Teachers are visionaries. At their best, teachers inspire their students to dream of and work to create a better world. There is a famous scene in the movie “Dead Poets Society” (1989) when the odd out-of-bounds teacher Mr. Keating, played by Robin Williams, has all the boys stand on their chairs to get a different perspective on the world. In the process, he turns teenage boys into lovers of poetry, dreamers of a new way of living as a “band of brothers” in a community of passionate learners.
I am struck by how Isaiah’s Advent vision describes God as a teacher standing on Mt. Zion. And like the Master Teacher that God is, God’s lecture is magnetic. The nations stream to class, like a river flowing upward against gravity to the highest of mountains. It’s as if God has all the nations stand on their chairs to imagine a different possible future. The instruction, the Word of the Lord, goes forth with such sway that the nation-students do the unimaginable: they beat their instruments of war into farming implements, no longer willing to go to war against one another. They leave their mountain-classroom singing what would become the great African American spiritual inspired by this Advent vision, “Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside… I ain’t gonna study war no more!”
In this war-weary world, let us stand on chairs, if we must, to catch a glimpse of Isaiah’s vision of nations who one day willingly turn their war colleges into colleges of peace; nations who one day choose to study war no more. Now that would be worthy of an Advent anthem, “Gloria en excelsis, Deo!”
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3 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.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
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 any more.
5 O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!
Welcome to Goshen College’s online devotionals for the 2013 Advent season! Our theme this year, taken from the Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada worship resources found in Leader magazine, is “O the Mystery of God’s Dwelling.” Every Monday an author will introduce the sub-theme, and on the following weekdays authors will reflect on a specific Scripture passage. The theme for this week, Advent 1, is “We may walk in God’s paths.”
“O the mystery of God’s dwelling” expresses a sense of awe and wonder. Will we hold these words as a reverential expression for God’s act of incarnation? Will we mutter them with a sense of frustration and confusion trying to fully make sense of God entering the human world? The Advent Scriptures present us with a plethora of images of judgment, pain, suffering, idolatry and oppression in both the natural and the human worlds, as well as the parallel images of restoration, redemption, salvation, wholeness and peace.
When you consider the literal and metaphorical paths you have walked in life, what comes to mind? I go back to the woods of my childhood farm. There were different paths traversed for various reasons. Some were made by our tractor, others by human feet, and still others by deer that regularly bounded through. Most of the paths were contained within our property boundaries that I knew well. As long as I stayed on them I was sure to circle back to a place of familiarity. But other paths went beyond our property to unknown destinations. What was on the other side? Where would it take me? Were those lands more of the same or different? Should I go there? What will happen if I do?
I have had both joyful surprises and unexpected annoyances on the paths of life. But sometimes the paths I trekked delivered tragic realities for which I wondered if there could have been another way, or why this happened. Like the Psalmist, I questioned and exclaimed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest,” (Psalm 22).
O God, wander with me in the paths of life. Help me recognize your presence when mystery is my close companion.
As churches prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth, Goshen College offers an online spiritual resource to help believers make time and space in their hearts and minds to welcome Advent, even in the midst of busy schedules and hectic lives.
Beginning Nov. 25 (the Monday prior to the first Sunday in Advent) and culminating on Christmas Day, Goshen College students, faculty and staff will provide weekday reflections based on lectionary Scripture passages. Many writers will reflect on the Advent theme: “O the Mystery of God’s Dwelling,” taken from Mennonite Church USA worship resources.
The devotions will reflect honestly on the Scriptures and offer words of assurances of faith. The spiritual offerings will include poetry, personal stories, reflections and prayers, all intended to more closely examine the call to change and follow Christ.
Since 2001, Goshen College annually celebrates special seasons of the church calendar, particularly Advent and Lent, with online devotions.