• The Rector

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (Year B)

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Advent

December 6th, 2020

“A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

We all know how hard it can be to have to wait.

Patience in our waiting is not something that really comes naturally or easily to most of us. Some are better than others, some are more practiced in waiting and in patience, but it’s never easy.

It doesn’t really matter whether you’re waiting for your new car to arrive or waiting to receive difficult news about your health from a doctor – the feeling of waiting is seldom very fun. What we are waiting for we want right away, without delay.

Last week we spoke about how all of our lives are a kind of waiting, waiting on God not only to return on the last day but waiting for God to enter and touch our lives all the time. Advent is a season of waiting and hopeful watching, and it was Father Alfred Delp who wrote that all of life is advent. All of life is waiting for God.

And we said that perhaps we can understand now more than ever what Delp was feeling when he wrote that. Though our situation is not comparable to being in solitary confinement waiting to die, we have spent almost the last year waiting with hope. Asking ourselves when this will all come to an end. When will things be normal, or whatever normal will look like, once more?

And speaking about hopeful waiting, you may have heard this week about the very sad but expected news that Camden, a little boy for whom we’ve been praying for quite some time died this past week. Camden fought cancer for all of his very young life, knowing no other reality but hospitals and treatments.

And those who knew him and his family, even those of us who knew him only by name but prayed for him here in church, have spent the last two years in a state of waiting.

Waiting to see how his cancer would progress. Waiting to see how his treatments would work. Waiting on the miracle of the Lord that so many prayed for to deliver him to health and wholeness.

Though we are all deeply grieved by the outcome, and surely wish for a different ending, and though we cannot know for sure what effect our prayers had on young Camden and his family, we can trust that they were heard by God, that they were felt by those closest to Camden, and that our prayers for him had an impact on us, as prayer is meant to do, softening our hearts and moving us to compassion.

The theme of waiting continues in our readings this week as it will all through this season of Advent as we look with hopeful hearts to the first coming of Jesus at his birth, the fulfilment of God’s promise of a Messiah, a saviour.

In the first reading from Isaiah we hear familiar and beautiful words as the prophet writes about hope. Isaiah was a prophet sent by God to deliver warnings of judgement upon Israel alongside messages of hope.

God was wroth with Israel for their unfaithfulness and wretched treatment of the poor, and so God used Isaiah to deliver warnings – return to me, smarten up, or your kingdom will come crashing down and your people will be carried off into exile.

It would be more than 100 years after Isaiah prophesied these warnings that they came true and Israel was invaded and defeated by the Babylonians, their people carried off into foreign lands and made to live in exile.

But the verse we hear today comes from the second ‘half’ of the Book of Isaiah and is, strangely, written from the prophetic perspective of Israel 200 years in the future, nearing the end of their captivity in Babylon, and on the cusp of returning home, something they had been waiting for for decades.

And in this portion Isaiah offers words of hope and comfort to a future people bedraggled and beaten down by years of near-hopeless waiting.

“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…Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low…then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together”

God’s promise of comfort, His word of hope, is not a promise of immediate relief from our struggle. Isaiah affirms what we all know to be true about the frailty of human life, “All people are grass…the grass withers, the flower fades…” That is to say, it is not a promise that we won’t continue to be frail, to be sick, to suffer, the promise is that God’s power is bigger and greater than our frailty and our death.

“The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.”

This proclamation of hope is what we hear and see in the figure of John the Baptist, introduced in the Gospel reading this morning.

John was Jesus’ cousin, and a bit of an odd fellow. But he, like Isaiah, was a prophetic voice in the midst of the wilderness, in the midst of a difficult and strange time in which people were looking and yearning for hope. John’s was a voice that always pointed people from their current situation to the hope that lay beyond. In the wilderness John proclaimed the coming of something greater, and told people to prepare for it.

For Isaiah the land in which the people found themselves exiled was a wilderness, an empty, barren, and dangerous land, and he pointed beyond all of that to the hope of something greater. John himself was a voice in the midst of the wilderness. This wilderness is not a place but the wilderness that is our sin and loneliness, our grief and pain.

I think we find ourselves in the midst of a wilderness right now because of the pandemic and the fear it brings, because of Camden, and because of all of the ways we suffer silently.

In Advent we wait alongside all others in the wilderness, all longing for wholeness and healing, all looking with hopeful hearts towards the greater things God has promised.

In this wilderness we are tempted to lose hope.

But in Advent we remind ourselves of the darkness that we live in out here in the wilderness, so that we can all, together, look towards the horizon for the dawning light that is soon to arrive, the end of our waiting, and the answer to our prayer, and the fulfillment of our hope.

“A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

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