people.
This Kingdom will be initiated by the Messiah to come, the long awaited One, the Son of God. However, we will have to do the work of ‘streaming to the mountain.’ We will have to prepare our hearts for peace. In order for us to allow our swords to be turned into plowshares we have to be willing to be disarmed. This is much easier said than done. It means we need to make a radical shift, not unlike the shift of Zechariah, the priest who did not believe in a messiah to come and yet was face to face with an angel, (something else he did not believe in), being told that what he did not believe in was, in fact, truth. We, too, must look at truths we do not believe in and see what is false about our stance. Perhaps it is that we do not believe we can be forgiven for something, or that we can forgive another for a hurt they inflicted upon us. Perhaps it is an anger we have held onto, a lack of patience we will not confront, or an unwillingness to pray we feel we cannot overcome because we believe we are too busy.
Maybe we are called to disarm from our tendency to gossip, tear down, or a need to always be right. Perhaps we have a ‘defense mechanism’ which we use to go on the offensive. Whatever it is that we arm ourselves with, we are called to lay it down. But the Good News is that the Lord meets us; He comes down from Heaven for us, so that He can help us to do what we need to do. He does not expect us to go it alone. If that were the case, He never would have joined us on the journey to the mountain that was already His home: Heaven.
Advent is actually a penitential season. In preparing our hearts for the coming of Jesus, we are called to let God help us be ready. This means it is a time of repentance of that which will bar the door to Him. It is a time of sweeping out the dirt and dust in our hearts and a time of preparing a room for Him to reside there. If we want to journey toward that place of peace, we have to allow peace in our hearts first. If not, we will never take a step out the door and the journey will not begin.
Thankfully we are reminded to do this every year because we never get it all done in just one short four week season. But if every year we allow a bit more disarming, a bit more sweeping out the dirt of our sinfulness, a bit more preparing, and a bit more journeying, we will eventually make it to the Mountain of the Lord. Or rather, we will discover the mountain is not that far off after all. In fact, we will discover that the mountain has been in our midst all along because He brought it to us when He came down to earth.
As we go through the readings of this first week of Advent, let us pay attention to the messages of Isaiah. On Monday (Is. 4:2-6) he tells us that God will come to those who remain faithful. (Notice it is that we remain faithful, not perfect.) He will wash away our sin if we let Him. He will protect the faithful who are journeying to His mountain. On Tuesday (Is. 11:1-10) Isaiah reminds us that the Lord will send us the gifts we need for the journey, insuring peace by working justice. Of course this implies that we need to move outward toward others to help this be accomplished since we are His hands and feet. On Wednesday (Is. 25:6-10a) we find out that on His Holy Mountain God will prepare a feast for us and He will dry all our tears. On Thursday (Is. 26:1-6) we see that God removes evildoers and sets His justice over all, especially giving justice for the poor. Friday and Saturday (Is. 29:17-24, Is.30:19-21, 23-26) Isaiah reveals that the deaf will hear and the blind see, the poor will rejoice, and all wounds will be bound up.
Advent is the season in which we contemplate what the coming of the Lord really is about: the establishment of a Kingdom which will have no end, a Kingdom of peace and the beauty of holiness, (wholeness), with God forever. Advent calls us to prepare for this. It calls us to renew the journey yet again from which we have become sidetracked during the year. It calls us to be like the magi, saddling up our camels and going to a new, unknown place which we should not fear because He is not only waiting for us there, but He accompanies us on the journey. It calls us to be like Zechariah and Elizabeth who are silently waiting, their entire world turned upside down, yet trusting the message of an angel. It calls us to be like Joseph and Mary who must journey to Bethlehem into an unknown future, but who know the Lord of All accompanies them.
Let us journey to the mountain of the Lord where His Kingdom of peace awaits us. Let us offer our swords and spears, trusting that plowshares and pruning hooks are what are needed to prepare the Kingdom. And let us allow Him to do the work in us that is needed.
May we be trusting in the message of Isaiah which tells us that the Lord is near! May we begin our journey toward holiness anew! May we be willing to let the Lord help us turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks! May we be filled with the peace of Advent-waiting! And may we embrace this season in which we prepare a place for Him in our hearts and in our world so that we may be ready to meet Him on His Holy Mountain! Let us meet in the Heart of the Lord, where Love resides! Peace!
The photos are all mine. The top one is Denali. I know it is not the same as Mt. Horeb or the Mountain of the Lord, but it is majestic. The second photo is Mt. Mucrone in northern Italy. The last photo is a path somewhere near Jacksonville, Florida.
The icon is Our Lady of the New Advent Gate of Heaven by William Hart McNichols and it can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/gallery-views/mother-of-god-gallery/product/241-our-lady-of-the-new-advent-gate-of-heaven.
©Michele L. Catanese
Heart Speaks to Heart