We have good news today on this second Sunday in Advent, very good news. After struggling with challenging parables last month we welcome this change of pace in the season of preparation and anticipation of the remembrance of Jesus' birth.
The impressive art of Isaiah involves taking the stuff of our ordinary and sometimes disappointing human experience and show us how this is the very stuff God uses to create, make new and give hope. He uses everything and everybody as material for his work, which is the remaking of the mess we often have made of our lives.
"Comfort my people", God says, "speak tenderly to Jerusalem". "She has served her sentence, all sin is forgiven, it's over and done with." "Get ready for a new time, prepare the way, God is coming. His glory will shine so bright that everyone will see it."
Imagine how precious those words were to the people of ancient Israel. This bold declaration offers a welcome new vision to a demoralized people. The temple was destroyed, their homeland laid waste, the social structures of their lives gone. Through the words of the prophets of old, God's character is revealed in expressions of comfort, consolation and hope.
Psalm 85 reflects on the graciousness of God. The Lord brought good times back to the people of Jacob, forgave sins, granted salvation, poured out goodness and beauty, bounty and blessing.
The Gospel of Mark begins by announcing, "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” then echoes the words of Isaiah. "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." Mark offers no birth story of Jesus, no Joseph and Mary gazing lovingly at the infant, no shepherds or sheep, no bright stars or choirs of angels. No time is allowed to linger with the baby Jesus. Mark jumps right in with urgent directions, get ready, prepare the way, one more powerful than I is coming. John proclaimed the importance of preparation. Repentance and confession require facing the truth about ourselves and changing the direction of our lives. How else can we be ready to greet our Lord?
This past Wednesday morning we began a new bible study series with a discussion of ways we have experienced and understood God at various stages of our lives. We shared how our understanding of God reflects our relationship with God. Some of us in Sunday School classes encountered an image of God as an authoritative figure, one who judges and punishes, others were offered a more positive image of a God who loves us and is full of mercy and grace. Some of our perceptions changed through the adult years of seeking and study.
A question from the study guide asked, "What difference does the way someone sees God's character affect his or her day to day living?” In other words, if we believe in a stern, judgmental Lord, will we relate to others in that way? Or if we perceive our Lord as kind and caring will we relate to others in a compassionate manner? Is our relationship based on fear, or are we free of fear and filled with awe and reverence?
Every time we attend a service of the church we hear scripture and receive the Gospel of Jesus our Lord. As Christians we are the ones who carry the gospel out into the world. You and I are to be bearers of the image of God. As one of our dismissal statements tells us, "Go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit."
The feast day of St. Nicholas falls on Dec. 6, so we remember him this morning and see his life as a model of Christian service. He was the face of Christ wherever he went. There are nearly 400 churches in England dedicated to him. Millions of Greeks and Russians venerate him as their national saint.
Very little is known about his life except that he suffered torture and imprisonment during the persecution under the Roman emperor in the late 3rd century. Even though little is known historically, legends of his goodness abound. He served as Bishop of Myra, now Turkey, in the 4th century. His relics were moved to Bari, Italy in 1087. The stories are endless but all share the common theme of bringing help to people as the needs were made known. It is said that he tossed three bags of gold through the window of a home so that three young women would have an acceptable dowry, without which they could not marry and might have ended up as prostitutes. Legend has it that he quieted storms and tempests so is the patron saint of sailors, he ministered to the poor and helpless. He even persuaded the captain of a passing ship to bring his cargo of grain to the city of Myra where people were starving. Whatever he did, he did it in a way that reflected our Lord and Savior, the giver of all good gifts.
Advent is a time of repentance and preparation. It is a time to take a look at ourselves to see if we need to clear the way so that we might more fully reflect the generosity of Christ. We are all called to be Christ in this time and this place. AMEN