Bethlehem Bound: All Aboard

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Isaiah 2:1-5

I’ve been excited about our Advent theme “Bethlehem Bound” ever since our Worship planning team finalized their plans. The theme evolved from our reading of the scriptures from advent and was inspired by a poem by Ann Weems. Part of it goes like this:

In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
an inn where we must ultimately answer
whether there is room or not.

When we are Bethlehem-bound
we experience our own advent in his…

This Advent let's go to Bethlehem
and see this thing that the Lord has
made known to us.

In the midst of shopping sprees
let's ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.

Through the tinsel
let's look for the gold of the Christmas Star.

In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos
let's listen for the brush of angels' wings.

This Advent, let's go to Bethlehem
and find our kneeling places.

As we become Bethlehem bound and as I hear Isaiah say, “Come, let us go to the house of the Lord” –  I offer an invitation to you that invites you to “get on the train”—“All Aboard!”

It’s an image for me that evokes excitement… of memories of riding trains… of a trip in the making… of going on an amazing journey that ends with a wonderful destination. In fact the destination is so wonderful; the train is packed with people joining you on the journey.

That’s an image that comes to mind when I read the text from Isaiah today. He sees a word about a day to come when people—people from every nation (in my mind) … will be climbing on board a special train…

This train is headed to a very special destination: the place where they believed God lived… Can you see the crowds streaming to get on board when Isaiah says:

“In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

Do you see where this train is going? It is going to the place where God dwells… It is going to the place where the Lord will teach us his ways… where the Lord will be the mediator of our disputes… where people will finally live not in fear of one another but in peace with one another… you won’t need those spears or swords or drones or arsenals… because where we are going, they are of no use.

The destination is where God lives, and where God lives there is wisdom… there is  peace… where God lives there is transformation…

No wonder people are getting on board and streaming to the Lord’s house… they are hungry and ready and apparently teachable… ready to hear what the Lord has to offer. Ready to be transformed… they are tired of the way things are… (I mean, are you happy with the world as it is—they weren’t) and they hunger for more.

So, they line up to get on that train.

For Christians of course, the destination is not only a place, but a person. What makes Bethlehem so special for us is that God decided to become flesh and live among us in Jesus Christ.  In Christ, God comes to live among us… with wisdom to share…  to transform us…  to teach us God’s ways so we may walk in his paths… paths that lead us to peace.

Advent is our invitation to get on board and join the crowds… This advent I invite you to climb aboard the train that is heading to Bethlehem… I want you to know, you are invited—no matter who you are… what your past… how cynical you’ve become…

Everyone is invited. The Lord is excited to have everyone come to board that train and come to town.

In preparing for the sermon, my mind naturally started thinking about train songs…

I have a friend that used a train theme for stewardship and he recalled how many train songs there are out there:

   Midnight train to Georgia (She’s leaving…)
   The A Train
   Chattanooga Choo Choo
   Orange Blossom special

I thought of Folsom Prison blues (I hear the train a coming)

He put together a CD to play for their stewardship lunch that contained only train songs…He came up with 1 hour and 20 minutes of songs…

A couple of weeks ago I remembered one I used to sing all the time. I bet you know it.

This train is bound for glory, this train.
This train is bound for glory, this train.
This train is bound for glory,
Don't carry nothing but the righteous and the holy.
This train is bound for glory, this train.

This train don't carry no gamblers, this train;
This train don't carry no liars, this train;
This train don't carry no smokers, this train;
no Two bit liars, small time jokers,

May I tell you that I like the song… but one thing bothers me about it: I think it has it all wrong… at least from a gospel’s perspective.

For when I think about the kind of characters who end up actually going to Bethlehem… When I think about those who respond to Jesus… his ministry and his message… when I think about how sinners flocked to receive forgiveness… they were anything but the righteous and the holy!

In fact, think about who reject Jesus: Who are they? The righteous and the holy Scribes and Pharisees. They refuse to climb on board.

So as much as I like that song… if the train that is bound for glory only has the righteous and the holy—if you ask me…  it will be empty.

I think Bruce Springsteen came closer to the gospel and the message of Isaiah  in a train song he sung … A Kirk member told me about it… called Land of Hopes and dreams (how many of you know this song)

Grab your ticket and your suitcase
Thunder's rolling down the tracks
You don't know where you're goin'
But you know you won't be back

Darlin' if you're weary
Lay your head upon my chest
We'll take what we can carry
And we'll leave the rest

Big Wheels rolling through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams

(sounds like a land where swords beaten into plowshares)

I will provide for you
And I'll stand by your side
You'll need a good companion for
This part of the ride.
Leave behind your sorrows
Let this day be the last
Tomorrow there'll be sunshine
And all this darkness past

Big wheels roll through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams

This train
Carries saints and sinners
This train
Carries losers and winners

This Train
Carries lost souls
This Train
Dreams will not be thwarted

This Train
Faith will be rewarded
This Train
Hear the steel wheels singin'

This Train
Bells of freedom ringin'
This Train
Carries broken-hearted

This Train
Thieves and sweet souls departed
This Train
Carries fools and kings

This Train
All aboard…

Now, that’s much better. But my favorite is one that came to mind just a couple of weeks ago… It was one I learned as a child… and taught our children… It comes out of the African American spiritual tradition… it is connected with faith…

I wonder if you know it: Get on board little children.  Look on the back of the bulletin… I’ve changed a word or two for our theme today, but it really fits. Try singing a little bit of it with me, won’t you?   Jacob /Psalm 150 is going to help us.

The gospel trains a coming
The wheels go ‘round and ‘round
Everyone is happy
This train is Bethlehem bound

Chorus

Get on board little children
Get on board little children
Get on board little children
There’s room for many a-more

She’s there at the station
On the way to the pearly gates
So come now get your ticket,
Please no one dare be late.

Chorus

The fare is right and all can go
The rich and poor are there
No second class aboard this train
No difference in God’s fare

Chorus

Something great is about to happen in Bethlehem… God is going to meet us there… The one who is wise in the ways of peace, hope, love and joy… the one who can change your life.  The one who loves sinners and wants to show them a better way.  That one is going to Bethlehem… Yes, that one… The Advent train is about to leave the station… it is Bethlehem bound and there is room for many a more…

So, in closing, I have just two words for you: Allll Aboard!

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