Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City, NJ
I rode the subway early yesterday morning, and at one stop a group of young people got on with several bulky suitcases, including a hard cased one that looked like it could hold a big keyboard. One pushed an empty wheelchair, another brought a walker, and one rolled a furniture dolly. One young man immediately sat down and leaned over onto the seat to sleep. They didn’t appear to be in need of those mobility aids themselves, but in the few minutes we shared the same car I wondered where they were going and why they had all that stuff. Were these Occupy-ers moving their camp to a new place? Or were they perhaps helping a disabled friend or relative move from one apartment to another?
What motivates us to help neighbors, to spend days on end camping in the cold, or to get up and explore life’s possibilities each day? Our trek has a lot to do with what we dream about.
Isaiah and all the other prophets of the Bible dream of a healed world, where everything that is messed up, wrong, unjust, or disordered is set right again. He says his task is to shout out that dream – the year of the Lord’s favor – and he includes a day of God’s vengeance. Maybe that’s his stick in case carrots aren’t enough to get people moving down the road. But Isaiah does say that the dream lasts a year and the vengeance only a day – in a context where creation happens in six days. This is about an eternal dream of a world put right, and a day of divine dismantling and re-creation to get the dream and the dreamers moving.
That vision is the same one Jesus claims when he starts his own trek. After John baptizes him, he goes home and reads this dream from Isaiah to his neighbors at the home-town synagogue. It’s the same dream we claim when we’re baptized. Isaiah, Jesus, and you and I have been anointed and appointed to bring good news to folks who don’t ever hear much good news at all. The holy dreamers are going to comfort and heal the grieving, and set the slaves and prisoners free. We’re supposed to help repair ruined cities, and the bedrock for all of this is justice – and mercy. Compassion is the spark for this journey, the spiritual energy to get us moving down the road toward that dream of justice and a healed community. Compassion grows out of knowing that we are well-loved, as the psalmist says of people brought home again, well-loved and filled with joy and laughter.
This community gathers here to make the dream real, in this place and time. You aren’t just named Incarnation, you are meant to be and become that dream for the world around you, put flesh on it and draw the world into moving toward that dream. You know, after a hundred years, that journey is often challenging, and we need the gifts of all who travel this way. Realizing that dream needs us all, and indeed the dream means that all creation participates in re-creating what God has made.
The journey toward that renewed world is one of discovery and rejoicing, for the dream is becoming at each step along the way. This Advent season is a time to slow our steps and remember the dream, and to notice it emerging all around us. We wait for the birth of a child of great promise, who points the way and joins us on that road of becoming.
Jesus took that same road, beginning in a conscious, public way with the trip to the Jordan to meet his cousin John and receive his news and his washing. John wasn’t the dream himself, but he did have a part in bringing its healing to light. He said his job was to keep telling about the path and how to find it, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” The great builder of the dream is coming, let’s join the caravan.
The dream continues to be discovered on the road, and it’s easier to find with a few directions. That’s what Paul is offering when he says, ‘rejoice always, keep praying, be grateful whatever happens.’ The little company on the subway were clearly grateful to sit down and set down their burdens, and one of them enough at ease to catch a catnap. They were weary, but they went in company, rejoicing in what the journey offered.
Where are you finding joy and gratitude today, this week, this year? Telling out your thanks on the road sounds something like, ‘I’m thankful my body still works (mostly), I give thanks for communities of love and caring (and they can be families or colleagues, congregations or clubs) – even the fellow travelers who drive me crazy some of the time. I give thanks for delight in new discoveries, and for comfort in distress.’ We may rejoice in brief encounters with strangers when we’re received with kindness or have an opportunity to give of ourselves. True joy is far likelier to be found in the time we take to slow down and notice, rather than in racing around trying to answer the expectations of the nosy, the nags, or the needlers – or the search for position and identity through over-consumption. Slowing down may help us realize that those voices of impossible expectation aren’t going to heal us. Healing comes in compassion and companionship – knowing ourselves and others as both beloved and broken. Healing has a great deal to do with honesty about our own condition, and equal compassion for the condition of others.
We will find joy in truly human encounters, in binding up the broken-hearted or setting a prisoner free, in part of an hour spent with someone in a nursing home or helping an adult learn to read English. There is joy to be found in a death met with courage and hope. There is gratitude for light in the window after a long journey.
When Paul says, “do not quench the spirit” he means something like ‘don’t give up hope’ or take away anyone else’s hope. Don’t blot out the dream, or forget it when the road is obscured in pervasive darkness or suffocating fog. Remember those experiences of joy, for the dream-maker is still traveling with us. Trust the mystery. Keep on dreaming. God is at work in the midst of the yearning and the journey, weary though we may be. Keep dreaming of that healed and holy community – and join others on the journey. When the deacon sends us out there at the end of this morning, remember where we’re bound. And keep dreaming. Keep dreaming of a healed and holy world of peace and justice. Keep on dreaming.