This sermon was written for Kerr Presbyterian Church by Rev. KJ Norris. It was delivered on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2020.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
It is often said that the Scriptures of the Bible do two things: They comfort the afflicted, and they afflict the comfortable.
Last week we began describing the passages as if they were a cold cup of water splashed in our faces. The Scriptures were a wakeup call to we who have fallen asleep while waiting for the Lord to return. They called us to action, called us to pay attention. For many of us who are comfortable living our lives the way we live them, the Scriptures afflicted us, felt like cold water splashed in our faces unexpectedly.
This week is another kind of call while we are waiting. Instead of afflicting the comfortable, these passages comfort the afflicted. It is like we are being handed a warm cup of coco with marshmallows on top. We are being invited into a waiting room with a fire place, being asked to sit down and curl up on a comfortable couch.
As we said last week, the messages given in this part of Isaiah come to a people who are at their breaking point. They are immigrants traveling from one place to another, seeking shelter and food, and hope of a new future. I’ve read a lot about the people in this time in the Bible and thought about what their lives must have been like, but this week I read an article in a news magazine that helped me to connect with those who were living in the time of Isaiah in a new way.
In the magazine, the reporter decided to follow a Venezuelan mother and son who were living in Colombia. The severe famine in Venezuela had forced Gabriel’s parents to leave and seek out work in Colombia. They had done well there. His mother worked at a flower shop and his father in a factory. They had started a new life. Gabriel’s mother was pregnant again and joy spread through the family.
But then came coronavirus. Like here, all around the world the coronavirus brought with it sickness and death and economic hardship. Gabriel’s father died and his mother lost her job at the flower shop–not many people are buying flowers these days, not here nor in Columbia. And Gabriel and his mother were forced to leave their new nation and walk back home to Venezuela where they hoped to find family and shelter and support.
So, they started the long walk home. A distance of about 800 miles. The pictures are haunting. Gabriel, six years old, pulling a small suit case behind him, walking steadily in red plastic shoes. His mother leading the way, growing more and more pregnant by the day. She tells the reporter that her biggest worry is finding a safe place to sleep every night.
Sadly much has not changed in the 4,000 years since the book of Isaiah was written. The prophet is all too aware of the fragility of humankind. “All people are like grass,” he says, “their consistency is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades” (Isa 40:6b-7a).
Unlike the birds of the air and the whales in the sea which migrate long distances every year to find food and safe places to have their young, we humans are fragile. We cannot travel long distances without food or shelter or clothing.
Isaiah sees the frailty of humanity, and God comes to him saying, “Cry out!”
“What shall I cry out Lord? The grass withers, the flowers fade; but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isa 40:6, 8, paraphrase).
And in hope in the most desperate of times come these words:
Read Isa 40:3-5.
No more mountains to climb on the journey towards home.
No more valleys to descend where travelers can fall as easy prey.
The uneven ground is made level. The harshness of travel is made safe. And how does this come? Through the power of the Lord. “The one who will feed his flock like a shepherd. The one who will gather the lambs in his arms and carry them in his bosom” (Isa 40:11, paraphrase).
Our Scriptures today present comfort. They present peace. Peace not just as an absence of violence, though certainly this is a part of peace.
But Biblical peace is bigger than our English word. Peace here is Shalom; that is the Hebrew word used for peace. It’s a word that describes wholeness. Psalm 85 describes it beautifully for us. Peace is both a place and a state of being wherein “steadfast love and faithfulness meet. Where righteousness and peace kiss each other. Where faithfulness springs up from the ground and righteousness looks down from the sky. Where the Lord gives what is good and the land yields it’s increase. Where God directs our steps” (Ps 85:10-13, paraphrase).
This is the kind of life God that God offers. Life that is abundant. Life that is restful. Life that is righteous and loving and faithful.
“But why then don’t we see it?” people asked the Apostle Peter in the 1st century. “If this is true, if Christ is coming back, if the plan of God is one for an abundant life, than why don’t we see it? Why is there death and destruction all around? Why is there hardship? Are you sure that God is at work?”
Perhaps you are asking these questions today, too. Perhaps you have experienced much hardship and exhaustion and disappointment this year and you are in a place like the disciples of Peter asking, “How long, O Lord?”
Perhaps you, like me, read the stories in the news and say, “O Lord, nothing much has changed in 4,000 years. How long, O Lord?”
Perhaps you are struggling internally with unsettled spirit and you see us lighting the advent candles today and you hear these Scriptures of peace and you are thinking, “There is no peace within me. There is no calm.” Something you have done or something that was done to you disturbs your spirit as you lay on your bed at night, it keeps you from the rest you desperately need, and you are crying out today, “How long, O Lord?”
Peter speaks to us words of hope, words of comfort, words of assurance, words of peace.
“Beloved, 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…but the Lord is patient with you, not wanting any to perish” (2 Peter 3:8-9).
The Lord is not inactive, though I know that in the season of Advent, in the season of waiting, in seasons of waiting in our lives sometimes it feels that way. But it isn’t true. The Lord is at work. The Lord is renewing, is restoring, is reinvigorating our lives.
And the Lord is patient. It takes time to become the people whom God has desgned us to be. It takes time for us to be molded into the very image of God. It takes time for the wounds of the things that have been done to us to heal. And God gives us time to repent, to turn from the ways we hurt others & from the ways we turn from God. God gives us time to seek forgiveness, to make this right with those we have hurt, to turn our lives around and walk the path that God has laid straight for us.
So, what shall we do while we wait?
We seek peace. Not just the absence of anger and hatred and war. But true peace. Shalom. We seek to be at peace within ourselves. We put our trust in the Holy Spirit, asking for forgiveness, knowing that God’s love abounds. Asking God to be that Good Shepherd in our lives leading us in the ways we should go.
We seek peace with our neighbors—those who are near and those who are far. We accept help when we are lonely or hungry or desperate, and we support others when they are lonely or hungry or desperate, knowing that all of us are like grass. And knowing that the Holy Spirit renews our strength and calls us to be God’s hands and feet in the world.
And we trust. We put our trust in the One who is worthy of all our love, all our praise, all our worship. The Lord Jesus Christ who has come and who will come again. Amen.