Sermon December 6, 2020 2nd Sunday of Advent

Music – Judy Moffett

Call To Worship
Leader: God says, “Comfort, o Comfort my people”
People: We are busy, worried, stuck in traffic!
Leader: God says, “Get up to a high mountain and shout the good news!”
People: We trudge along, looking for joy in long held traditions!
Leader: But through it all, we are carried in the bosom of God”
People: We wait with patience, for God is with us even now!

Opening Prayer

Presentation of Advent Liturgy

Readings

Speak: Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God” Isaiah 40:1

Light the second candle – the candle of peace

Read: Isaiah 40:1-11

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. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 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.

Reflect: Isaiah calls the people to get up to a high mountain. For generations, people have cried out as Isaiah does that the paths are crooked, the valleys too far down, the mountains too high. We fear stumbling on uneven stretches of the journey. What if we could see it all from God’s perspective, that through it all God is the source of eternal peace?

Do: Each time you set out on a road or a pathway today, pause and ask God to grant you peace. Driving to work, walking into the office, or taking the dog for a walk, remember God’s promise of peace.

Pray: God of our journeys, whether we walk with purpose or wander without clear direction, whether we are in a valley or on the mountaintop, grant us your eternal peace. Amen
Proclamation of Scripture 
Prayer for illumination
May our hearts rejoice, as we recall God’s deeds in the reading of God’s holy Word. Amen

Epistle Reading
2 Peter 3:8-15a

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him.

Gospel Reading 
Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

This is the Word of God for the people of God
Thanks be to God

Music Judy Moffit

Sermon

We are moving deeper into the season of Advent on the church calendar. A time when we look forward to the birth of the savior. We have an opportunity this year, as in no other, to reflect on what this really means to each of us personally. What happens to our faith in that Savior, when everything we are used to, is stripped away. What if face to face church is shut down again before Christmas. We are so tied to our traditions that sometimes the traditions seem more important than Jesus himself. We get comfortable and I don’t know about you, but I like comfort.

What traditions are we hanging tight to and what does it mean? I love this little church. I love that we help our community. I love that the people of this congregation are willing to give, of their time, their tithes, their talents. to help each other and to help others. We are held together with the glue of our relationships, our community, family, and faith. These are days when some of that glue seems to be a little thin sometimes. Not because we lost our desire. But we lost our normal ways of living those things out. We can’t hug, we can’t sing, we have to be careful about gathering. We can’t enjoy a meal together as a church without risk.

Have we measured faith by how many Sundays someone shows up at church? What happens now if we can’t always physically be in the building? If we can’t meet for church we may need a new yardstick.

In the text from Isaiah, A voice cries out “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord”. Not from a place of comfort, prepare the way of the Lord, Not from a place of affluence, not from a place of certainty, not even from a place of strength. IN THE WILDERNESS.

I have never seen a pretty building called wilderness. I have never been in the wilderness and found a cushioned pew to sit on or a pastor wearing a suit and tie. Nowhere in scripture will we find the words thou shalt gather in a building and listen to a sermon and leave your tithe. This is what I require of you. Amen. Nowhere. I’m not saying that we should not come to church if we can safely or that we should not come to church when covid is under control. We were made to be in community.

So what does the reading today tell us we should be doing in the wilderness? Prepare the way of the Lord.

And where did John the Baptist appear? In the wilderness. People were flocking to this odd fellow wearing animal skins and eating bugs,  to be baptized, to repent, and to be forgiven of their sins. Flocking to the wilderness.
A voice says “Cry Out!” And I said ”What shall I cry?” 

Advent is a time of waiting, a time of hope, a time of preparation, and a time of anticipation. We have certainly been waiting. And hoping. Maybe we are running a little thin on anticipation.

But God waited a thousand years after King David to bring the messiah. 400 years after the last prophet, Malachhi prophesied. And then everything that happened was just one surprise after another. God didn’t go down the list and decide on a candidate for the mother of Jesus on the basis of status. She was not a church leader or a megachurch pastor with a huge budget and tons of programming. The mother of the savior of the world was not chosen because her family was financially or socially positioned to be able to provide a good home, a proper Jewish education. This young woman did not live in a cultural city with opportunities for growth and the most up to date medical care available.

The baby Jesus was not born in a hospital. He was not even born at home. In terms of what we think would be needed in getting ready for the birth of a new baby, they would not seem to be prepared! The first people to be told of His birth were not the local leaders of the synagogue so that they could spread the word to the people, plan a church dinner and welcome Jesus into the community. It was shepherds. Poor guys that spent all their time with sheep, probably didn’t smell very good, certainly could not contribute much to fund the ministry of Jesus. Because of the way they lived, they probably could not even go to temple so they were not even regular church attenders!

The actual birth of Jesus takes place and the first visitors to journey to bring Him gifts are some sketchy pagan dream interpreters – not the Methodist Ladies group!

Then there is a census and God sends Joseph and Mary and the infant to Egypt – the very place that God has saved his people from.

We read and re-read the birth narrative every year, we decorate our trees and we have our pretty manger scenes that are all clean and shiny. (Can you imagine what you would look like and smell like after riding a camel across the desert??)

The people of Isaiah’s time cried out and God heard them and spoke and took them home. 

