“Prepared for Amazing Possibilities”
December 4, 2016 – Advent 2 – Year A
A young girl was working so diligently at her homework that her father became curious and asked her what she was doing.
“I’m writing a report on the condition of the world and how to bring peace,” she replied.
“Isn’t that a pretty big order for a young girl?” her father asked. “Oh, no,” she answered, “and don’t worry. There are three of us in the class working on it!”
Today’s scripture texts give us some strong directives. The passage from Hebrew Scripture paints a vision – a type of map which points to the peaceable kingdom of Shalom. In the Gospel, John the Baptist calls us to repent, to rid ourselves of those things that distract and weigh us down, in order to be ready to venture with Jesus. So – let us journey the way of faithfulness as we explore in a little more detail, the text from the prophet Isaiah.
Looking at the scriptural map offered by the prophet Isaiah shows us the rocky terrain of life as well as a view of the valleys of peace and justice. “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together, and a child will lead them”. Talk about contrasts! What kind of idealistic fog has Isaiah been experiencing? Surely he wasn’t serious? Or was he?
Visioning animals that are natural enemies becoming peaceful companions, certainly gives us a different perspective on our world. Some time ago, the cover of the National Geographic magazine displayed a gorilla cuddling a kitten. I am sure that Isaiah would have recognized his vision in this picture. There was the powerful, mighty gorilla, gently caring for the vulnerable kitten. The powerful and the defenceless together in peace.
There are other visions of God’s peaceable reign that give us hope for the journey. A colleague, who I’ll call Bill, tells of an unforgettable experience while helping out a Sunday School teacher. “I need your help. Now!” said the teacher to my colleague, as she led him down the stairs. The problem was obvious. Young Peter was dressed as a shepherd for the Christmas pageant, and he was using his shepherd’s staff to hold the entire class at bay. He was swinging it around while the rest of the class cowered in a corner.
“Give me that Stick!” said Bill, well out of range of Peter. “Go to ….(well you can fill in the profanity)!” said the young child Peter.
Bill walked closer. Peter swung the staff, and Bill caught it in his hand, and yes, it hurt. But Bill hung on and so did Peter. Bill pulled Peter toward him and threw both his arms around the surprised young boy. Bill held Peter in a bear hug while the child struggled.
Peter struggled long and hard and shouted all sorts of obscenities. Bill simply hung on, with his arms around Peter. Eventually Peters struggling and his curses dissolved into tears. He released his hold on the staff, and gradually the bear hug turned into a human hug.
“You’re gong to beat the pants off me, aren’t you?” Peter asked.
“Why would I do that” queried Bill.
“Because that is what my dad always does”.
“Yeah. He comes home drunk all the time and beats me and my mom and everybody except the baby”, said Peter.
“I don’t want to beat you Peter. I want to be your friend”, proclaimed Bill.
“Nobody wants to be my friend. Whenever I get a friend I hit them and then we’re not friends any more.” Peter began to cry again. By this time, the frightened child was sitting on Bill’s lap, with comforting arms around him. Peter made no attempt to leave. Bill wondered if this was the first time he’d ever been cuddled by a man. Did he know that men can love as well as hurt?
“Are they going to kick me out of the church play?” Peter asked.
“We’d like you to be in the church play, Peter. But we don’t want you to hit people. Can you promise not to hit people?”
“No”, said Peter. There was such sadness in the small child’s voice. “No, because I just start hitting when I get something like a stick in my hand”.
“Peter”, said Bill. “Maybe I can help. I’ll sit right in the front row during the Christmas concert. And when you feel like hitting somebody with your shepherd’s staff, you just look at me. And then we’ll both pretend that I’m giving you a nice, warm hug. Do you think that would work?”
Peter and Bill exchanged knowing glances several times during the Christmas concert. And Peter got through the whole thing just fine.
Through the loving kindness of Bill, Peter learned that he was lovable. He could temporarily lay aside his temper and attention seeking behaviours. He did not have to carry the anger and sadness from his home environment, at least for a short while.
All the hurt, rejection and cruelty of home was an overwhelming load for a young child. It was little wonder that he carried an enormous load of anger. How many of us are also burdened by anger, resentment, and unresolved hurts? Many of us carry a tremendous load, that weighs us down and keeps us captive. Where do we find an answer? One of the answers is right here in this sanctuary. Sitting beside you, in front and behind are other people just like yourself, who have love to share. Those around you understand some of your hurt, for they too have known pain. So reach out – in your hurting and in your loving. That is God’s reality being lived out.
As we think about the experience of Peter and Bill, we are presented with a special model of life. Thanks to the patience and compassion of Bill, Peter learned that at least for that moment, he was O.K. Young Peter needed to pick up the essentials of life. He needed love, and acceptance, and understanding.
It is not just the young child Peter who needs to know the certainty of love. Surely that is the common need for all of humanity. The bully of the street, the addict, the prostitute, the terminally ill, and the abused, all need the certainty of love and acceptance.
It is not an issue of some people being loveable and others not. It is not a case of some people being more valuable than others. The common human condition is the longing for acceptance. To have a place – to belong – to be valued, that is the quest for all people. The promised time proclaimed by Isaiah points to a way of understanding, peace and harmony. The journey towards that time calls us to walk with one another, the way of compassion and sensitivity.
The cartoonist Lynn Johnston, understands the need for love. In one particular comic strip she show young Michael being an absolute twit. He throws temper tantrums, destroys things, and generally acts like a typical 6 year old. Finally, Mother’s patience ends and she packs him off to bed.
“Aren’t you going to kiss me goodnight”, young Michael asks.
“To tell you the truth”, says Mom, “when you act like that, I just don’t feel like kissing you at all”.
“But Mom”, says Michael. “That’s when I need it most!”
Long ago, the prophet Isaiah offered the people a vision of hope and new possibilities. Today that vision of promise sustains and encourages us. It is a view that calls us to shed the excess baggage of life, and embrace the fullness that faithfulness has to offer. May our journey of this Advent season be filled with love – both given and received. May we together seek the peace-filled way. Amen.