Second Sunday of Advent
December 10 2017
Isaiah 40.1-11; Psalm 85.8-13; 2 Peter 3.8-15a; Mark 1.1-8
Rev Kate McDonald, Scottish Episcopal Church
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
The beauty … the mystery … the poignancy of our scriptures … particularly these prophetic scriptures which we share with our Jewish brothers and sisters … is that they speak as deeply and truly and really to us today as they did nearly 2500 years ago when Second Isaiah was writing to his people who were feeling lost and hopeless, exiled from their holy city and centre of worship by the Babylonians.
Now we are here in this place, watching the fallout from the recent pronouncement of the United States President recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Now we are here, waiting to see how much worse it might get. Now we are here, weeping over the divisions which are ever widening in this holy city. Now it is us in need of words of comfort, words of hope, words which remind us that all that is earthly will pass away but the faithfulness of our God will endure.
We are acutely aware at this time just how much we need God, and as Christians, how much we need Emmanuel, God with us, among us in these troubled days. Our longing for the reign of the Prince of Peace is such that we may be tempted to rush ahead towards the good news of Christmas, that miraculous moment when heaven broke through on earth.
Kathryn Matthews, a United Church of Christ pastor, writes in her lectionary reflection for this week: ‘it’s so much easier to talk about the promise of a babe in a manger–or even to go ahead and sing Christmas carols during Advent … we seem to want the good news of Christmas without the challenge….the birth narrative without the prophet….redemption without judgment.’
And the truth is that Bethlehem lies neither still nor silent in these days. The sleep of its residents is neither deep nor dreamless. There is no retreating into nostalgia here.
So we have a choice. We have a choice as we hear the words from Isaiah. We can hear them as a prophecy of comfort spoken to us – whomever you wish ‘us’ to be, in this place, in this city, in this land. And we can rest in their beauty and hold close to our hearts that longing for a joyous homecoming to a peaceful Jerusalem.
Or. Or we can hear them as a prophecy of command. We can heed the urgent imperatives held within this text:
Comfort my people
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem
Cry to her
Prepare the way of the Lord
Make straight a highway for our God
Get up to a high mountain
Lift up your voice
Do not fear
Say Here is your God
See the Lord God comes
Through the words of the prophet, could it be that we are called, ordered, charged with the task of proclamation and preparation?
But what does that mean? How might we do this in this time, this place, amongst these people? As grief and suffering seem to increase? As aggression and violence move into so many relationships – personal and global? As decisions are made out of insecurity and fear?
Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope—
Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
Which are somewhat narrower.
Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
Which creak on shrill and angry hinges
(People cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through)
Nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of
“Everything is gonna’ be all right.”
But a different, sometimes lonely place,
The place of truth-telling,
About your own soul first of all and its condition.
The place of resistance and defiance,
The piece of ground from which you see the world
Both as it is and as it could be
As it will be;
The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
But the joy of the struggle.
And we stand there, beckoning and calling,
Telling people what we are seeing
Asking people what they see.
It is at the gates of Hope that we are to comfort those who mourn, those who fear, those who despair.
It is at the gates of Hope that we are to speak tenderly to Jerusalem: To our Palestinian friends and neighbours, Muslim and Christian, who feel they have been exiled from a city which is holy to their faith. To our Jewish friends, who feel less secure in these days of uncertainty and unrest in the countries which border ours.
It is at the gates of Hope that we are to survey the land around us to make a way where there may appear to be no way, to tear down rather than build up walls of terror and insecurity, to remove the obstacles created by animosities and grievances, to clear away the impediments of doubt and greed, to prepare a way for our God to come into our lives, into our relationships, into our world.
It is at the gates of Hope that we are called to courage and conviction and compassion, to lift up our voices and say to one another: “Do not fear”.
Because here at the gates of Hope, we see the world as it is and as it should be. In these uncertain days, we have this certainty: The word of our God will stand forever because that Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory. And so we stand, beckoning, calling, longing for the return of the Prince of Peace.
Comfort, comfort now my people (CH4 274 Isaiah 40.1-5)
Hope is a candle, once lit by the prophets (CH4 284, verses 1 & 2)
Come now, O Prince of peace, make us one body (CH4 275)
Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, great David’s greater Son! (CH4 474)
Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free (CH4 472)