God calls us in the wilderness. He doesn’t call us because of how good we are, or how nicely we are dressed, or how often we attend church. He calls unlikely people to do surprising things, and just when we think we know the rules and that we are doing pretty well, He tells us all our shiny clean is like filthy rags and He sends grace to us. Just when we think we have positioned ourselves where He wants us, He says go to Ninevah and save your enemies. Just when we think we have reached an age where we are too old for ministry, He sends a pastor who nudges you out of your comfort zone and you find yourself speaking in front of the church. Just when we think our exile or wilderness is going to last forever, God gathers us in and speaks Jesus into being in our lives. As soon as we think that too much time has passed and we have gotten comfortable with or just accepted that this is how things are done, He sends an angel to a poor girl and everything that we thought we knew of God is re-imagined. 

Before Jesus, people put God in a box that they could understand. and God took that box, dumped it out and showed the world that He is so much more than we can fit in a box, or a house, or even a church. Here we are thousands of years later and we are still putting God in a box.

The people who heard the words of the prophet Isaiah knew about being kept outside of the box. They had been in exile and now they are leaving their place of exile and returning home. But who are they now? Their lives have changed. They have changed. They married, made a place in the Babylonian society. Figured out ways to live their “new normal” lives in quarantine. They have gotten comfortable in their wilderness. They have gotten used to a society that is all about power and wealth and doesn’t care about the fringe. Now they ARE the fringe. So maybe this return is a little scary. Isaiah gives them words of comfort. God will gather His lambs. 

So maybe one challenge for us this year is to listen for the voice calling in the middle of our pandemic wilderness. Listen for the God who transcends boxes as He calls to us and gathers His lambs. Comfort! O Comfort my people! 

Going forward, how do we prepare the way of the Lord? How do we become the voice that is lifted up? What valleys can we raise and what mountains can we lower to allow God’s voice to come through to ALL His people – to speak Jesus into the lives of all? What can we learn from this time? What voices will we listen to? If we need a new measuring stick what will that look like? 

This Advent season let us be learning, praying, seeking God. Maybe because of Covid, we are not as busy as usual. Maybe Christmas is going to be quiet this year. There may be more solitude than we would like. Let’s use some of that quiet time to ask questions. Start a prayer journal. Do an internet search on a book of the bible. Try typing something like “Jonah outline” in the search box. Look for commentaries on the birth story so we can look from a different perspective – fresh eyes on something that is so familiar. Learn something new. Bring it back to your church family. When we can all safely gather together again, will we as a church be the same? Will that be a good thing? Can we find new ways to connect? I believe we can because we already have! It may seem like this is lasting a long time but remember, God doesn’t want anyone to be left out. Remember the epistle reading. Time is different for God. God isn’t asleep at the wheel. He is waiting for US.  

We are to be “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” I thought that phrase was interesting. Isn’t that a picture of preparing for the birth of a child? You do all the things you need to do to be ready and then you still have to wait for the actual birth. The Kingdom of God is coming and the Kingdom of God is here. We wait for it as we become it. We hope for it as we see glimpses of it. We are on our way back to God and like excited children, during Advent, we keep asking “Are we there yet?” 

God is drawing near. Let’s get ready!

The lectionary notes this week contained something that I loved and want to share with you. 

“So, they cried out. And God heard.
And God will bring them home —not necessarily to the home that they envisioned, but to the home that God envisions—the community that God calls us to create. The relationships that fulfill us and connect us—this is the home we seek, all of us. And it is the home we find in Jesus. The child in the manger and the savior on the cross speak of home to us. Home is where we are loved and healed and heard.”

Loved, healed and heard. Those are such beautiful words. It is even more beautiful to experience those things. When God’s people cried out to Him, He heard them and through His great love, He healed them and brought them home. The world cried out to God and He heard and through His son, He poured out His love on us and is bringing us home. We cry out from the wilderness and God responds. We respond by lifting our voices and our lives in praise and making space for others to have that same beautiful relationship. 


My prayer for all of us in this season is that we stop worrying about the box, stop worrying about our traditions, stop worrying about what we have lost. Let us see what we can learn to be in a new way without losing the core of who we are and what we believe, May we feel loved, healed and heard by each other and by God who has been speaking with and to us from creation and still speaks and listens. May we all share a part of that glorious conversation. Amen

Father, as we prepare for the celebration of the birth of Your son, our savior, help us to learn to listen to each other, not just with our ears, but with our hearts because how can we help to heal our world if we don’t understand where the broken places are. Show us how we can connect with each other better as a community as we also draw close to you so that you can draw others. Father, as we grow and learn to listen and heal, help us understand this love that you have given us. We need your grace, we need space to understand how each of us is to live to be found by You, at peace. Sometimes our striving seems more like wandering so help us to keep our eyes on this tiny baby who is the way, the truth and the life that leads us home to you. Amen

Would you pray with me?

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen

Benediction
Wait for the Lord! God’s righteousness will appear!
We move forward in faith and hope!
Be patient, for God is slow but gracious
We move forward with joy and gratitude!
Make a straight path for the Lord our God!
Through advent, we journey toward Christmas!

Blessing Numbers 6:24-26

‘“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

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