From the Psalms:
Show me your ways, O Lord,
and teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
Gracious and upright is the Lord;
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
He guides the humble in doing right
and teaches his way to the lowly.
All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 25:3-4,7-9 (BCP Version) – December 10, 2012.)
Advent sometimes seems to be a season of mixed messages. We are preparing to celebrate the anniversary of the Messiah’s birth, so the focus at times seems to be joy and happiness, good times, family gatherings, all that sort of thing. But we are also preparing for the Second Coming, so the focus shifts to the end of time, the destruction of the world, wars and rumors of wars, a world in tumolt, turmoil, and tribulation, all that sort of thing. Mixed messages!
This week in yesterday’s Eucharistic lectionary we heard John at the River Jordan claiming to be the voice prophesied by Isaiah crying in the wilderness to make straight and level a roadway for God. If I read John’s message correctly, the obligation of preparing that pathway is ours. Then today we sing a Psalm acknowledging that we have not the vaguest idea where God’s path is, that we have no choice but to call upon God to show us the way to go. We are assured by the Psalm that God’s paths are “love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies,” but the message of the Psalm is clear that we do not know and cannot find the route without God’s guidance.
So which is it? Are we supposed to go out and survey and prepare the road for God? Or do we wait upon the Lord to point out and teach the road to us? Mixed message!
Or is it? Process theologian C. Robert Mesle wrote, “The world is not the way God wants it to be. Unjust social structures do not reflect God’s vision for us. Poverty, hunger, and violence are not trials intentionally put into the world by God for our education. They are evils against which God is struggling and against which God calls us to struggle . . . . God can work in the world; but God can work in our world most effectively, most quickly, through us.” (Process Theology: A Basic Introduction, Chalice Press:1993, p. 79) God shows us the way; we build the path where God shows us.
Today in the Episcopal Church, we commemorate the 20th Century monk Thomas Merton. A prayer written by him speaks to me about our call to joint road building with God:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
The message of Advent is not a mixed message; it is a clear message. God shows us the way; we build the path where God shows us. We are to be road builders with God.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.