"The Path Less Traveled"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler

Psalm 122; Isaiah 2:1-5

     There was a time when Jesus said, "Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it." (Mark 10:15)  If we turn those words around so that they make a positive statement, Jesus might have said, "Only those who remain like children will enter the Kingdom of God." Imagine all the green shoots of new thought that could sprout from such an idea.

     Parents who have developed the wisdom to work with their children know how curious they are, how easily they can be guided, and how well-behaved they can become.  On hearing this some parents roll their eyes and say, "Oh, I wish." But it is true.  Once a bond of trust has been established between parents and their child, he slowly evolves into becoming a productive, enthusiastic, and creative person.  The same is true for us as our relationship with God grows more intimate.  

     In our lesson this morning Isaiah wrote, "Let us go up the hill of the Lord, to the Temple of God.  God will teach us what God wants us to do; we will walk in the path God has chosen."  Notice how Isaiah's words capture a childlike innocence. The one speaking knows that God will teach them and guide them.  These words suggest an implicit trust that life is somehow unfolding as it should.  How many of us trust such a path? 

     We are always eager to determine what is good for us and what is not.  Children do not have such a luxury.  While it is initially painful for children to have no control over their destiny, unbeknownst to them, their parents are looking out for their best interest every step of the way.  Jesus was teaching his listeners how wise it is to keep this same attitude toward God.  

     When parents put a child in the care of a baby-sitter for the first time, the child wilts as she reaches out with both arms to Mom or Dad as they exit the front door. Totally unnerved and panicked, she screams. She does not know what is happening.  What she is communicating through her tears is, "I am being abandoned and I don't want this to happen!"   

     The same response occurs when parents bring their children to our Early Education Center for the first time.  The children are oblivious to what is about to happen until Mom or Dad walk out the door leaving them behind. Initially, the children experience confusion often followed by crying and hyperventilation.  The first job of our staff is to get the parents to go directly to their car and not look back.  This process is one of many steps a child will take in learning that unexpected change will not hurt them.  

     With the passing of time, children learn that they can cope with even the most frightening of experiences.  In time, children learn that unexpected events can happen to them and they will be fine. They soon learn to walk and talk.  They learn to dress themselves.  They learn that when they explore and get into mischief  Mom and Dad will not withhold their love.  This training and guiding continues throughout their lives.  Both Isaiah and Jesus knew that to become as intimate with God as children are with their parents, we must learn that we will adjust to our experiences just as we did when we were young.          

     Assume for the moment that something has happened that is eroding your self-confidence. We do not know how to respond creatively.  We may feel alone, distraught, and abandoned. Many adults would never admit this, but whatever this experience is, it has produced an identical response as when we were given to a baby sitter or entered school for the first time.   

     Because we understand ourselves as adults, we immediately begin making decisions between often conflicting and competitive alternatives.  We find it hard to sleep, think, or concentrate on our work.  Nothing in life appears to work.  At first, nothing worked for us when we were children either.  But our lives did not end.   And since we could not change what was happening, we had to grow.   Children do not have control over their circumstances and, for the most part, neither do we.  They had to face every new situation whether they liked it or not, and they had to wait for the results before learning that Mom and Dad were not far away.  Children have to experience episodes in life that appear horrifying before they learn that they will move through them and be fine. 

     This is the first Sunday of Advent. You may be asking yourself, What does all of this have to do with Advent?  Think for a moment about what must have been traveling through the minds of  Mary  and Joseph as positively frightening events began to unfold around them.  They learned that "we are pregnant, we are not married, and we have to make a long trip to register for the Roman taxation."  All along the way they had to face many unknown and challenging circumstances. Notice how they both walked the path less traveled. 

     In the Christmas story, there is not one theme that suggests that Mary and Joseph made any decisions about the quality of their circumstances. They faced each day trusting that, in spite of all the fearful thoughts that may have been darting through their minds, God was not far away.  The story of Mary and Joseph suggests that when we remain open to God teaching and guiding us, we will learn just as we did when we were children.  

     We do not have to understand the meaning of any event to know that we will be fine.  We always get through even the most challenging of circumstances because that is how God made us. Being distraught and anxious will eventually give way to a trust bond with God that will hasten our arrival into a future filled with hope and courage.  We have to remain patient with ourselves as we remember we are growing from the point where we are today.  

     Imagine being able to trust God so implicitly that we can say with Isaiah, "I will go up the hill of the Lord, to the Temple of God.  God will teach me what God wants me to do; I will walk in the path God has chosen."  Those that do, walk the path less traveled.  As we continue to move safely through each of life's new experiences our confidence will grow.  

     Jesus was only reminding us that it is best if we know ourselves as children who are still in the process of growing. When we do, the Kingdom of God is ours.  As we grow more comfortable in greeting life with such a spirit, our fears will only visit us.  They will not become permanent residents in our minds.  Trusting God for the outcome of all things heals us.  Amen.


     Loving God, we believe that we live in very uncertain times.  We think this way even though there has never been a day when absolute certainty was a sure thing.  We have no guarantees but one -- and that one is that You have always loved us and You always will. 

     As we look forward to the birth of Jesus, we do so with an enormous sense of gratitude.  We have no idea what our world would be like today had he not come.  He brought a piece of Your world into our own and what a difference that has made.  He taught us that when we honor Your spirit within us, there is nothing in this world that can defeat us.  He gave us hope.  He taught us joy.  He showed us how to love.  He taught us peace. 

     Often we are not good students, but his thoughts impact us each time we eat the bread and drink the cup.  We hear again his words, "Do this in remembrance of me" and when we remember, we awaken from what has caused us to slumber.

     As we walk further into Advent, may we again examine who we are becoming.  Are we listening to Jesus, or the cries of our imagined unmet needs?  Are we becoming an example of what our faith can create in us, or are we convincing ourselves that completion lies somewhere else?   Heal us, O God, of our fears, of desires that do not serve us, and of our occasional neglect of this wonderful gift of life that You gave us.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .