Every valley shall be exalted
and every hill and mountain made low.
One of the best-loved verses
from Handel’s Messiah is about
exalting the valleys and leveling the hills
so God can get to us and we can get to God.
Handel got these words from John the Baptist
who got them from 2ndIsaiah who got them
from the prophet Baruch.
Baruch was the first to say,
God has ordered that . . .
the everlasting hills be made low
and the valleys filled up,
to make level the ground,
so Israel may walk safely
in the glory of God.
Of course, he isn’t talking about
literal earth moving.
He doesn’t want to turn White Pine County
He doesn’t mean the hills and valleys
outside us on the ground.
Baruch is talking about the hills and valleys
of our spiritual in-scape,
the topography of our hearts.
Hills are obviously challenges,
obstacles in our path.
But the valleys aren’t so obvious.
So Baruch explains the valleys.
They are the low points in our lives,
the failures, the shame, the depression,
Baruch promises God will lift us up
from those valleys if we let him.
Then to explain how we let God lift us up,
how we give God permission to heal us,
Baruch shifts to a different metaphor.
– a metaphor of changing clothes.
Take off the garment of sorrow and affliction,
he writes, and put on forever
the glory of God.
He says to take off the black veil of mourning
and put on your best red party dress.
We prepare the Lord’s way in our hearts
by taking off the garment of sorrow
Usually, we think of preparing for Christ
by giving up our sins.
But these prophets all say something
a bit different from what we expect.
They say we get ready for Christ,
by giving up our habits of misery.
Baruch doesn’t mean we give up
Unfortunately, we can’t avoid some hardships.
So, Baruch doesn’t say to give up
sorrow and affliction.
He says to give up the garmentof sorrow
That means our identification
with sorrow and affliction
– our definition of ourselves
in terms of our suffering,
our failings, and our shame.
People have a perverse tendency to get attached
to feeling an old familiar way,
even if it’s bad.
We get into a comfortable habit
of thinking of ourselves
in an old familiar way even if it’s shaming.
We may think of ourselves
as someone people don’t like.
We may think of ourselves as the loser,
the lonely one,
the responsible one, the martyr,
or the one people take for granted.
The role of victim is especially
in vogue these days.
So ask yourself, this Advent, what tragic roles
you habitually play,
because these roles are your
garment of sorrow.
If we dress for sorrow and affliction,
then sorrow and affliction
is what the world will serve us.
until all our new experiences look
just like the old ones.
We see the world through sad-colored glasses.
A wise friend once said to me,
I was marred at 13 and a mother at 14.
My son was a drug addict,
and my first husband beat me.
If I choose to live in that I can.
But I’d rather get on to something else.
So, she did.
She went back to college at 40,
graduated, then joined
Volunteers In Service To America
helping prevent kids from dropping out
of school as she had done.
Instead of living in her victimhood and failure,
she got on with life.
Advent, is the time, as the hymn says,
to leave the gloomy haunts of sadness,
Advent is the time because
this isn’t just pop psychology.
It isn’t advice for positive thinking.
There’s far, far more at stake here
than a better mood.
This about is the birth of Christ.
That’s what we are here on this earth to do,
to give birth to Christ, to incarnate Christ,
to be the light for this darkened world.
If we aren’t doing that,
we’re wasting our time here.
In Advent, we make a space
in our hearts for Christ.
We empty out, make room, push things aside.
We let go of old ways,
and clear out a place
to let Christ be Christ in us.
We shape our soul like the womb
of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
so we too can each be a Theotokos,
In her poem “The Pool of God,”
Sr. Jessica Powers wrote:
There was nothing in the Virgin’s soul
that belonged to the Virgin –
no word, no thought, no image, no intent.
She was a pure, transparent pool reflecting
God, only God. . .
I pray to hollow out my earth and be
filled with these waters of transparency. . .
Oh, to become a pure pool like the Virgin,
water that lost (even) the semblance of water
and was a sky like God.
We hollow out our earth, become transparent,
by letting go of our habitual gloominess.
We clear out the pain and it makes
a space inside us.
Spaciousness, brothers and sisters
– spaciousness --
we cultivate spaciousness,
that Christ may enter us
and fill our spaciousness.
Then we will become Christ
for a world that desperately needs Christ.
Then we will shine forth the holy light
that the darkness cannot overcome.