Communion Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens, Sr. Minister, The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, Advent I, December 2, 2001, dedicated to the beloved memory of Dan L. Chase and his family especially, Grace, to the prophets from all ages, to the communion of saints and always to the glory of God!
(I of VI in the series,
"On the Way to the Manger")
Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 24:36-44
Today begins a series of sermons and meditations entitled, "On the Way to the Manger." Each week I will look at different people and creative angles and visions of the Christmas story. This sermon is about Isaiah the prophet and the city of peace which he loved. Isaiah was from a royal family - some of his family became kings and this one became a prophet. Listen for the prophet's word to you and to all of us.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our salvation. Amen.
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city of Zion, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her. She shall not be moved!" Jerusalem. The Prophets of Old and the Messiah have died upon her holy hills.
Having spent three days in Jerusalem this past February, I can tell you it is impossible to stand and walk within the heart of the old city of Jerusalem and not feel the power of this place. Although the Old City occupies less than 1 percent of Jerusalem's geographic area, most of the sacred areas of the city and of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are contained within the ancient walls of Jerusalem's Old City.
For thirteen centuries, the Temple Mount has been the home to the Dome of the Rock, whose spectacular gilded roof has come to symbolize the city and its conflict. The Dome of the Rock was built to commemorate the place where Mohammad ascended into heaven - making it the third holiest place in the world of Islam after Mecca and Medina.
Glory and conflict . . . According to Jewish tradition, the Temple Mount is just that, the place where both temples were built and destroyed, as well as the place where God collected the dust to create Adam and took Adam's rib to create Eve, the place where Cain killed Abel, and the place where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac. The Temple Mount is considered so sacred that no human should walk across it until the Messiah ushers in the end of the age.
For Christians, Jerusalem was the place where Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection occurred. On the Temple Mount Jesus, was imprisoned, and tried. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built by Constantine in the 3rd Century on the site where Jesus is believed to have been executed and buried. Battles have been waged through the ages by Christian crusaders seeking to control the fate of Jerusalem. In the name of Christ, many people have died defending or attempting to conquer Jerusalem.
Blessed or cursed, Jerusalem is built with the bricks and the blood of the religious imagination. Were this not so, Jerusalem would be what it never has been; just another city on a hill. (So wrote Kenneth L. Woodward in Newsweek, July 24, 2000, "A City That Echoes Eternity").
Today we enter Advent once again. And the Prophet Isaiah calls us, once again, to see a vision that "shall come to pass." His vision is for Judah and Jerusalem. He offers God's word that in the nation and in the city on a hill, peace shall come to pass. Jerusalem shall become the place where swords are beaten plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, the place where nations shall no longer lift swords against nations and no one shall learn war, anymore.
I know the words of the prophet may seem like a dream to you. But not to me. When you have walked the streets of Jerusalem and seen the intensity and power of feeling and faith the people there bring to their everyday existence, you imagine that the coming of peace is needed and desired just as intensely by God as by God's people. The problem is that each faith tradition cares so deeply about Jerusalem, that not one is willing to let go of it, and yet each faith tradition in its effort to possess and control Jerusalem, fails to hold the very gem which they can never truly possess.
Today, Isaiah's prophecy speaks to us as well. Often, that which we try to hold on to and possess, eludes us. Sometimes, we hold onto something so tight and seek to make it be the way we want it to be, or believe it "should be," that we strangle in and smother it with our well-meaning intentions and our self-pride. We discover, in so doing, that the "way things should be, can't be." They can never be the way we try to force them to be. We do this in our jobs. We do it in our families. We do it in relationships. We do it with our beliefs and our faith. We do it here at First Church, with our church building and our church community and our idea of what it should be. Perhaps we hold onto a memory, or maybe it's a belief system, or a life commandment (by this I mean "We have to follow this - or that - tradition." - This is known as the seven last words of the church -"We've always done it that way before'), and then we seek with all our imagination to keep something the way we believe it is meant to be. But, truthfully, it never was just that way. It never can be and it never will be just that way.
Friends, this is Advent. This is the season for waiting, for watching, for listening, for hoping. Advent is a season filled with dreams and dreamers. Isaiah was such a dreamer. He dreamed that God would break through the human condition of his people holding on to something so tight as to cause death of the very object of love. He dreamed that peace would come - to the city of Jerusalem, to the region of Judah, to the world. His dream lives on.
I have dreams, too. I know you do as well. We all do. I dream that God will free our hearts here at First Church to listen, to trust, to let go and to allow God to be God - and not the creation of our own needs or imaginations. I dream that in this season of light, God will be lighten our loads, brighten our eyes, quicken our steps, and make our joy real - as we make our way to the manger. I dream that we will experience the birth of Christ in new ways. I dream that we will be freed to see new visions, step into new visions, and to believe that the Holy Spirit will abide with us in trusting the vision of God. I believe God can work miracles in Jerusalem. God can also work miracles in our church, in our families, and in each of us as well.
It is Advent. Watch and Pray. Listen and Wait. Trust and Believe. Be open to the power of God's Holy Spirit! Amen.
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