On our Danube cruise last summer, we were in five former Soviet Bloc countries as we went from Budapest to Bucharest. Years after the end of Soviet domination, signs of drab life under Communism still remain. In the cities there are block after block of dull grey bloc apartment buildings where workers were forced to live an equally drab existence. Retried Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong recently reflected on his visit to former Soviet bloc countries and said Communism fell apart because Communism misunderstood human nature. From “each according to ability and to each according to need” is a prescription for failure. Our basic instinct is for survival, not for the common good. People came out from under Communism just as the Israelites escaped the drab slavery of Pharaoh’s Egypt. They set forth with a dream of a just society where everyone mattered. Time and time again, they would go astray but prophets, like Isaiah, called them back to the noble vision.
Today’s lessons are about hope. Today’s lesson are about building the beloved community. I am wearing my green stole because it is the only one I have; however, green is the sign of hope. When the leaves have fallen and all is wintry drab, we await the return of new green life in the spring—unless we are in Central Florida. All you Snowbirds know what I am describing. Like the Israelites and John the baptizer we await the day when road will be made straight, valleys will be filled in, and hills will be lowered. We await the comfort promised by Isaiah.
Isaiah is calling out from the wilderness. The Israelites are about to be released from the captivity in Babylon. Isaiah invites them to come to a high mountain—Mt. Zion, Jerusalem where they can have a clear view of God’s plan for them. Remember that Moses got the vision for a better community on another mountain—Mt. Sinai. From a mountain perspective people can clearly see. In the prophet’s eyes they can see all of God’s promises and plans for them to create a just society.
Hope is the expectation that there is something better. The epistle makes me think of the man who was talking to God. He expected he could have something better. He asked God, “How long is a million years to you?’
God answered, “To me it is about one minute.”
“God, how much is a million dollars to you?” asked the man.
“To me it is a penny?’ said God.
The man expecting more said, “Can I have a penny?’
“Wait just a minute,” said God!
We hope for something more than what is. We expect something better when we are in the wilderness of pain, suffering, conflict, poverty, and oppression. We climb a mountain were we can see better. Aristotle said that a better world is based on justice. Commenting on Aristotle, Saint Thomas Aquinas, defined justice as sharing. Justice exists in human community where everyone has enough. We often get caught up in WIFM—What’s in it for me?” It is not about me. It is about us. It is about the common good because we are meant to live in community.
The Exodus-Sinai experience was pivotal for the Israelites. Instead of giving up and giving into pharaoh’s oppression, they believe there was something better. They escaped pharaoh’s grasp and set about building a better community based on the justice in the Ten Commandments. It was a noble experiment that failed at times. Solomon, known for his wisdom, drifted away and built shrines to other gods. Married to pharaoh’s daughter, he focused on wealth, power and might.
Isaiah and other prophets arose to call the leaders back to God’s ways. God’s way is built on steadfast love, justice and righteousness—on building communities where all can thrive.
I am now going to summarize a story from a children’s book, Old Turtle and the Broken Truth. Once upon a time that was no so far away people thrived on learning from the winds, mirror lakes and majestic mountains. Then one night an object—the truth—fell from the sky. It broke off and one half landed on earth and the other flew off into space. The crow found the shiny peace and likewise other animals. They threw is aside because it was not the whole truth. Then, a woman found the broken, shiny stone. It read, “You are loved.” Enthralled, she believe she had found the truth. She shared it with the people who lived near and looked and thought like her. They now reveled in having the truth. They no longer learned from the stars and the seas. Others found out they had the truth and the wars for the truth began. Eventually, all the earth and all creatures were suffering. The animals went to Old Turtle. Old Turtle told them that the people were not ready for change. Finally, a little girl wanting to make things better went to Old Turtle. They talked and she committed to bringing hope and change. Old Turtle told her that all would be well when people met others and recognized themselves in the other. Old Turtle gave her the other piece of the truth when she was leaving. Eventually she shared it with her people. They put the two pieces of the broken truth together—the whole stone now read, “You are loved. And so are they.”
Is this not what we hope for during Advent? The Christ promises a world based on peace on earth. Peace is grounded in justice. When we recognize that life is not about us, we will be on our way. We are about life. We are about loving as God loves. We live God’s unconditional steadfast love. I have been studying the Psalms. The one overriding lesson I have learned is that God is faithful. The Psalmist knows that God will come through. We might have to wait a minute but God will come through. St. Theresa said that we are the hands and feet, eyes and ears of Christ. We are justice seekers. We act righteously. We love as God loves. This is our hope. Let us make straight the way of the Lord. Let us go up the mountain and see our vision clearly.
We are loved. They are loved.