It would seem that we live in a broken world. As psychiatrist Paul Tournier pointed out many years ago: "Its ills are innumerable; it writhes in pain."1 In the words of Frederick Buechner:
The world floods in on all of us. The world can be kind, and it can be cruel. It can be beautiful, and it can be appalling. It can give us good reason to hope and good reason to give up hope.2
Of course you don’t need me telling you this. You already know that this is true – whether it’s our bodies, our souls, our communities, or our nation, things seem to be a bit broken. As we face life's difficulties and complexities, we wonder if there’s any hope of wholeness. In answer Isaiah offers us a vison of a desert in bloom, a desert that becomes like the forests of Lebanon and the fertile plain of Sharon, and where the glory and majesty of God are visible to all. This is a vison of wholeness.
Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God."
The Advent message rings out: prepare the way, for God is coming. Look around and see that the desert is blooming, and with it comes the healing presence of God. The odds may still seem great, but if we’re willing to take hold of it, we can enjoy the wholeness of God.
Listen to Isaiah’s promise of hope:
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. (Is. 35:5-6).
This promised wholeness could have a physical manifestation, but it can also be spiritual. Even a person with physical disabilities can experience wholeness, even if that wholeness does not yet include his or her body. Buechner tells of his grandmother, who, no matter what the circumstance, "seemed always remarkably and invincibly herself."
Even when her life was shattered by the deaths of people she loved and by other kinds of loss or failure, she remained so serene and intact that it was if she lived out of some deep center within herself that was beyond reach of circumstance.3
3. THE WAY OF SALVATION
When we talk about salvation, we usually think about getting right with God. That’s part of it, but there’s more. Salvation means becoming a whole person. It is what St. Augustine meant when he talked about a void in our lives that only God could fill. Or John Calvin’s idea that within us resides the spark of divinity. Whatever the physical nature of our lives, there is also a spiritual dimension as well. And ultimately wholeness is a spiritual thing.
This salvation doesn’t happen instantaneously. It is, instead, a lifelong journey. It begins with a decision to walk along the path set before us by God – Isaiah’s "new highway" that God’s people are invited to travel on. This is the pilgrim’s road, a road once threatened by enemies, but now made clear and safe. As we come marching into Zion, we may sing songs of everlasting joy and gladness will fill our hearts.
This is the road John the Baptist proclaimed when he cried out Prepare the Way of the Lord. While there seem to be dangers lurking along the road, the way is set before us and the promise of wholeness – of salvation stands before us. This is the message of Advent: the road is set before us. Wholeness is possible even in a broken world. And this wholeness comes to us in the person of Jesus.
It is in Jesus, of course, and in the people whose lives have been deeply touched by Jesus, and in ourselves at those moments when we also are deeply touched by him, that we see another way of being human in the world, which is the way of wholeness. When we glimpse that wholeness in others, we recognized it immediately for what it is, and the reason we recognize it, I believe, is that no matter how much the world shatters us to pieces, we carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons to us.4
1. Paul Tournier, The Whole Person in a Broken World," (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 1.
2. Frederick Buechner, The Longing for Home, (SF: Harper-Collins, 1996), 109.
3. Buechner, Longing for Home, 106.
4. Buechner, Longing for Home, 109-10.
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
December 16, 2007