This season of Advent is ushered in with warnings, admonitions and a comforting image of hope. In Romans, Paul exhorts the community to be watchful and alert, to lay aside the old ways, and put on the Lord Jesus, because the day of salvation is close. It is in fact present for those who are followers of Jesus. Therefore, Paul is reminding the community that a certain code of conduct must demonstrate that fact.
The Gospel passage from Matthew 24:36-44 is part of a longer arrangement of sayings that respond to the disciples’ question about the ‘coming of the Son of Man’. Jesus is issuing warnings about wakefulness. The advent of God is totally unpredictable by our human way of planning and preparing. In another way it is totally predictable, because it is on any day or at any hour. From some of the preceding comments, its coming would seem to follow great pain and pestilence.
Among the collection of sayings berating the people of Judah and Jerusalem at the beginning of the book of Isaiah, there is raised up above it all, the reassuring image of the mountain of God. The image offers hope, comfort and a longed-for reign of peace. A first glance at the readings might suggest that it alone stands out as the only one that offers that same hope, comfort and a longed-for reign of peace to us.
Looking more closely at the image, I wish to identify three stages.
The first is the response to the invitation to climb the mountain of God. Mountain climbing and hill walking do not come easy to most of us. There is effort, pain and sacrifice involved in getting to the peak, or the desired spot. There is no suggestion of a cable car to take us to the summit of the mountain of God.
When we reach the top we are at stage two. We climb the mountain, not for sightseeing, but to learn God’s ways and walk in God’s paths. While the views may be breathtaking, what we notice is a change of perspective. The valley below appears very different now in the new light gained from the journey and from being alert to learn God’s ways.
Stage three calls for action, the transforming of weapons of war into tools for nurturing. Imagine the melting down of guns and drones, the dismantling of bombs and landmines, the safe disposal of chemical and nuclear weapons! Who are the ‘they’ that will transform these weapons? Having climbed this mountain to learn the wisdom of God, we who made the journey are those ‘they’. We are expected now to transform our own weapons of destruction that we carry with us, into tools of nurturing; transform the negative energies that pull down, into positive energy that build up; bring the light of hope into the darkness; bring reassurance where there is doubt. Recently, I heard a radio report of civilians in one Congo village coming out of their homes rejoicing, because a rebel group had laid down its arms. Imagine it is within our power to cause such rejoicing everyday!
At the top of the mountain our perspective is changed. We lay aside the old ways and are more alert and ready for the advent of God.