In days to come, the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it;
many peoples shall come and say:
“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.”
With Advent Christians might ask one another, "Do we teach the world how to celebrate Christmas, or do we ask the world how we should celebrate this feast?"
Christmas did not appear in Christianity until the fourth century. It was the Roman church's attempt to baptize a pagan festival. The rest of the Church, both east and west, clung to January 6, known as "Epiphany," as the day to celebrate the Incarnation. On that occasion they read all of the Nativity narratives from Matthew and Luke, not just the truncated story of the magi.
After seventeen centuries of attempting to baptize this winter festival, I frankly think we have failed. December 25 is still a pagan holiday, and many Christians fall in line behind it.
In today's first reading, the Prophet Isaiah foresees the day when the world will come to Jerusalem seeking instruction "in his ways" that "we may walk in his paths." He doesn't suppose that Jerusalem has much to learn from the nations about the worship of God, much less justice or mercy.
This year we can enjoy the longest possible Advent; Christmas falls on Sunday this year. We will hear all twenty-eight Advent readings! The Christmas season, however, will be short, with Epiphany falling on January 8 and the Baptism of the Lord on Monday, January 9. If you want to enjoy Christmas this year, you start today.
My particular joy comes from hearing the scriptural readings of the season. They are rich with anticipated joy, which is the best kind. I have often found it better not to open birthday or Christmas presents before the day, since they're usually disappointing. The longer I can wonder what might be in them, the better.
The scripture readings of this season, from the First Sunday of Advent to the Baptism of the Lord, teach us to feel the longing, to nourish, protect and sustain it. This Hope must be the driving force of our lives. It should not flare out the moment we open our Christmas packages.
Expectations of the Messiah drive us into the workplace, school room, Internet, voting booth and political arena to represent God's justice and mercy. Even the shopping mall should hear our Gospel. In all those places we honor the people we encounter as images of God -- regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity or religion; regardless of their wealth, education or capability.
Without our Hope the world is doomed to endless, meaningless cycles of rise and fall, expansion and collapse. It's technical gimcrackery leads nowhere, not one step closer to justice; it's peacekeeping only forestalls war. But...
hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Only the Lord can show the world where He is leading, and we are his prophets. We know the path not because we have scouted ahead but because we walk in it each day. If we are true to our calling the wise of this world will finally notice, they will say,
“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”