The lessons: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2,8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
The written text of the sermon–it always changes in the giving, though, but this is pretty close.
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God,
speak tenderly to Jerusalem!
If we could sum up the Gospel, in one word,
rolling every mighty act of God
on our behalf, from the beginning of creation
to the good news of Jesus Christ,
into one announcement,
Comfort! might be a good candidate for that one word!
And what a joy to our sore hearts,
we who wait for God, and long, and yearn for God,
we, who with more or less raggedy faith,
listen for a word of hope and consolation.
What a joy to us to hear the word of comfort,
a word we can carry with us
a word to give to others,
a promise that life is more open, more gracious,
than we could ask or imagine.
What a joy to hear that God’s intention,
God’s command even, for us, is comfort.
God’s intention is to speak tenderly to God’s people.
Tenderly, here, in Isaiah, means literally to speak to the heart.
Our Lord intends tenderness; our Lord intends to speak to our hearts.
Isaiah’s gorgeous announcement this morning
gathers so much that we hope for in Advent:
that such comfort, and such tenderness
would come toward us through our wilderness places,
making a path straight for our hearts.
Here in Isaiah, how clear it is, that God himself makes the path,
that God’s own word prepares the road God will travel.
God speaks, you are forgiven, you are beloved.
You are set free, released, restored
and there is nothing more to do.
Suddenly, our path in the wilderness,
our wandering path through the desert is made straight.
For Isaiah, who is speaking in this passage to people in exile,
comfort is the promise of return, the guarantee of homecoming.
The long separation is over, and a new beginning is possible.
Comfort looks like the assurance that God’s word
stands forever, even when all we know is ephemeral.
Comfort, for Isaiah, looks like a God who becomes our shepherd,
who feeds and cares for his lambs,
who carries each of us, as gently as a mother carries her young.
Here is God, Isaiah wants us to know,
who comes toward us, who comes to find us,
making ours paths straight,
our rough places plain,
the mountains brought low,
the patchy uneven ground of our lives
transformed into the road
which the Lord travels,
his Word clearing a path,
as we would clear one through the woods with a scythe.
God’s been coming toward us from the beginning of time.
Comfort, for the Psalmist
looks like a God who is faithful,
a God who restores his people from their brokenness,
like forgiveness to a people in need—
He prays to hear the good news,
what the Lord will say to his people.
And at the same the singer knows
the Word God speaks to us is peace.
To those who turn to God in their hearts,
comfort looks like steadfast love and faithfulness on God’s part.
It looks and feels like an embrace, a kiss of peace and goodness.
With eyes filled with God’s glory,
the Psalmist looks around and sees comfort everywhere,
in God’s faithfulness that springs up from the earth, like water,
in God’s justice that shines in the sky.
Where God travels,
his justice and mercy go before him, making a path.
Comfort in 2nd Peter,
looks like a God whose sense of time is not ours,
a God who isn’t in a rush, a God who isn’t too busy
to take time over his creation, to tend his people,
to pay attention, to be thorough with each one.
Here is the Holy One whose patience is timeless,
whose slowness is not slow,
concerning the promise—whose care is so gracious
withholding judgment for eons.
A God who is patient, who never gives up,
whose intention is life for every person,
not wanting any of us to perish.
Comfort looks like a God whose Word sustains us,
even when everything else is dissolved,
and this changeful world passes away.
God’s patience makes a place for us,
a space for us, an Advent opening for us,
a room for waiting with hope,
as we would wait for a child to be born,
with joy and expectation.
We’re ready to receive, ready to embrace this new life.
We’re waiting and watching for a new heaven and a new earth,
and in the meantime, we live in this house of God’s patience,
striving, Peter suggests, to live holy and godly lives.
And finally comes Mark,
announcing that true comfort,
is the beginning of the good news
of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Comfort comes in this one
whom all the prophets announce,
from ancient times,
from Isaiah’s voice crying in the wilderness
to John, the Baptizer, with his camel hair shirt,
and locusts and wild honey,
pointing toward Christ, saying
I am not worthy, I am not competent to unloose the straps of his sandals.
True comfort comes along the highway God has made
from before time, John calls out,
in the person of Christ, one stronger than any of us,
the one who comes with the power of the Spirit
to renew and remake us, to raise us from the dead.
Our true comfort is Christ
in whom God is present for us.
And He comes today in his Word,
in all of you gathered here, for we are the Body of the Risen One.
Christ comes in this time together,
in bread and wine, in mercy and grace,
in forgiveness, in this moment, in this place.
We say Advent is about preparing a place,
and yet it is God who does that preparing in us,
God who stirs our hearts,
whose Word goes to work in us creating faith,
God who builds the road through the wilderness toward us.
What does Gospel comfort look like for you this year?
We have heard the testimony, the witness of the prophets.
We’ve heard the announcement of the good news.
We know what it looked life for Isaiah, for the Psalmist, for Peter, for Mark.
What does comfort look like for us?
In this open spacious time of Advent waiting
in the house of God’s patience,
sheltered by God’s grace, peace, and tenderness,
may the comfort you need
come toward you.
May we each have the eyes of faith to see
Christ coming toward us, Christ who speaks so gently to us,
Christ, whose gift to us through the Cross and resurrection,
prepares a way of mercy and peace,
for us to come toward him.