Isaiah 61:1-11 ~ Visions of Peace & Liberty
Isaiah and the gang have returned home from exile to find things to be less than expected. The ruins, the oppression, and the return changed them and their relationship with God. So they're hungry for new words of hope and new visions of peace. They're desperate for an updated blueprint that acknowledges the transformation, the things they grieve, and the way forward.
On Friday, President Obama quoted part of my preaching text for today. He ended his speech about the terrorizing disaster in Connecticut by hoping for the One who binds our wounds and mends the brokenhearted. He ended with a call for holy healing.
This is the Advent story. While the wounds are real and remain, there is One who binds them. While our hearts continue to break, there is One who can dwell in our presence, mending the pieces into the semblance of a whole. My brother had a quote on his Facebook page shortly after the news broke and, this week, Mr. Rogers was my preacher:
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers -- so many caring people in this world."
Isaiah and Advent are calling us to open our eyes to new visions of peace and celebration, but we have good reason to pause in devastation and fear this week. We have good reason to close our eyes instead. Because whenever I open them...
I see a teacher and a principal who lunged at the man, desperate to stop him and unable to end it.
I see a 27 year old teacher who hid her children in the classroom cabinets and the horror on her face while she waited for the man to kill her.
I see EMT workers rushing to set up a triage area, ready to be the Helpers and the Hope, soon realizing there was nothing to change and no one to treat. I see them packing up their gear and feeling as helpless like rest of us.
I see brave rescue workers tell children to "close your eyes, keep them closed", leading them to safety. I see that in order to move the blind, the least, and the little, they had to keep their eyes open to the direction through destruction.
Advent is our search for Christ and I hear him in the calm voices that shoo children into cabinets or lead them to the firehouse. I see Christ in the strong hands that secured the scene and the wise media outlets that resisted dramatizing and misinforming - instead respecting the humanity and grief.
We will see Christ in twelve years when the media again returns to Sandy Hook to cover a story about these 20 families and their celebration of what would have been a graduation day. Christ will have been there the whole time, knitting those mothers and fathers and siblings together for strength and comfort.
It's hard to preach when things like this happen and you need a good sermon yourself. I floated through this morning, telling the truth about Connecticut and Isaiah, but also hugging little children, giving a homeless woman her first communion and receiving a Christmas ham from a parishioner. As I left the church parking lot I saw an East African immigrant pushing a shopping card down Pillsbury Avenue. It was filled with her children all waving to me, regulars in our nursery during ESL classes. Their mother's maroon abaya was rippling in the wind, showing her fierce biceps beneath their modest cover. She was holding them tightly and keeping them together this morning. Our eyes locked together in the universal language of motherhood.
I don't know what to tell you about Isaiah's new vision of peace - maybe because I'm not ready to open my eyes quite yet. And I think that's okay. There is a time for open eyes and a time for keeping them closed. There is a time for jubilee and a time for weeping. There is a time for garland and a time for ashes. All of these good Advent things are true even if we’re not quite ready for them this morning.
Like first graders being led down the hallway filled with destruction, I will keep my eyes closed until my teacher says I can open them. And thank God for the Teacher, who keeps watch on the days we need to close our eyes and bear only what we've already had to see. There will be other days for visions of peace - and they will still be present and true when we're ready to open our eyes. Promise.