Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8
2nd Sun of Advent
St Barbara’s 07.12.14
Today, the second Sunday in Advent, our focus is on the prophets.
The prophets of the Old Testament were a remarkable group of people, called from many different ways of life, to proclaim the message of God in many different contexts.
Their message was often ignored, often derided, but occasionally heard and responded to.
The prophets spent much of their time speaking in the most discouraging of contexts. Either Israel was prospering financially and militarily but withering spiritually, or it was in dire straits, under siege or in exile, its very nation-hood under threat of being snuffed out.
Their message was often therefore a wake-up call to the complacent. Sort yourselves out or even greater tragedy and disaster will strike. Become faithful once again to God, or else God will leave you to the consequences of your own wayward choices. Hard messages.
But what also marked the prophets out was a vision of the future, a longing for a better world, a world where the people of Israel would be faithful, a blessing to the nations of the world, a source of hope and life. Time and time again, they return to this theme. They paint the picture of what life could be like.
And for many of those prophets, that message of hope began to be crystallised in the form of one person, a Messiah, someone sent from God to bring in this new world order, this godly kingdom.
As time went on, they began to see how in their own strength alone the people of Israel could not achieve this vision. That they needed a leader, a saviour no less, with such godliness, such authority and love, that he could change the hearts and minds of his people. It is of such a one that they come to long for and proclaim.
Our reading from Isaiah this morning fits into the very heart of that tradition. Speaking to a people in captivity in Babylon, hundreds of miles from a ruined and ransacked Jerusalem, he preaches a vision of hope in the one who is to come.
Comfort, comfort my people – he says. Almost a “Hush. hush – its OK”. Times may be desperate but God has not deserted us. The day of the Lord will come. The glory of the Lord will be revealed and all humankind together will see it.
So get ready. Prepare the way of the Lord. In the days of Isaiah, the arrival of a great king or emperor would be preceded by a frenzied activity of road-building, ensuring that they could travel in pomp and circumstance, not having to wend their way along treacherous mountain paths, or potholed and bumpy tracks. Just like the arrival of the queen today may lead to roads being re-surfaced and everywhere given a fresh lick of paint, so in Isaiah’s day.
But there is one coming who is worthy of far more than that. One for whom the very mountains themselves should be levelled, the valleys lifted up. One for whom nature itself needs to get ready.
Isaiah is looking ahead to the coming of the Lord, the one who comes in power. Whilst all humankind is as fleeting as grass, here is one whose Word stands forever.
But he also comes in gentleness and love. The one who gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. The true shepherd of Israel. We begin to see the first inklings of the incarnation, the creator of the world, the God of all power and might, making himself known to us in the vulnerability of a baby child. It is an extraordinary vision.
Isaiah exhorts his listeners to shout the news from the mountain-tops, to proclaim the good news. The Lord is coming.
It is good news for us too. This Christmas I wonder which people we know living in desperate straits, which people in need of God’s light and hope, need to hear that message of the God who has come among us. And I wonder, will we join with Isaiah in proclaiming it too.