Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent 3A

Leap frog a few generations from last week’s reading and you’ll land in this morning’s passage from Isaiah. The past two weeks we were knee-deep in palace intrigue when King Ahaz of Judah buckled, making common cause with the enemy only to find the holy city in ruins.

A few kings later, and God’s people find themselves conquered and enslaved by the Babylonians. This has been their recurring national nightmare. Those who’ve seen the movie know that God’s people were enslaved in Egypt. Then they wandered lost in the wilderness for 40 years before finding the land that God promised them.

And, like last time, the people called to the prophet Isaiah for a word from the Lord. When will they be rescued from slavery?

This Isaiah, which many scholars call “second Isaiah” doesn’t have any inside information for his people. He doesn’t know the “when” or the “how.” He can’t tell them at what time they’re supposed to pack their bags. He only brings large promises. When first Isaiah brought grand visions for the history of the world, this second Isaiah has a word that is more personal than that of his ancestor in name.

This Isaiah talks about how the land and the people will be transformed. Deserts will have swimming pools. Arthritic hands will be like vice-grips, those with bad knees will throw away their walkers, blind folks will paint murals, and deaf people will update their CD collections.

In other words, the physical consequences of slavery will disappear, and they and everything around them will be made new again.

Then, Isaiah says, a highway shall be there and it shall be called the Holy Way...”

A highway? Really? Did he have to say highway? They knew about highways. They were the ones who went from place to place for 40 years looking for a spot to start over. They were dragged down the highways to Babylon to live as slaves. They built highways for their oppressors’ pagan festivals. A highway was something that they didn’t want. No matter how holy it was. All they wanted was to finally sit down and rest.

But a highway was promised. It was the only way out of slavery and into freedom. The highway kept them moving, despite their aching muscles and blistered feet. The highway kept them in motion, so they would not become complacent. The highway was their teacher, giving them the wisdom of the road. At least the highway was familiar to them. For better or worse, the highway - the Holy Way - made them who they were.

It’s been said that mobility is a sign of 21st life. That we are a people on the move. I know that’s true for me. I’ve lived in three provinces, numerous cities, countless apartments, and have logged hundreds of thousands of kilometres on too many cars, down far too many highways.

But that doesn’t make me any different from many people of my generation. We move around a lot. In fact, I’m surprised when I meet someone who’s lived in the same town their whole lives. Very few people do that anymore. Especially here in Alberta. Most come from somewhere else for work or to retire. I’ve met very few adults in Lethbridge who say they were born and raised here.

Some say that we lose a sense of place by our wanderings. They say that we are deprived of a sense of collective identity and shared history by going from place to place to place. They say that we lack a rootedness that comes from being committed to a community. They say that we’ve lost a sense of “home.”

And so, they say, we grieve this loss of “home.” And we’re always trying to find it again.

I think they’re right. But that doesn’t mean that we wander around lost in the world. But we do feel the loss. And we’re forever trying to recover it. From country western songs waxing nostalgic about the times in our lives when we felt free and secure, or retro-radio stations that play tunes that remind us of when we may have known a place called “home” to high school reunions to re-visit the time before we set out in life’s highway to make our place in the world, we’re afraid that we’ll never find “home” again.

And we probably won’t. Not in the way we want.

When the captives in Babylon took their exit off the highway and found their way to what they thought was home, they were deeply disappointed. They didn’t find what they were looking for. They didn’t find freedom and security waiting for them there. Only new sorrows and fresh oppressions. The highway didn’t lead them to where they longed to go.

So back on the road they went. Still searching for “home,” still hoping to find a cure for their restlessness, but probably knowing in the backs of their minds, that they’d never find what they were looking for, they’d never stop wandering, they’d never settle into one place forever. God wanted them on the move.

But as they would find out, they would return home. Not to place. But as a people. Their home was their relationship to each other and to God. They would recover who they were. They would remember the stories that shaped them, they would re-learn the prayers that brought them to God, they would be restored into that deep fellowship of knowing who they were. That knowledge, the knowledge of their history and the knowledge of their God would be their home.

All that was taken from them would be returned. Their time in exile would be over. They would be strong. They would be God’s free people again. They would, once again, be a light to the nations, bearing witness to God’s love and power, and then all the nations would assemble at the mountain of the Lord singing praises to the One who rules over heaven and earth.

They learned that home is not WHERE you are, but WHO you are, and WHO you BELONG to.

And we may never feel the security and freedom of “home” in the way a place does, but we do have a home together, when we gather as God’s people, receiving God’s love and giving it away. Our time of exile may be over, but we are a people on the move, returning to the Lord with singing; everlasting joy on our heads, where sorrow and sighing flee away.

May this be so among us.


Post a Comment

<< Home