All around us this slide into a frenzy of consumption that comes at Christmas and perhaps even gets bigger each Christmas continues. Aside from the fact I try to avoid it in the business of of remembering our Lord’s birth and that happened in a pretty unfortunate place – maybe even a cave which is not an ideal place to bring a baby into the world. I have another reason for not sliding down that consumption path. I live in a nursing home and this week death visited us. A much loved young person, human in every way, left us.
Like us all they will rise into the glory of God at the last day and the books will be opened. What will the judgement be? They had no speech, perhaps even no language. They only new joy in the presence of bright light and music, and the meaning of love. That for sure: May they rest in peace and rise in Glory, and I pray now, as I have prayed before, that we meet in high kingdom where there will be no more tears and no more pain.
In contrast we wehave the great privilege of free access to the patience and comfort of this Holy Word. In scripture and by the gift of the Holy Spirit God is welcoming us, drawing us, pulling us into the blessed hope of everlasting life. We know there is a boundary between life and death. The is also a boundary between holiness, glory and God and everything else.
In our readings – thank you for tolerating the epistle this week – we approach that boundary, and what can bring us humans who are as the collect puts it grievously hindered by sins and wickedness to be helped and delivered.
They are a special set of readings because as I said at the beginning they look forward they are of the time of Jesus and they are looking back Isaiah the prophet records what was revealed to him about that high kingdom and how it would come about. Mark records the work of John the Baptist on the threshold of the ministry of our Lord and as you saw he references that very chapter of Isaiah and those key lines mean he is referencing the whole block you can be sure. Because it was difficult to write and equipment was expensive and it had to be done by hand it wasn’t the practice to include vast chunks of something else – you just included a few lines and ‘everyone’ said ‘ah ha’ we know what they are on about. Peter records what the struggles of the early Jewish Christians to make sense of what had just happened in the light of the whole Old Testament. I have no doubt that the passage from Isaiah was ‘on the table’ as the brothers and sisters were meeting in Jerusalem as they tried to understand where they now were with God.
So to unpick just a little of the scripture. Isaiah 40.3 A voice cries out the very words which begin Mark identifies with the start of the ministry of John the Baptiser: who baptised with water in the Jordan river. John understood clearly that he was only to prepare the way. He spoke clearly of the one who is coming after me who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.
Returning to Isaiah we find indeed that it is the Lord God himself who will work salvation for his people: that the Lord of all time: the creator of all: will gather his people like the lambs and he himself the Lord Almighty will lead the flock. So you can see the Isaiah light is shining on the light of Mark nd the words of John the Baptist
Isaiah has this most curious turn of phrase in 40.10. He says that as the Lord comes with might – which is fair enough, we get that the Lord comes with might, he brings with him his own reward and in some translations payment, and in other translations his recompense is before him. It’s something I’d like you each to think about in the coming week. What does it mean that his recompense is before him?
I can’t find a meaning that doesn’t at least partially include the people God in Jesus redeems are his recompense. Or if you translate as payment – he is bringing payment to redeem us. So I ask each of you, this week have you lived a life worthy of that calling, of being the recompense of the God who flung stars into space. And if not we need not fear – thats what the last half hour has been about in many respects ,but maybe we can think about it for the week to come.
So to Peter. Peter was, we so far as we know a good Jew as far as we know from scripture and also from other literature preserved from the time of Jesus everyone in Palestine was trying to work outlaw and when the end would come. When the day of God would come. Maybe its question number two after where do I get bread?
The Jewish people were looking for a messiah who would bring in a combined revelation: salvation: glory: judgement all in one. Isaiah had seen it that way, compressed. But confusingly for Peter and the sister sand brothers in Jerusalem the glory glory:judgement act hadn’t yet happened.They were very clear that they had seen a revelation: salvation act in Jesus birth life ministry death and resurrection but they had this problem that the end of the world hadn’t come. It seemed that it had been God’s good pleasure to wait for a bit.
The age of the Church had begun. It is that age which continues. Elsewhere it is called the Last Days. This is age when salvation has been worked. The door to the kingdom: the very body of Jesus has been revealed. The narrow path has been established. Narrow is the way and few are they that find it, as the scripture puts it. But the day when the books will be opened is not yet now. So Peter writes in 2 Peter 3. 9 The Lord is not slow about his promise as some think about slowness, but is patient with you not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.
That verse about the patience of God and his wish for all to come to repentance is a a critical verse.when we think about what the church is for. Ultimately why six people are sitting here his morning. We are here to lead lives of godliness and holiness to wait for the coming of the Lord but more than that by our lives to hasten the coming of the day of God.
We arena short here to be God’s agents in leading people to the gate of the Kingdom. It is not for us to work repentance. That is reserved for Jesus alone. But it is our job in the salvation of Jesus to be active in the service of the God who gave us his son – to be born in a stable in Bethlehem and be Emanuel GodWithUs.
Lets be crystal clear: its something I think the reformers knew when they wrote this prayerbook we are using today (BCP) There is no privacy in this religion of Jesus following, of Christianity. All will be revealed in the Day of God. No secrets will remain. Nothing we wished we had said, or not said, or done or not done.
So let us all be active in the service of King Jesus. Let us always have an answer ready for the hope we have in Jesus. More than that let us be ready in humility and gentleness to share the faith we have. If we are church, these are requirements – not options. Quite simply if we don’t do it we are not church which could be a little bit of a problem.
Some times when you hear a talk, or a passage from scripture (preferably the other way round) your heart sings for the first time in a long time. It says something to you. If you r heart sings: this is Good News, this is Good news, come and chat to me or to ring Victoria. Don’t leave it to tomorrow.
The Lord himself has come with might and his own arm has ruled. His reward is with him, and his recompense before him. Let us all be led like ewes in a flock of sheep, and let us rest in the arms of God as lambs in the arms of a shepherd when the flock takes a long journey. In the Mediterranean when they are driving the flock around the coast the lambs can’t make it the shepherds just pick them up – they are carrying the lambs because the lambs won’t make it to the next grazing pasture otherwise.