Old Testament: Isaiah 40:1-5
New Testament: Matthew 17:1-8
Mountains & Valleys – what a contrast! One is the pinnacle on the top of the world. The other is the lowest of lows. Mountains make us think of snow, and blue sky and clouds and majesty – as in “purple mountains majesty”. They also can make us think of freedom, and joy, like the opening scene of the “Sound of Music” when Julie Andrews sings “The hills are alive with the sound of music.”
Valleys can make us think of green grass and streams and animals and sometimes shadows, and often times things like death and dying, as in the 23rd Psalm and the “valley of the shadow of death”.
So why should I be trying to compare and contrast mountains and valleys today? What can we learn from looking at these two extremes of our natural world?
Lets take mountains first. There are several components to mountains – height, verticalness, mass and shape. Height makes us think of “lofty ideals” as in the mountain of God where Moses goes to communicate with the Lord. It also stands for the idea of ascent, of our spirits going up into the realm of the spirits. This unites the idea of our mass, our physical being with the idea of verticalness. By the way, this concept is common to almost all traditions: Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.
There is a mystic sense of the peak of the mountain as not only the highest point on earth, it is also the point of contact between heaven and earth, or the center through which we can all be conjoined with heaven. In general, the mountain, the hill and the mountain-top are all associated with the idea of meditation, spiritual elevation and the communion of the blessed.
Whew! What a little lessen in the symbolism of mountains! But if we look at the Holy Scripture, we soon see that mountains play a large part in our stories. There is the mountain on which Noah’s ark comes to rest after the flood. There is mention of mountains throughout the OT, usually when people needed to see the Lord, as when Moses went up into the mountains to see God, to the worshipping at the holy mountain at Jerusalem by the Israelites. And the passage of our OT scripture today where Isaiah proclaims that every mountain and hill shall be made low and all places will be made straight and plain, easy to pass through.
Then there are valleys! The valley, within the symbolism of landscapes, because it is low-lying is considered to lie at the level of the sea. This represents a neutral zone apt for the development of all creation and for all material progress in this natural world. After all, it is much easier to live in a valley, a place of water and fertile land, where good things can grow and livestock can thrive. We also can thrive in the valleys, in contrast to the desert or the ocean, both also at sea level. In short, the valley is symbolic of life itself and is the mystic abode of the shepherds and the sheep. But as we see in our OT scripture today, valleys can also be seen as places of shadows and some fear, places where the idea is that we are “down” rather that “up” as in the mountain.
It is obvious in our NT that Jesus leads us “up” into the mountains with him as we journey on our own spiritual paths.
In Mt 5:1 he goes “up on a mountainside when he sees the crowd” to preach the Sermon on the Mount.
In Mt 14:23, he goes by himself up into the mountain to pray, just after he has done the miracle of feeding the five thousand. In this instance, he goes alone and leaves us down in the boat, wondering what just happened, being buffeted by wind and waves of uncertainty and confusion.
We see him in Mt 15:29 again going up on a mountainside and great crowds came to him to be healed, since he had compassion for them.
He goes up on a mountainside in Mark 3:13 to call those disciples to him appointing twelve as apostles that them might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.
Again in Mark 6:46 we see Jesus leaving his disciples in the boat and going up into the mountain to pray.
In Luke6:12 we also have the story of Jesus going “out to a mountainside to pray and spend the night praying to God.” After he chose the 12 apostles, “he went down with them and stood on a level place.
Again in Luke 9:28 we see Jesus taking Peter, James and John with him “and went up unto a mountain to pray.” At this time Luke repeats the story of the transfiguration. And it is at this time of white light and glory, that the 3 apostles hear the voice of God directly speaking to them! What a moment for them, for there persisted a belief that God would not talk directly to mankind, yet they heard the voice clearly.
In John 6:15, we see Jesus aware that people were coming to make him king by force after all his miracles, and he “withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”
In Rev 21:10 one of the seven angels carries John “away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”
How can we make use of all these mountains and valleys in our scripture in our daily lives? Our lives are often reflective of mountains and valleys, where we encounter rough going rather than the easy, straight plain. Psychologically, we talk about being “down” or “depressed” or “up” and happy. Why should we all look up to the heavens to talk to God? Is this not a version of looking up to the mountains, to the better contact with God? Jesus, when he wants to get away from the crowds and throngs of people, will often go up into the hills to be private and pray. In our NT passage, we see Jesus taking three disciples up into the mountain with him, where the Transfiguration takes place, and the white light appears. The disciples do not understand what they are seeing, and their first thought is to build a symbol for each of the three men, Moses, Elijah and Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t let them, rather he takes them back down the mountain, where the work is still to be done.
The message is pretty clear, we cannot stay on the mountain all the time, for even Jesus’ work took him down into the valleys, and the natural world where his work was. We have to be in our lives, fully committed to this world as well as our spirituality, in order to be true to ourselves, to progress in learning and spirituality in order to be ready to be “taken up into the mountain”.
In each of our lives, we experience mountains and valleys, and the Lord is with us in each place, just as he was with the disciples. He can take us up into the world of the spirits, or he can be with us in the valleys of our despair and hard times. No matter where we are, he is with us, and we can count on him to lift us up, and keep us from stumbling, for as Isaiah said “every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level and the rugged places a plain.” In other words, a straight highway in the midst of our desert for the Lord to reach out to us and for us to receive him.
“And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind will see it together.”
Let us pray:
O Lord, give us the serenity to walk in the mountains and valleys of our lives and accept what they represent. Give us the courage to level the mountains and raise up the valleys of our lives to make a straight plain highway to reach out to you. And most of all, O Lord, give us the wisdom to let you come to us, and teach us and heal us with your love and peace. Amen