Next weekend I will be preaching a retreat with the theme TRUSTING IN GOD.THIS SUNDAY’S PSALM [115 or 116] commences "I trusted, even when I said ’I am sorely afflicted’."...
Well, we have made a few practice climbs but now we are about to start the real ascent. We must be determined to make it to the summit. Some may well feel that is too much for them, and are hesitating. If this is the case, take a look at OUR OLD TESTAMENT READING [ISAIAH 35: 1 – 6a. 10]. There we read: “strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees, say to those who are of fearful heart, ‘Be strong, fear not’!”
We must latch on to these words and make them our own, personal, motivating force. However, the prophet tells us more. If we make the ascent, in spite of the pieces of chaff which still need to be winnowed away and the odd wolf still to be tamed (remember the images from last week), “then the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom …” If we do not make the ascent then Christmas Day will both be wilderness and desert. So, PLOD ON!
Also, in the plodding do not forget the breath of God which is in us and the fact that he has joined hands with us. (also mentioned last week).
Perhaps the key to our determined effort in ascending to the summit is to be found in THE NEW TESTAMENT READING [JAMES 5: 7 – 10]. There we read: “be patient … establish your hearts for the coming of the Lord.” I wonder if patience, in all of us, is a neglected virtue? We have become accustomed to expectations being instantly satisfied … do it in the microwave … instant coffee (YUK!), why worry with a percolator … my Internet connection is so slow … send an SMS (whatever that may be?) … etc etc!
The impatient mountaineer carries a recipe for disaster! THERE ARE NO SHORT CUTS – no matter how much these may tempt us,
Saint James insists that “the coming of the Lord is at hand.” He has his own schedule. We have to be ‘there’ when he actually arrives. He will not be rushed, and we have to climb all the way. In other words our timing must be in step with his, and him ….. remember the joined hands!
We may not be wicked (very few of us are!) but if we insist on doing things our way, we will be thwarted. This thought arises from
TODAY’S PSALM [146 or 145]. The Psalm itself assures us that as we ascend the Lord will raise us up when we are bowed down and give us bread for the climb – but we have to do it his way. The entire meaning of discipleship is to be found in FOLLOWING, not in taking over!
This, in itself, presents many with a problem (a wolf to be tamed!) because of the tendency to be independent. So we must add independence to impatience. At once we need to distinguish between independence and freedom. Certainly the Christian disciple is not expected to become a dependant, a totally paralysed paraplegic. We are free, intelligent and rational. All of these must be brought to bear on our decisions, involvement and activities in a mature discipleship. We can never be independent from the Gospel and Jesus Christ. A famous Dutch jurist once argued for the strict relation between freedom and law, and pointed out that in the absence of law there is only anarchy. A simple example is experienced by most of us each time we are seated behind the driving wheel of a motorcar. I am an independent driver but I must have a driving licence, and it is helpful if I drive on the lefthand side of the road. My independence does not allow me to drive on the righthand side, and by observing the law I enjoy the freedom to drive. It is a sterile approach if I am regularly taking offence at the law, and find it intrusive into my independence.
The ACTS OF THE APOSTLES [26:14] records the risen Lord saying to Paul: “it is hard for you, this kicking against the goad.” Then, do not forget something else that Jesus tells us:”learn from me …… take my yoke …. my burden is light [11: 28 -30].” We all, at times, have an inclination to make it needlessly hard for ourselves! (and, sometimes, to make it easier!?)
So, we are faced with the challenge (and it IS a challenge!) Issued by Jesus in TODAY’S GOSPEL [MATTHEW 11: 2 – 11]: “blessed is he who takes no offence at me.” It is important for us to recognise that blindness should not always be confined to the physical, optical, barrier to sight. We must learn to see beyond the immediate, to read the signs of the times, to recognise our ineptitudes, hesitancies, reluctance to climb the little mountains, our impatience and false sense of independence. None of these things are especially helpful in Advent.
The Baptist, in prison, had been made ‘blind’ by his incarceration – so he sent his disciples to ‘see’ on his behalf. They were simply told not only to LOOK but to SEE WHAT WAS ACTUALLY HAPPENING! Then, it was up to them what message they took back to John.
Very often in order to really see we have to get ourselves up to the top of the mountain!
At the summit we will not see “a man dressed in soft robes!“