Long before there were carols, Black Friday, nativity sets, and greenery, prophets saw a picture of a new way of living. In Isaiah 2:1-5, the picture included a large mountain that nations could stream to, settle cases before the Divine Judge, and return home to plow their land in peace.
He was not the first to depict a world at peace. Our modern attempts from UN millennium development goals, NATO "peacekeeping" operations, judgments issued from the World Court at the Hague, or peace treaties signed at Camp David came from ideas, real and imagined. They only plunge us further, however, into blindness toward the one Light that could save us. Every human attempt to solve the nations' problems becomes an exercise in the blind leading the blind deeper into the abyss because they leave out the one thing that Isaiah included. It was the sense that the one thing that could save us is not us. We are being called by the Creator to a place not of our own design but of God's. The only thing that could possible save the world is not a thing at all, but rather a Light from God given to the world.
Isaiah reminds us of our condition and our hope. We are people "walking in darkness," and God has shined this light from a mountain. We are so far removed from the source, however, the light appears to be one of just many stars in a galaxy of options in our world. What the world needs, and the nations need, more than anything else is a group so committed to the Light, they are willing to begin the climb up the mountain.
In modern climbing up the highest elevations such as Kilimanjaro, Rainier, and Everest, the last ascent begins around 1:00 a.m. The ascent and return to camp can take 13-18 hours. Storms roll in around 2:00 p.m. A mountain climber at the summit would be a human lightning rod with all of his attached metal. So the climbers carry only what they need, begin the ascent at night, and hope for the light of the moon and stars to guide them. Sometimes they rope together to help one another. The person in the lead will take the first steps, anchor into the mountain, turn around, and shine a headlight back so that the team can see where they are walking and listen for directions from the leader as they climb.
Our journey of Advent is a climbing expedition toward the summit of God's mountain. Unlike the kinds of trips we normally take during this season, we will need to pack differently. We don't need presents, decorations, lights, and ornaments to go "over the river and through the woods." We need to pack only what we need and take people we can tie onto for the last ascent to the summit.
On the climb, the only traditions that can help us are the traditions that train us to move toward the light, not leave us safely blinded in the past. We don't need to repeat what we did last year during this season for the sake of carrying on the past. Even the religious crowd of Isaiah's day (and Jesus') had plenty of things they did the previous year. We can't expect our possessions, traditions, people, occupations, and things to be the same when we're finished with this journey. If we move toward the light, life as we know it will never be the same.
Thankfully we have some examples of the way this really works. Magi saw the star and moved toward it. Joseph changed his plans when an angel spoke to him in a dream. And we have a rising star to guide us. So let's not wait any longer. Let's climb the mountain.
(Many thanks to Robert Dickie and the 7 Summit Challenge team for their beautiful pictures of the last part of their climb on Kilimanjaro.