A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

By the choice of readings this morning, the church is pulling out it’s big guns in an attempt to get our attention. There is something important to be heard this morning.

The first big gun is Isaiah, well second Isaiah to be specific. Did you know that there are three different authors of the book we call Isaiah? We didn’t used to teach stuff like that, too complicated for Sunday School. We’re not in Sunday School anymore! Remember this line from St. Paul

“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”

I was flipping channels the other night at about 1 a.m. and I have to confess I stopped to listen to Joyce Meyer preach, she’s a hoot! Theologically frightening, but fun to listen to. As best I can this is what I heard her preach; “ People keep asking me has God given you a word to preach to the Church – Sure God’s given me a word to preach to the church, (now at this point you have to know she stepped back from the pulpit, sat down on her bar stool for a good 30 seconds, gave a big sigh, and then got back up and shouted into the microphone ) “Grow Up!” She went on from there….but needless to say she made her point …. She wasn’t very original – or maybe God’s still trying to get our attention!

“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”

If nothing else is true of Advent – it is the church’s invitation for us to grow up!
You see it matters that it’s second Isaiah talking to us this morning because second Isaiah was talking to the exciled elite of Israel, in bondage in Babylon, but more about that later.
The second ‘big gun’ is of course John the Baptist. The latest, greatest, prophet of Israel, the stepping stone into the Gospel of Mark, and the story of Jesus of Nazareth whom we’re encouraged to be waiting for in this season of Advent. So I wonder are you waiting?
Of course we’re not waiting! Nothing in our culture encourages us to wait. Losers wait, winners make things happen. Every self-help, how to succeed in business, episode of Oprah, or TV preacher will tell you that; darn straight. And that’s fine and good if you’ve been lucky, live in America, have a job, and come from the right sort of neighbourhood. But, and it’s a big but – what if life has dealt you another set of cards? What if the worst happened….and it was all your fault…….
Second Isaiah was writing to a bunch of folks who knew about the worst. The cream of the crop, who bet on the wrong empire, and then were defeated and carted off by the victor to exile in Babylon. This was a self-inflicted wound. Yahweh warned them, they didn’t listen. And Isaiah is writing to their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Seventy years Israel spent in exile because she took false comfort in military, economic, and political solutions instead of remaining faithful to her God. The worst happened…..and the great grandchildren were still paying the price. The sins of the father they say….
I wonder…..about the self-inflicted wounds that we carry around with us. I’ve sure got my share! Sure, we spend a lot of time going over the list of wounds that others have done to us, all the undeserved hurts that have come our way, the pains that have made our lives more difficult than they should be. But that’s Egypt, that’s a captivity of a different sort. This morning we’re on about Babylon and the places you and I end up because once on a bad day we got it very badly wrong. And there is no one else to blame but ourselves.
Maybe you know what it means to face public humiliation: to hear the gasp of strangers as they’ve read about you in the newspapers – I’ve had those men and women sit in my pews – lots of them – small towns are full of those folks – messed up big time in the city – moved two hours away and started quiet lives, humble lives, and paid their penance. Or maybe you’ve sensed the anguish of friends and family (or former friends and former family members) who know what you did and feel inconsolably let down.It might even be that you have people in your life who years later still judge you by the single worst thing you ever did; and who to this day still won’t look at you straight in the face. And sure it’s their problem now – but it still hurts just the same……

To folks like us Isaiah wrote these words: “ Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.”

Could it be that God still cares? Is it still true that God’s love out weights all the hurt, pain, sorrow, and mistakes of every human life; of my life? Brighter minds than mine have written it; God’s love out weights God’s need for justice every time. And that I want to shout out – is the Good News of the Gospel!
Trouble is Israel didn’t find that good news any easier to believe than we do. “You Anglicans all you ever talk about is God’s love.” What about……… you can insert just about anything there. You see we hear God’s truth….we just can’t believe it!

