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Advent 2B Sermon
Isaiah 40: 1-11; Mark 1: 1-8
December
6, 2020

 

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Isaiah 41:1-11

Listen to me in silence, O coastlands;
let the peoples renew their strength;
let them approach, then let them speak;
let us together draw near for judgement.

Who has roused a victor from the east,
summoned him to his service?
He delivers up nations to him,
and tramples kings under foot;
he makes them like dust with his sword,
like driven stubble with his bow.
He pursues them and passes on safely,
scarcely touching the path with his feet.
Who has performed and done this,
calling the generations from the beginning?
I, the LORD, am first,
and will be with the last.
The coastlands have seen and are afraid,
the ends of the earth tremble;
they have drawn near and come.
Each one helps the other,
saying to one another, ‘Take courage!’
The artisan encourages the goldsmith,
and the one who smooths with the hammer encourages the one who strikes the anvil,
saying of the soldering, ‘It is good’;
and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved.
But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, ‘You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off ’;
do not fear, for I am with you,
do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

Yes, all who are incensed against you
shall be ashamed and disgraced;
those who strive against you
shall be as nothing and shall perish.

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Thus begins the Gospel reading for the second Sunday of Advent this year. Do you find it odd that Mark begins the story of Jesus not by talking about Jesus, but by going back a little further in time before Jesus? To the one who is the forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist? Sometimes that is necessary to do – when we want to tell an important story we sometimes need to tell about how we got to the place where the story began.
I always remember the Big Bang Theory episode where Penny – who barely achieved a high school diploma – asks Sheldon, the super smart physicist, to teach her about physics so that she can have something to talk with Leonard, also a super smart physicist, with whom she is now in a romantic relationship. Sheldon begins his lecture, “It’s a warm summer evening in Greece, circa 600 BC. You’ve just finished your shopping at the local market, or agora …” Already Penny’s eyes are glazed over as she has no idea that a simple understanding of what physics is would transport her twenty five hundred years and half a globe away.

A story teller standing in front of a group of early Christians also began, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” and then starts talking about the prophet Isaiah, who lived nearly 600 years before Jesus did. As we re-tell the good news of Jesus once again this Advent, Mark the gospel writer reminds us how important it is to set up the context - to talk about John, the one with the wild clothing and diet who hung out in the wilderness preaching and baptizing people. And even before introducing us to John, to talk about the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before that. Often, we forget about those who are forerunners when we talk about people who are important in shaping history or faith, but Jesus’ story depends greatly on the stories of Isaiah and of John.

The one who calls on God to comfort God’s people in Isaiah 40 is writing to a group of people who have lived through intense trauma. The previous chapter in Isaiah recounts how King Hezekiah was trying to impress a delegation from Babylon. He desired an alliance with them against the military might of the Assyrians. In pursuing this relationship, he showed the Babylonians all of the riches of Jerusalem – gold, silver, spices, precious oils; he revealed the armaments, weaponry and food in the huge storehouses. He was trying to impress them; instead, he made the whole southern kingdom of Judah vulnerable to Babylon. Knowing their riches and where to find them, the Babylonians would destroy, ran-sack and slaughter the land and people of Jerusalem in 587 BC. This is part of their history that God’s people generally look upon as punishment for their sins of unfaithfulness, and yet Isaiah’s words seem to reveal an understanding that God may have put this punishment into motion, but the Babylonians must have taken it much farther than God intended. “She has received from the Lord’s hand double for all of her sins.” Isaiah’s call for God to comfort these people sets the tone for a voice to cry out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.

These are the same people who now live under the Roman occupation. Their lives are not their own; as a matter of tact, when someone spread the “euangelion” – or “Good News” to people, it was a term taken from the Roman realm. Those proclaimers of good news brought word of Roman conquest and victory – of the presence of the son of god, Caesar, to bring about the Roman Peace in the land. But the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ begins in the wilderness – from a voice talked about hundreds of years earlier, to the wild figure wearing camel’s hair and eating honey and bugs. Mark doesn’t begin with a virgin and her betrothed. He goes all the way back to the time when God broke into the lives of the people to comfort and to free them from their exile in a foreign land.

John helped to pave the way for Jesus by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As one who lived in the wilderness, he not only would have endured the challenges of life in such lifeless surroundings, he also left all of the trappings of life behind him so that he might gain spiritual clarity and promise. His voice in the wilderness was the voice of truth, spoken to people who themselves were enduring trauma at the hands of a foreign power. And making the connection that God’s people are sinful, he speaks and baptizes in order that their hearts may be spiritual clear and ready for the promise of the messiah who is to come, Jesus Christ. He is a forerunner; he is the Elijah figure promised to prepare the way for God. He is the one calling us to make the paths straight for God to meet us in the midst of our struggles and trauma.

Jesus’ story begins with Isaiah and John. They made it possible for Jesus to come in his time. In the same way, Martin Luther’s story begins with people like Jan Huss, who taught some of the same things Luther did, only a hundred years before him. And that is the same way that the story of that well-known figure in human rights known as Rosa Parks actually began with people like Sarah Evans and Claudette Colvin. In 1952, Private Sarah Evans was on her way home from her first military assignment in North Carolina when she refused to move to the back of the bus. Upon refusing, she was taken to jail and detained for 13 hours. She then sued the Interstate Commerce Commission and won her case … unfortunately the ruling was not enforced for another 6 years. Claudette Colvin was a young black teenager who refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person in 1955. Having grown up with the teachings of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, Claudette was emboldened to resist the injustice and as a result was handcuffed and arrested. This was 9 months before Rosa was arrested for the same offense. Are these two names – Sarah Evans and Claudette Colvin – as familiar to you as Rosa Parks These women were forerunners of Parks, setting in motion that which would later be mostly attributed to her. They are like most forerunners – unsung heroes who help to plow the ground, destabilize the terrain and make things ready for the change that is to come. I imagine a storyteller beginning the Rosa Parks tale by saying, “Picture if you will a warm summer afternoon at a bus station in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina in 1952.” The good news of the advances in human rights gained from the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama begins at least that that far back and that far away.

In the same way, the good news of Jesus Christ begins with a prophet bringing comfort to a broken people; it continues with a wild voice in the wilderness preparing the way through baptism and repentance. And it continues with the one who was, and who is, and who is to come, breaking into the world to bring light to a dark time, and joy to people who live in fear and uncertainty as to what tomorrow will bring. Just as those forerunners prepared the way for good news, so I believe that we have been prepared for the healing promised to us by the God who has done so many good and blessed things for us along the way. These are the glad tidings of peace that we are called to proclaim: that the Jesus upon whom we wait brings comfort, healing and joy to our dark world. Be prepared! It is coming. Amen.