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Invitation to an Advent Pilgrimage

November 30, 2019

This picture of the trail to Gem Lake was taken on our First New Year’s hike in 2016. As we begin this Advent season, I invite you to join me on an Advent Pilgrimage. I hope that this will be a different take on the typical Advent Scripture Readings and themes. Typically there is a lot of focus on the apocalyptic nature of the Second Coming during Advent. Many people express frustration with this focus because they want to sing Christmas Carols and look at the infant Jesus laying in a manger. While we look back on our memories of what we think the Christmas story is all about, we need to realize that when Jesus comes again it will not be as a baby in a manger.

In the old days of the church, Advent was often called the “Mini Lent.” It was a time of fasting and preparation for the birth of Jesus. Instead of looking at the season from this perspective, I will be considering this time an Advent Pilgrimage through the lens of the readings from the Psalms and the Prophet Isaiah which are in the lectionary readings for Advent. I invite you to join with me on this journey as we consider this season of preparation from another angle.

I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord! (Psalm 122:1) This Psalm as a part of the grouping of Psalm 120 through Psalm 134 are called the Songs of Ascent. These particular Psalms were a part of the liturgy for pilgrims who were approaching Jerusalem for religious festivals. As we journey towards the commemoration of the birth of Christ, we are invited to go up to the House of the Lord in a spiritual sense.

The prophet Isaiah is a bit more specific in his use of this particular Psalm. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” (Isaiah 2:3a) Teach us God’s ways… God’s ways… what are God’s ways? Verse four reveals a portion of God’s way to the people. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many people’s; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)

When we think about the setting in life of the writings of Isaiah, we must remember that these were words written to a people who had been conquered and were being sent into Exile. They had seen the military might of their nation cast down in defeat. They had seen their way of life disappear before their very eyes. Isaiah was telling them about something different.

This future House of God would not be built on military might. It would be built upon a pathway of peace. Isaiah will later in his writings talk about the Peaceable Kingdom where the Lion shall lie down with the Lamb, but now we are being introduced to a new way of living, thinking, and believing.

I spent 26 years in the uniform of a USAF Chaplain Candidate and Chaplain. As a part of my obligation in uniform I spent a lot of time with my brother and sister officers studying war. It helped me to understand some of the thinking and philosophy behind what Sun Tzu calls The Art of War. It was also an opportunity for me as a Chaplain to bring another way of thinking to what we were studying and doing. As an advisor to senior leadership, I also brought critical ethical and moral thinking to the equation. At times my advice and guidance was appreciated. At other times I was politely thanked and then essentially told to go back to my job at the chapel.

This Pilgrimage of Advent as we journey towards Christmas is a time to seriously reflect on our own lives and how we are called to serve God. It will take both a new way of thinking and a new way of acting as we seek to share the message of the Prince of Peace. As Isaiah invited the house of Jacob, so I invite each of you to join with me in responding to the invitation extended to the house of Jacob: O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! (Isaiah 2:5)

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