Second Sunday in Advent
December 10, 2017
St. Jacob’s and Trinity Lutheran
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
Isaiah 40:1-11 Mark 1:1-8
What a difference a week makes. Last Sunday the prophet opens with “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes the water to boil – to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence.”
This morning Isaiah closes with words announcing the coming of one with celestial power, but whose rule is compassionate, “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”
While Isaiah spends much time pronouncing God’s judgment on the Southern Kingdom of Judah, the bottom line message received from God is “Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God. The plea that God not remember the sins of the people for ever is answered. God may punish, but God does not reject. The people are God’s and loved by God.
More is given by God to Isaiah than the opening words and closing words of assurance. He conveys a very clear picture of the messenger who the people can expect as herald of caring God’s coming.
It is a very bold messenger. The messenger will be one who will fearlessly stand on the mountain and proclaim, “Here is your God! This coming messenger is particularly important because he not only proclaims but he points to God’s deliverance. “See, the Lord comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”
This is welcome news. The prophets have proclaimed “hard times are coming” which will end the joy ride of ignoring God’s commands, trusting in military help from foreign countries, and their own wealth and status as the descendants of the receiver of God’s promise to make a new nation, Abraham. Really hard times were just around the corner. The Babylonian Empire, who made their ally Egypt look like a journeyman lightweight opposing the heavyweight champion, was fast closing in. The final word is God’s coming deliverance as a caring, leading shepherd.
It is a promise that took root. It is the reason people like Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna in the Gospel of Luke were awaiting a divine deliverer.
The political restorations had come and gone. First, there was the return of the traditional leaders from exile from Babylon, after the Medes conquered Babylonia and permitted those wishing to return to do so. Second, a few hundred years later the Maccabees led a successful revolt against one of the Greek Empires created by his generals after the death of Alexander the Great. Then Rome conquered. Frankly the Roman conquest ended nationhood until present Israel was created after WWII.
In our Gospel lesson from Mark such a messenger as Isaiah announced finally comes. John the Baptist is truly a voice in the desert, standing solidly, while proclaiming, “Here is your God!”
John is a real wild man in the wilderness. His clothing consisted of camel’s hair and a leather belt. He ate the simplest ritually clean diet: locusts and honey.
Whenever I come to these lessons featuring John the Baptist I wish more churches had a big screen that I could play Charlton Heston in The Greatest Story Ever Told, or Michael York in Jesus of Nazareth as John the Baptist boldly proclaiming the baptism of repentance, the baptism that recognizes one’s sin and the desire to be right before God, while pointing to “one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stop down and untie.”
It has taken about 600 years for this moment to arrive, which seems like a very long time to us. Our country declared its’ independence 241 years ago. Then again as a prayer ascribed to Moses in Psalm 90 and Peter in 2 Peter note, a thousand years in God’s sight are but a day to us.
The main point is God delivers.
In today’s readings, from the request for restoration in Psalm 85, through the prophecy of Isaiah, to the appearance of John the Baptist in Mark, we experience the reality of God as deliverer. We are blessed to be in the position to look back and see God’s golden thread weaving through the threats and destruction of Jerusalem to the nearly unshakable John the Baptist. In less than an hour today we see that cycle completed.
As St. Paul wrote, we are creatures who see but dimly God’s workings. The distance between us and God in knowing might not be as removed as an intelligent mammal from us. I recently read an anonymous poem on Isaiah 40:6-8 which showed how a horse, given its’ limits, might understand the idea that we are grass and God’s word eternal:
The steed bit his master:
How came this to pass?
He heard the good pastor cry,
“All flesh is grass.”
Still Isaiah prepared and John directly point to an Advent hope that opens a new thing Jesus brings to this corner of creation. It might be disorienting, but what the written Word and that Advent Hope promise and provide is it is something far, far better than life without it. Amen.