Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8
2nd Sun of Advent
St Barbara’s 06.12.2020
Rev Tulo Raistrick
We began an Advent series last week where we will be looking at four sets of people who were waiting, waiting for God’s kingdom, waiting for God’s Messiah. Last week we looked at Abraham and Sarah, the first of the leaders of God’s people.
Today, the second Sunday in Advent, our focus is on the prophets.
The prophets of the Old Testament were a remarkable group of people, called from many different ways of life, to proclaim the message of God in many different contexts.
Their message was often ignored, frequently derided, but occasionally heard and responded to.
They spent much of their time speaking in the most discouraging of contexts. Either Israel was prospering financially and militarily but withering spiritually, or it was in dire straits, under siege or in exile, its very nation-hood under threat of being snuffed out.
Their message was often therefore a wake-up call to the complacent. Sort yourselves out, the prophets would warn, or even greater tragedy and disaster will strike. Become faithful once again to God, they would plead, or else God will leave you to the consequences of your own wayward choices. God will not protect you from the consequences of your actions forever. Repent, turn, change, or bad things will result. Hard messages.
But what also marked the prophets out was a vision of the future, a longing for a better world, a world where the people of Israel would be faithful, where they would be a blessing to the nations, where they would be a source of hope and life. Time and time again, they return to this theme. They paint the picture of what life could be like.
Its today’s equivalent of standing in war-devastated Syria or Yemen and speaking of a future of peace and justice; or standing in drought-ravaged parts of Africa and proclaiming a future of abundance and hope; or of standing in our own coronavirus-impacted world, and declaring a future of health and community, freed from the chains of illness and isolation.
And for many of those prophets, that message of hope began to be crystallised in the form of one person, a Messiah, someone sent from God to bring in this new world order, this godly kingdom.
As time went on, they began to see how in their own strength alone the people of Israel could not achieve this vision. That they needed a leader, a saviour no less, with such godliness, such authority and love, that they could change the hearts and minds of their people. It is of such a one that they come to long for and proclaim.
Our reading from Isaiah this morning fits into the very heart of that tradition. Speaking to a people in captivity in Babylon, hundreds of miles from a ruined and ransacked Jerusalem, Isaiah preaches a vision of hope in the one who is to come.
Comfort, comfort my people – he says. Almost a “Hush. hush – its OK”. Just as we may hold a crying baby close to our chest and gently pat them, soothing them. Times may be desperate but God has not deserted us. The day of the Lord will come. The glory of the Lord will be revealed and all humankind together will see it.
So get ready. Prepare the way of the Lord. Those words that John the Baptist was to quote seven hundred years later. In the days of Isaiah, the arrival of a great king or emperor would be preceded by a frenzied activity of road-building, ensuring that they could travel in pomp and circumstance, not having to wend their way along treacherous mountain paths, or potholed and bumpy tracks. Just like the arrival of the monarch traditionally today may lead to roads being re-surfaced and everywhere given a fresh lick of paint, so in Isaiah’s day.
But there is one coming who is worthy of far more than new roads and fresh licks of paint. There is one for whom the very mountains themselves should be levelled, the valleys lifted up. One for whom nature itself needs to get ready.
Isaiah is looking ahead to the coming of the Lord, the one who comes in power. Whilst all humankind is as fleeting as grass, Isaiah says, here is one whose Word stands forever.
But he also comes in gentleness and love. The one who gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. The true shepherd of Israel. We begin to see the first inklings of the incarnation, the creator of the world, the God of all power and might, making himself known to us in the vulnerability of a baby child. It is an extraordinary vision.
Isaiah exhorts his listeners to shout the news from the mountain-tops with joy, to proclaim the good news, to point and say, “Here is your God! The Lord is coming.” And to do so with gentleness and sensitivity too, recognising the depths from which people have come.
The good news that Isaiah proclaims is good news for our world, for our community, for our loved ones, for us too. This year has been a tough year for most people. People are in need of good news – good news of joy, of hope, of gentleness, of light. I wonder who we know that we can share the good news of God’s coming with this Advent? Who is in need of God’s light and hope? Let’s join with Isaiah and the prophets this Advent and share that news with others.