The book of Proverbs in the Old Testament declares: ”Without a vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).
If you do not have a vision, a goal, a plan for your life, you are destined to perish in mediocrity, disappointment and lack of a sense of fulfilment. This is true whether it is a question of an individual or a community. St Philip’s has its own vision statement: and my community, Lift Jesus Higher has for their vision: ”To lift Jesus higher in Ottawa and in Canada.”
What vision do you have for your life, brothers and sisters? Do you even have one?
It may surprise you to know, brothers and sisters, that God has a vision, a purpose, for your life and he wants to communicate it to you, if you are willing to listen out for it. In the prophet Jeremiah, we read: ”I know my plans for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to lead you into a future full of hope. When you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me, if you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13). This is primarily a promise to a people, the nation of Israel, but it also applies to each and every one of us.
When God created us, he already had formed his purposes for us. In St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we read that “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him, and to live before him in love, destining us to be adopted as his children through Christ” (Ephesians 1:4-5). That is what God wants for each one of us, to have us live with him for all eternity in love and peace and joy. What do you think of that, brothers and sisters? Isn’t that better than any other goals you have for your life? That is why God sent Jesus into the world at his first coming 2000 years ago, to communicate that vision to us, and make it possible for that vision to be achieved through his death and resurrection. When he comes again at the end of time, it is to gather us in, the living and the dead, into the peace and love of his eternal kingdom. That is God’s plan for each of us, brothers and sisters, how does it line up with what you want for your lives? Because the fulfilment of God’s vision for us depends on our agreement and co-operation.
Which is why the call of Advent, as we hear in our gospel today, is to “repent”. Literally the word “repent” means a transformation of our mind and heart and will, a turning right round if our chosen path for our life has nothing to do with God’s desire for us, and starting to walk according to God’s ways. .
Do you want to have a future full of hope, brothers and sisters?
Then you know what you have to do – call upon the Lord, pray to him, seek him with all your heart. How are you doing with that, brothers and sisters, how am?” Since I first learned some years ago that God not only knows my name and loves me as his adopted son, but that he actually has a plan for my life, I have always sought to find out what his will is for me. Every year at the beginning of the year, I put time aside to seek the Lord in prayer for myself (and my community) to find out the shape of his will for me in the year ahead. I try to make my own the words of Saint John Henry Newman in his hymn, ”Lead Kindly Light”: “Lead kindly light, amid the encircling gloom, lead thou me on. Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me.“ I find for myself that, very often, God does not give me the whole big picture, but reveals his purposes for me a bit at a time. As Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a light unto my path, and a lamp unto my steps.” I find that God will wait for me to take that first step in obedience to his will, and then, and only then, will he show me the next step. You see, God may have a plan, a vision for my life, but he looks for my agreement, and co-operation with him, for that plan to be realized. In my earlier life, I did not know God had a purpose for my life, nor did I particularly care, to be honest. I was like what St John Henry Newman writes in his hymn: ”I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou shouldst lead me on. I loved to choose and see my path, but now, lead thou me on.” When I think I have a sure hold on God’s vision for my life in the year ahead, I go on to ask him to show me his vision for my family , my parish and my community. I believe and trust in the promise of the prophet Isaiah who says that: ”your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left , your ears shall hear a word behind you saying: ‘This is the way, walk in it.’”
Why all this talk about God’s vision for us?
Because our opening reading from the prophet Isaiah delivers a wonderful vision for the nation of Israel. All their life, Israel had understood itself as God’s chosen, favoured people. Despite all the ups and downs of their existence, the number of times that Israel defied God’s plan for them, and chose other paths, which inevitably led to disaster for them, until they repented and turned back to God, they knew that God had never given up on them, and kept trying to get them, and keep them, on track with his plans for them. They looked for God to fulfil his promise to send them a Savior, whom they called Messiah, to rescue them from their enemies and restore them to the days of King David and Solomon, when Israel ruled the Middle East from seas to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth, in the words of our psalm today. At a time when Israel was once more disobeying God’s law, and breaking their covenant relationship with the Lord, and opening themselves up, as a result, to yet another disastrous time of being conquered by a pagan nation, Isaiah steps up and delivers a thrilling message of hope for them. God is still intending to send his Chosen and Anointed One, the Messiah, who would be full of the spirit of God, and deliver righteousness and justice in the land. The Messiah, which translates in Greek to the word “Christos” from which we get the word “Christ”, as in Jesus the Christ, will bring about a return to the idyllic conditions of the Garden of Eden, when there was total harmony and unity and peace throughout all of creation, including all of humanity.
Isaiah writes in poetic style, and, as with all poetry, we should not push the details too literally. Poetry is about art and beauty and truth, it is the ideal language in which to deliver a vision which inspires and elevates, and stirs the heart of the nation or community, as well as each individual. We think of Winston Churchill’s stirring speech to the nation of England, when it stood alone to face the Nazi menace during the Second World War, and were in danger of giving up hope: “We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields, and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender. Never give in-never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in.” We think of Martin Luther King Jr’s iconic “I have a dream” speech. These are the ones we remember, and recall over and over and over again, because they never fail to inspire us and lift up our confidence and overcome our fears.
Part of our Advent preparation for the Christmas event is to hear the visions of hope for the future written down in our Bible and realize that, even though we do not see those visions fully realized yet, we are still on the way to their fulfilment. And those promises will be fulfilled, because they are made by a God who can never lie. St Paul describes him as “the God of steadfastness and encouragement”, and the Scriptures are words of encouragement, says St Paul, and it is true for each of us as well. God will continue to work with us to bring about his purposes and plans for us to prosper and not to harm us, and to bring us into a future full of hope. He wants us to know that He is on our side, and wants only the best for us. But he needs our agreement and co-operation, because he will never force his dream for us on us. Let us hear today the voice of the Baptist in our gospel to prepare the way for the Lord to come into our lives, and make all his paths for us straight and true.