Dreaming of Where We Are Going by Pastor Leah Rosso

Advent 1: The Adventure is Here Psalm 122; Isaiah 2:1-4; Luke 1:68-79

When you think of advent-- those four weeks before Christmas. Do you think of adventure? Maybe it's an adventure of trying to figure out how to get everything done. Some of you may have had adventures on Friday trying to get through the Black Friday crowds. But advent is a different kind of adventure altogether. Jesus is not the hero who comes from nothing and ends up with everything-- he is born in a shed on the side of the road, but he dies penniless too. And this advent adventure isn't like an adventure vacation where you go somewhere warm and try some new sport. No, advent is actually all about being where you are-- about being present to your life and welcoming God into it. It's not the kind of adventure we might be wanting or expecting, but it is the one that we are needing.

This idea of Advent as an Adventure came to me from a member of our own congregation— Karel Helgeson— when she noticed in a meeting this summer that the word advent is in the words adventure. I thought they just shared the same root word, but it turns out they are actually the same word from different eras. Advent and adventure mean something that is about to happen, a risk, a wonder, a miracle. The word started out as advent, and then several hundred years later the ending “ure” came into popular usage, making it sound like two different words, but they are actually the same— advent; adventure.

And for every advent or adventure, there has to be a dream of where we are going, right? Where are we headed on this advent that we are participating in? Our readings this morning point to an adventure that began long before us. Isaiah talks about it when he says that there will be a day when swords will get beaten into plough shares and people will no longer learn war anymore. The writer of the psalms speaks about it when writing about peace being in Jerusalem— praying for the blessing of peace to last within their walls. Zechariah in the Gospel of Luke sings about it as he talks about his son John and how he is coming before the Messiah— the one who will bring light into the darkness and guide our feet in the way of peace.

This advent, this adventure, has been going on for a very long time, and the adventure has always pointed towards peace.

In the Hebrew, the word peace, or shalom, does not merely mean freedom from trouble or the absence of physical war as we so often think of it. Shalom points to a way of being— a presence. Like the word "wholeness," shalom is all that makes for humanity’s highest good. This is important because as we approach the story of Jesus' birth, we see the people of Israel who are now living under Roman rule. And from their perspective, they are oppressed. But from the Roman perspective, they are keeping the peace. So as we begin our adventure, it is important to recognize the difference between a lack of war and actual shalom. As we live in our world today, it is important to recognize the difference now as well. So often we pray for peace and what we really mean is that we pray for people to not do violent things towards one another— and of course that’s a wonderful prayer. But God calls us to so much more than that. God calls us into community with our neighbors, our coworkers, our family, our enemies, the refugees among us. That is what God calls peace. That is what Isaiah is looking towards— to work towards a time when weapons are useless in what they are intended for— and instead are melted down to make tools. As the writer of the psalm puts it, a time when people will gather together on God's holy mountain.

In McClaren’s book, We Make the Road by Walking, he describes the difference between a dream and a wish. A wish is something we hope will happen but do nothing to make happen. These are the things our children write on their list to Santa. Wishes of things we want to appear in our lives.

Dreams, on the other hand, are what keep us going. Dreams are the things we hope for that we put all of our energy into making happen. We might have a dream of being an engineer or an artist; of owning a home or raising children; or living in community. And we work towards those dreams. They may change, but they are what keep us going in the direction we want to live our lives.

So I ask you today. As a church, are we wishing for peace? Hoping it just falls out of the sky? Or, like Isaiah and the psalmist and Zechariah and then Jesus, are we dreaming of it? Dreaming of going on this adventure that leads to shalom?

In Maine each summer a camp is held called Seeds of Peace. It started as a camp where Israeli and Palestinian teenagers could come and actually talk with one another. For many of them it was the first time they’d actually interacted with someone “on the other side.” At first they spend a lot of time debating policies of their governments, but as they get to know one another, they begin to listen more and more until they find it difficult to argue in the same right and wrong ways that they have been taught. They get to know each other as people. They swim together. They go hiking together. They practice dialogue and respectful conversation. It is the beginning of peace. When they go home, they are connected to others who have been to the same camp so that they can continue what they have learned at home. A few years ago, the camp began inviting other groups to come as well. Teenagers from Iraq and the United States. Teenagers from South Asia in warring nations. And each summer, these teenagers learn how to listen well and how to have compassion for people on multiple sides of issues.

It’s small, but it’s a step— a necessary part of creating the dream of peace that God has given us.

In Canada two Mennonite congregations sponsored a refugee couple, Brian Darweesh and Reem Younes, who were fleeing Syria. The couple had a simple, civil wedding when they fled to Lebanon before coming to Canada. A year later, the two Canadian congregations threw the couple a wedding ceremony, complete with a wedding dress for Reem and a Syrian dessert they learned how to make.

It’s small, but it’s a step— a necessary part of creating the dream of peace that God has given us.

Isaiah and the writer of Psalms and Zechariah couldn’t have predicted the shootings around our nation, or the thousands of Syrian refugees who are being refused a place of shelter, or the increased violence in the middle east. But it would not seem foreign to them. And when we look at the history of the world, it should not seem foreign to us. And yet God has created us to desire something utterly different. We keep dreaming and working for peace because it is what God has placed on our hearts. God has given us vast amounts of tools to use for peace— creativity, conversation, forgiveness, compassion. It is up to us to trust in God’s goodness and continue to dream of peace, working diligently for it in these dark days of war.

The world that Jesus was born into was not a wonderful time to be alive. And yet Jesus worked day in and day out to create peace where he went. How did he do it? By feeding people; by healing people; by sharing God's love with those that no one wanted to bother with; by truly seeing people. We are called to do the same.

In the Talmud, of the Jewish tradition, it is written, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

We are on this adventure in which God is still planting within us a map of peace. May we walk this road together. And may Jesus, as Zechariah so beautifully put it, guide our feet in the way of peace.