A reflection on the readings for November 27, 2022 — The First Sunday of Advent

Nestled in the forests of McKean County, Pennsylvania, the Kinzua Bridge State Park is one of many beautiful spots one will find when exploring the Pennsylvania Wilds. Across the northern portion of the commonwealth, you can see 2.1 million acres of public forested land and encounter elk, black bears, and remnants of our nation’s early industrial past.[1]  At 301 ft, the 19th-century Kinzua Viaduct was at one point the highest railroad bridge in the world until a 2003 tornado destroyed the historic landmark, leaving it mangled at the bottom of the gorge below.

Today you can visit this state park and its assortment of hiking trails, highlighted by a skywalk venturing over the valley that ends in an observation deck with a glass floor. The skywalk allows views of both the natural beauty of the area and the ruins of the once mighty testament to human ingenuity and determination. [This concludes the portion of the homily sponsored by the Pennsylvania Tourism Board. – Ed.][2]

I mention this because, from the vantage point high above the gorge, the 1400 tons of twisted wrought iron appears small and insignificant, more like a ruined child’s plaything than the eighth wonder of the world. Kinzua Bridge State Park is not unique in this regard; there is something about looking down from the tops of mountains, bridges, or skyscrapers that gives a person perspective. Viewing the world from on high can make things that we erstwhile considered important appear minuscule. This phenomenon of physical perspective can provide us with insight into the spiritual understanding we are meant to take from the scriptural readings associated with the Advent season.

In our first reading, Isaiah talks about the mountain of the Lord’s house, a reference to Jerusalem. You see, much of Israel is below sea level—the Sea of Galilee by about 700 ft, Jericho roughly 800 ft, and at 1410 ft below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. Jerusalem, by contrast, sits 2400 ft above sea level, atop a valley. Jerusalem, then and now, is up. This geographical reality is a central theme not only in Isaiah but in John’s gospel, which consistently reminds the reader of the location of the holy city. It is not only the mountain of Jerusalem that is up, though, but Isaiah’s house of the Lord is as well.

If you were to make the journey up to Jerusalem, you would continue to direct your gaze to the city’s highest point, where you would find the Temple. As the holiest place in the world, the footstool of the Lord, the Temple had to be built at Jerusalem’s summit. When you arrive at the highest point, you are on the Lord’s mountain and in his dwelling place, and there, Isaiah tells us, you will find peace.

From the top of the Lord’s mountain, you can see things more clearly; you are away from the distractions of the valley below. This is why when Isaiah tells us that the people streaming up the Lord’s mountain will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, he is not a naïve dreamer. Isaiah is telling us that from the peak of the mountain of the house of the Lord, the things that cause people to go to war are meaningless and insignificant. When a person is truly in the presence of God, there is no strife because the things that cause strife are placed in their proper perspective.

The presence of the Lord in our midst becomes our primary reality, and our day-to-day concerns are relevant only insofar as they relate to our relationship with God. It does not follow that daily concerns are neglected or ignored; after all, plowshares and pruning hooks are still tools for work, only that we recognize those concerns for what they are and approach them from a place of peace and with ultimate realities in mind.

We begin this season with Isaiah’s prophetic vision because Advent is about ascending the mountain. It is preparing for and making the journey up to the place of God’s presence. It is simultaneously unfortunate and fortuitous that this ascent comes at what is often considered the busiest and most stressful time of the year. Unfortunate because there are a million things to distract us and prevent us from this spiritual journey, but fortuitous because God provides us with precisely what we need to approach those stressors and distractions well.

Go up the mountain of the house of the Lord this Advent. Stand in God’s presence, allow it to wash over you, and place all the million other things on your mind in their proper perspective. Remember that the concerns of this world are, as real as their effects may be now, ultimately insignificant when placed next to our relationship with the Almighty. From the top of the mountain of the house of the Lord, we see the valley below as it truly is, and we find peace.


[1] www.pawilds.com

[2] Just kidding.

Image: Adobe Stock. By Jim Vallee.

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Fr. Alex Roche is the pastor of St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Laflin, Pennsylvania and serves as the director of vocations for the Diocese of Scranton. Ordained in 2012, he has a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University. He went to college with a girl who went to high school with the niece of the guy who played Al in Quantum Leap.

You can listen to his podcast at www.wadicherith.com.

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