The Coming King: Pilgrimage

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 2:1-5

Believe it or not – even though I am a native Floridian – I have hiked my fair share of mountains both domestically and abroad.  I have hiked in Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, Tennessee, West Virginia, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, and Maine domestically.  I have hiked in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany abroad.  These haven’t been major backpacking trips, although I would love to train for and complete one of those adventures – or more than one!  These hikes have been day trips – up and down the mountain, volcano, or glacier – depending on where I was – in eight hours or less.

Now…growing up in Florida has a lot of advantages.  Close to the beach.  Grew up hearing the sonic boom as our astronauts returned to Cape Canavral.  On the cool and clear mornings you can smell the salt water even if you are in the middle of the state.  Open-toed and open-heeled footwear is acceptable 365 days a year.  Owning one sweater is all that’s necessary.  Winter lasts about nine-and-a-half days.

Like I said – lots of advantages.

Big disadvantage – it’s flat…we think a 30-degree incline for 30 feet is a mountain!  So you can only imagine when I approached that first mountain…and every subsequent mountain…my reaction was something like, “you expect me to hike up that?!”

My calves are aching just at the thought of it.

Those hikes were hard freaking work.  In the words of Kid President – who alludes to a poem by the great Robert Frost – “‘Two roads diverged in the woods (or on the mountain for me) and I took the road less traveled’ and it hurt man!  Really bad!  Rocks, thorns, and glass…my pants broke!  Not cool, Robert Frost!”  Those ascents were such struggles.  I felt dizzy.  I felt faint.  I wanted to quit.  I thought because I had hiked a mountain before that hiking now would be easier – not so.  Each ascent was a new experience.  Each ascent was a new challenge full of obstacles shared yet unique between all the mountains.

Equally shared and unique was what I saw and felt at the summit – freedom and stillness.  I could see for miles.  I could breathe deeply.  I could feel the pressure in my ears build and release, build and release.  Never have I seen skies more blue – and I’m a Floridian – we know a thing or two about blue skies.  Never have I felt more accomplished.  Never have I felt more refreshed.  I think the opportunity to see anew, to feel accomplished, to be refreshed is what entices me to take these hikes when the occasions arise.

I wonder if these same opportunities – to see anew, to feel accomplished following a great struggle, to be refreshed – is what God had in mind for humanity when God used Isaiah as God’s mouthpiece to beckon humanity toward Zion.  It wouldn’t be an easy journey.  The people – us – you and me – would and do have to leave our ways and practices that have become home yet separate us from home with God.  We have to leave our sin, our deceit, our idolatry behind and that we can begin moving towards God.  That’s a struggle in and of itself.  But that action simply moves us to the base of Zion…we still have to climb it.

Any 90s kids (or their parents who had to watch it – I know mine did!) remember that show called Nickelodeon Guts where the final challenge facing the contestants was climbing The Crag – a mountain chock-full of disasters lying in wait to snare the unsuspecting player?  Yeah…our God is not doing that.  God doesn’t place obstacles before us as we make our climb.  We are our own obstacles.  What seems like a treacherous mountain climb could indeed be an easy stroll.  I believe that’s the way God desires it.  The struggle and overcoming obstacles comes in through those moments where we have to confront our sin, peel it away, and walk away from it and onward towards God.  That’s the work we have to do.  That’s the work God invites us to do and God doesn’t leave us alone in doing it.

An advantage of climbing God’s mountain is that you can do it right where you are.  I can climb it right where I am.  During this Advent Season in preparation for the birth of the Savior I’ll be working on my ascent.  I hope you’ll be a fellow hiker on the trail.

Prayer: “Come, we that love The Lord, and let our joys be known; join in a song with sweet accord, join in a song of sweet accord and thus surround the throne and thus surround the throne.  Then let our songs abound, and every tear be dry; we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground, we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground, to fairer world’s on high, to fairer worlds on high.  We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion; we’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.”* Amen.

*”Marching to Zion,” The United Methodist Church, 733.

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