Think about it again, when you’ve made a mess of things, when you’ve sinned big time, there’s a lot of hurt. Usually more than enough to go round. But besides hurt there is also damage; the lasting practical effects of what you’ve broken. For Israel the hurt was their estrangement from God. The damage was the fact that they were in Babylon, a thousand miles from home.
But look what God says. God says I’ll deal with the hurt and the damage. “Cry to Jerusalem that she served her term, that her penalty is paid.” In other words her sin is forgiven and it’s consequences are healed.
Like us, the people of Israel, were good at not believing God’s promises. “We’re 30 days journey from home, and in between are mountains, valleys, and all sorts of difficulties.
Or as we might say; “I’ve made my bed, just let my lie in it.” And God, through Isaiah says;
“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” In plainer words, don’t you go worrying about the road back – I’ve got that covered. You’re going home on the 401 on a traffic free day!

Yeah right, we’re not convinced yet are we…….

Sure God’s taken care of a couple of the reasons we have for wallowing in our sin; the damage is too great and the distance home too far. But it’s me we’re talking about here…..and I’m just not up to it. Once we had great preachers and leaders: Jeremiah and Hezekiah. When we came out of Egypt we had Moses. But where are the great preachers and teachers now?
We say to ourselves, God may have forgiven me, even healed me, and maybe even God has paved the way through the mess I’ve created, but, I just haven’t got it in me to face the future. I’m tired. “The grass withers, the flower fades”: I’m like the grass, I’m done. ….

Well we have to dig a bit deeper into Isaiah, but here it is; “God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
It seems we’re running out of excuses. The mess I’ve made is too big – and God says I’ll fix it. The distance I’ve travelled, the days I’ve lived are too long, the mountain is too high – and God says I’ll fix it. I haven’t the strength to face it – and God says I’ll give it to you.

But we’re not finished with God yet are we – the biggest obstacle remains – we’re afraid. Afraid of the future, afraid of our mistakes, afraid of God. We’re not unique in that; the people of Israel thought that anyone who saw God would die. God was so holy and the people of Israel felt anything but holy. Remember Isaiah himself, when he was in the Temple in Jerusalem and saw God he was petrified. It was such a holy moment we remember it every Sunday.
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might.”

So maybe we can face up to the mess we’ve made. But how do we face up to judgement. Don’t watch late night TV preachers….they don’t get it. But listen to this from an Anglican preacher, who wrote this for a bunch of American University students, the best and the brightest of all North America.

“God announces to Israel that her exile is over. God says, Yes, you sinned, and yes, there’ve been major consequences, but I’ve forgiven you and I’m helping you clean up the mess you made. Yes, you’ve put yourself a long and difficult way from where you should be, but I’ll flatten whatever lies between here and there. Yes, you’re worn out and in many ways you’re as much hurt as those you’ve hurt, but this is going to be done in my strength not yours. Yes, sin is a terrible thing in the face of my holiness, but don’t be afraid: I love you so tenderly I’ll embrace you and if you can’t make the road back alone I’ll carry you over the parts where you can’t walk. – Behold your God.”
The worst happened……and it was my fault….and to our amazement God has come into our mess…..and offered a solution so much bigger and more profound than we could have ever imagined. Isaiah preached it; “Then the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” All flesh will see….and what they’ll see – what we’ll see is tenderness itself.

When John the Baptist says “Prepare the way of the Lord” Heck, when later in the service when we sing “Prepare the way of the Lord” we’re saying with John that all these promises are about to come true in our lives. Jesus is coming to bring us back to life. God our Maker is saying to God the Son, “Comfort, O comfort my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid.”
Again it is the Good News of the Gospel! And it’s right in front of us for the taking.

The pain we’ve been carrying, the burden, the humiliation, the secret that is you’re one great mistake. The piece of history, of my past and yours, that keeps our heads down and our eyes focused on the ground in front of us – that unforgiveable mistake God knows it’s there – that one great act of stupidity that’s been festering there for too long. We all have them. So hear with me this Word from God. Take Comfort, you’ve served your term; the penalty is paid. It is over!
Don’t stay in exile any more. That’s not the place for you. It’s not my dream for your life. Here, today, is our God speaking tenderly to you and I…..inviting us out from under the rock our biggest mistakes and into the light of a new day. No threat, no more judgement or punishment, just love and tenderness…..Comfort, O comfort my people…….

This little season of Advent is about so much more than we ever expected…..Amen.

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