Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14
In the early days of sea travel, people found it to be tremendously challenging to keep track of where they were and where they were headed, how to chart a course and then stay on it. The earliest sailors apparently, avoided the open sea all together and used the coastline as their navigational aid. They kept track of where they were and where they were headed by watching the shore. But even that proved tricky and not 100% reliable. For land looks different when seen from the sea. Everything can look foreshortened and distorted and it is easy to become confused, thinking something is one place when in truth it is in another.
The first Norseman used quite an ingenious navigational aid when they first ventured beyond the sight of shore. They navigated by using crows. Turns out, they would carry a cage of crows, not feed them during the voyage and then to be sure they were on course, pointing in the direction of land, they would let them loose and follow the path that the crows would take in the sky. Trusting you see that the hungry crows would fly in the most direct route to land. This is incidentally where the expression “as the crow flies” comes from – from these Norseman navigators.
This is the first Sunday in advent, the start of another church year and in our own way we too are setting out into new waters. We are charting a new course through open seas and hopefully will travel far beyond what is familiar discovering new things about ourselves and our God as we grown in faith. And for this journey into these uncharted waters we too need something to guide us, we too need a navigational aid.
Now while tracking the shoreline or following crows may not have been the most fail safe method of navigation for those early sea farers, our ancient ancestor of faith were given something that did not let them down and which even now thousands of years later, is true and trustworthy for us as well. We can rely on this navigational aid to guide us on our journey, trusting that through it we always be able to find our bearings. What is this that we have been given.
It is love. That divine force that courses through all of creation and that draws us the moon’s pull on the tides towards God. The steadfast love of God in which we share is our navigational aid that will guide us no matter what it is we face. Søren Kierkegaard that Danish philosopher and ethicist who lived in the mid 1800’s, saw the guiding force of love to be so central to our living that he called it our “Christian Imperative.” He says that in the first three words of the great commandment Jesus gave us our bearing. In speaking “you shall love the Lord you God with all you heart, with all your soul with all our might, and love your neighbor as yourself.” In speaking “you shall love” Jesus set the course for our lives.
“You shall love” is given as an imperative because it is something that we are charged to do. It requires something of us. We must seek this love, participate in this love and in doing so are acted upon by the love. For love is generative, life giving. We seek the Love of God even as it seeks us and in our meeting we are caught up in that love and renewed and regenerated by it.
This kind of love has heft. The love that we speak of, the love that radiates out from God and that orients all of us to and towards God is the love that was present in the dawn of creation when in the harmony of all things where each had a place and belonged. It is this memory of love that Isaiah recalls and envisions again in the text from this morning. The mountain of the lord, the place where God’s shalom dwells in perfect harmony on earth will be the highest of all mountains. It rises above all others can be seen from where ever one may be, even as far as exile in Babylon. No more will Jerusalem be a simply a stepping stone, a place to conquer as the regions superpowers vied for control of the ancient world. No more will it be trampled by Assyria, overrun and destroyed by Babylon, impoverished and beaten down by the Persians.
By lifting up the image of the restoration of Shalom on the lords holy Mountain, by lift that mountain up as the highest and holiest places in all the ancient land, Isaiah gives the people a something to look to, something to guide them as they navigate the turbulent waters of their time and place.
On the Mountain of the Lord the people hear the imperative to love, for Isaiah tells us that the mountain is a place of instruction where all nations that once were at war will we taught the ways of God so that they may walk in the path of love. The mountain of the Lord brings peace and reconciliation among people and is a place of learning where people are instructed in the way of life. People learn how to turn their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks. Where instruments of death are transformed into tools to tend to creation. And where the people who wield them turn from life taking to life giving ways of living.
Paul in his letter to the Church in Rome, speaks of this same love, the love made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ, who calls the people out of darkness and reorients them to a path of light. It is to love in Jesus that paul redirects our gaze, telling us to turn from all that is life taking and to all that is life giving. By instructing us to put on Lord Jesus Christ, Paul tells us or way must be one of love.
What scripture lifts up for us today, therefore is that as we go forward navigating the waters of a new church year, navigating the waters of our own faith journey and our journey together as people of God, we are to chart our way by love. We are to lay out a course that is life giving, that which brings light and life into our lives.
So when we face a decision or when we do not know which way to turn, let us ask ourselves, where is the course of love in this? What might I do, or say, or think that will bring me closer to love. How shall I love in what lies before me?
Let us set our sights on sweet shalom of God, let us turn to the light of Christ, the new dawn of creation, let us set out into these weeks ahead guided by the love that is a glow in the manger that is the of the empty tomb. Let us be assured that the commandment to love shall guide us. For there is nothing more reliable, more trustworthy, more sure of securing the safety of our passage and the fulfillment of our journey that to be guided by this kind of love. Let the journey begin. Amen
 Søren Kierkegaard. Works of Love. Trans. Howard and Edna Hong. (Harper: New York 1962). P. 40.