May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Well, it’s getting busier. The deadline for Christmas cards is just around the corner for those that you’re giving out. Have you ordered the turkey? How many presents have you had to buy? Are the plans for Christmas and New Year complete. Has anyone been inadvertently or advertently excluded from them?
Elsewhere that doesn’t seem much to get excited about. In this country, there’s been an astronomical rise in homelessness, and then the need for food banks. Millions will mark this Christmas shivering in refugee camps lamenting the loss loved ones murdered in conflict, or trying to rebuild their lives after natural disasters.
It’s natural and tempting to want to switch off from these [thoughts about grief and disaster] in the season. But if we can’t, and we really shouldn’t the irony, indeed the tragedy of the contrast between the meaning of what we celebrate, and the reality of the world around us, is terrible to contemplate. For many in the world, do live in a wilderness of despair. and many others exists in a spiritual desert desert of pettiness and materialism.
But amidst the hustle and the bustle, and in the quiet of the Advent season, we hear those words, calling out to us across the ages and for all time.
Comfort, comfort my people – in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert, a highway for our God. Then a shoot shall come out from a stock of Jesse, the spirits of the Lord shall rest on him a spirit of wisdom and understanding the spirits of counsel and might. It will not judge by what his eyes see, but with righteousness, He will judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.
Wow, how we long for those sorts of qualities – now. When these words were spoken by Isaiah, we cannot imagine a more hopeless situation. At that time, the Israelite people were exiled in Babylon. The city of Jerusalem had been laid waste. Even the temple the magnificence of which can, one can begin to grasp if you see the scale model of it in Jerusalem, which was the symbol of the very presence of God and amidst his people have been destroyed. All the professional people have been carted off to exile in Babylon, the Holy Land was in a state of decay, the situation would appear to have been beyond repair. It was a kind of ethnic cleansing.
And yet, even amidst the suffering and loss and despair, God promised that he would restore his people as the loved and cared for children of God. That he would send the Messiah who would save them from their own and others shortcomings. These words must have been a profound comfort to those who have lost everything. And yet at the same time, they were barely believable. They can still be words of profound comfort today. And they may also seem barely believable. As we look around us the world today.
At Advent as we [expect], as we look like with the candles here, we remember the voices through the ages of those that have prepared the way of the Messiah. 500 years later from those events to remember, the people having been restored to their nation, but now under the yoke of Roman oppression. John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming the same words, but speaking directly to the people, and of the present not of the future.
Prepare the way of the Lord make his paths straight. The people at the time were filled with messianic expectation, and John’s status matched precisely those prophesied in the fore-runner His words the same as those which They had so faithfully treasured from the prophets Isaiah and his dress the same as that of Elijah, who had been prophesied to return before the Messiah appeared. He’s caused the people to flock to John. But John’s message was hardly what was expected. Nor was it comfortable. For a start the promise of salvation was emerging from the desert, the place of poverty, the place of alienation from God. It was not being proclaimed where it might be expected in the place of religious and political power, Jerusalem. The leaders were addressed as vipers ‘of vipers brood’, abusing their responsibility, causing danger to the very spiritual existence they were supposed to protect.
This was a new and the radical message, and the people came flocking to John from the comfort of their homes. But they too, were hoping for a quick fix, a transformation from which they would which would bring them greater comfort and safety. And they were in for a shock to. Yes, they were being offered nothing less than the forgiveness of sins, salvation from God, the redeeming of all that is evil and sinful and transformation as well. But the gift involved also a transaction. It is freely offered, but with the words, repent, turn from sin, and be baptised. Prepare; you prepare in the wilderness, the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. It’s a direct call to everyone to act. The first action is repentance, turning from sin, transform that which causes pain and suffering, prejudice and hatred put away those things which cause us or others, burdens of resentments hurt, bitterness or regrets. be transformed in the cleansing life giving waters of Christ’s love and compassion.
This is something we are all called to do. It’s quite a challenge. And it’s not something that we wait for, or there’s something simply something promise for the future. But it’s an invitation to act be transform now. Prepare here now in the wilderness of the world and have the experience our hearts and lives, the Way of the Lord. Iron out the valleys, and the crooked paths of oppression and injustice, all those things which separates us from him, make straight his path, open our hearts to receive him. And then he can achieve in us his promised salvation. For he comes to us, not where we necessarily expect him. But in the stillness in the quiet and the pain and the emptiness of our spiritual and emotional wildernesses and then the wilderness of the world.
And so, amidst the busyness, and the noise of the season, let as not neglect our spiritual preparation, or deny the gift that God is offering us right now, for evil now amidst all that busyness that’s why we have Advent. He cries, comfort, comfort my people, for the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. We wait. But in the meantime we are called to repent. That’s a challenge. Advent looks with awe and wonder at the promise of the time and when the world will be transformed by God. It’s therefore a time of anticipation and preparation but also reflection and penitence. It’s a profound message of hope, hope for the future, but also the promise of God the possibility of God’s presence and healing gift for the world today. And we are urged to watch, to wait and to follow and to be Christ like lights that he calls us to be, and to be the instruments of transformation in the world today.
Only we need that and the world needs it. So may God help us and all the lies ahead and the week that lies ahead. Whatever happens beyond that, and all the earth and all people everywhere, in this of all years respond once again to his call, to receive the gift he offers, and by our repentance, which is a journey and our transformation, to receive His peace in our hearts, to be instruments ourselves, of his healing his life in our lives. And in the world around us.