Prepare

Second Sunday of Advent year B

Isaiah 40:1-11             Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13      2 Peter 3:8-15a           Mark 1:1-8

Surely God’s salvation is at hand 
for those who fear him, 
that his glory may dwell in our land. 
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; 
righteousness and peace will kiss each other                            Psalm 85:9 
Hills of the north, rejoice;
river and mountain spring,
hark to the advent voice;
valley and lowland, sing;
Christ comes in righteousness and love,
he brings salvation from above.
Isles of the southern seas,
sing to the listening earth;
carry on every breeze,
hope of a world’s new birth.
In Christ shall all be made anew;
his word is sure his promise true.
Lands of the east, arise!
He is your brightest morn;
greet him with joyous eyes,
let praise his path adorn;
your seers had longed to know their Lord;
to you he comes, the final word.
Shores of the utmost west,
lands of the setting sun,
welcome the heavenly guest,
in whom the dawn has come;
he brings a never-ending light,
who triumphed in our darkest night.
Shout, as you journey home;
songs be in every mouth;
Lo, from the north we come,
from east, and west, and south.
In Jesus all shall find their rest,
in him the universe be blest
Charles Ernest Oakley (adapted)

Not long ago I received vouchers for a very suave gentleman’s out-fitters offering their very finest shirts at discount prices: I think they made presumptions made about the title ‘Reverend’ and were keen to ensure I was suitably attired.

There are no nativity tales in Mark; he writes in what we now call soundbites with an immediacy like no other gospel writer:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God as it is written in the prophet Isaiah (1:1-2).

The messenger, the preparer of the way is the very first character on stage and he does not wear first century equivalents of Armani suits, Tyrwhitt Shirts and Prada shoes.  Nor does he arrive with grandeur and force in a limousine or an army tank, not even a camel.  And his dining habits are strange to say the least.  Yet he is pivotal to the action: the preparation of centuries culminates in the life and ministry of John Baptist.  And at the same time points forward, makes preparation for the one to come.

Prepare

When the musical Godspell was written, John’s simple theme was in no doubt ‘prepare ye the way of the Lord’ The clear solo voice introducing this theme takes the reader straight back to the good news from Deutero-Isaiah.  For the first hearers, the time of exile is ending and homecoming anticipated.  Words of Hope for an exiled people bring a message of comfort, because it speaks of God’s promise of redemption.  The way home to Jerusalem was to be made smooth.

But more importantly, the words from Isaiah 40 contain startling images of God.  This God is the one who is both holy and transcendent: able to lift valleys and level mountains; and personal and intimate – a shepherd who hold us close and carries us.  This seeming paradox is dialectic: each statement informs the other.

And the Good news recorded in Mark’s Gospel says that God is sending a messenger with a promise of redemption once more.  Look at the stark simplicity of John the Baptiser’s life and contrast it with the world around him: a world of division, oppression and intrigue.

And how does this bring  some sanity and order into the chaos of a world turned upside down in a pandemic?   I suspect what we most need to hear is a reminder of God’s love; not perhaps some cute plastic doll in the cosy sanitized setting of a school nativity play, but a real reminder of the dangers for a live baby, helplessly lying in the animals’ feeding trough, in the middle of a dangerous world.

This year, possibly as in no other, our thoughts have turned much more to the importance of family and friends, and of protecting the environment.  Perhaps this is a sign of the way in which the overwhelming grace of God is breaking in.  The God who can raise valleys and level mountains; the God who reaches out to gather up the frail, the weak and the vulnerable, is the God who still calls women and men to prepare the way so that others too may receive this grace.

Ye

So we are called to prepare within the chaos of our own time, in spite of all that might seek to distract us.  But how do we prepare for the coming of the Lord?

History teaches many lessons; but primarily that human beings seem slow to learn from the mistakes of the past.  This is true when it comes to remembering the unfailing love of God to the people down through every generation.  Psalm 85 records God’s sovereign acts of grace, not just to God’s people, but to the whole creation.  

Surely God’s salvation is at hand 
for those who fear him, 
that his glory may dwell in our land. 
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; 
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.  
Psalm 85:9

The psalm holds a promise of a good harvest; God will restore the rich and fertile garden despoiled by humans.  BUT, the intention was always for humanity to share the righteous, the justice and the steadfast love.  Now there’s good news for a tired world!

I heard someone say the other day – ‘it won’t feel like Christmas without the children’ because they cannot all be together this Christmas.  Family and friends are important of course, and even for family we will not see, there has been a flurry of parcels being dispatched across the country and queues out of the Post Office.  But more importantly, Christmas will still be Christmas.

A time when we pause to joy the angel song and pray for peace on earth – for all parts of the planet – and to offer goodwill to all. Because receiving all that God has to offer begins, says John the Baptist, when we are immersed in the Holy Spirit – plunged fully into the life of God intimately and personally.  Receiving the signs of God’s grace, means we receive divine forgiveness for sin and know the guilt removed.

The Way of the Lord

Bethlehem’s church of the nativity is said to be the place of the nativity.  The entrance is so small, that the worshipper must kneel.  And the devout kiss the star-shaped marker on the floor.  It is no easy task, but then I am reminded that following Christ is not an easy task.  But we prepare above all, to follow Christ through our worship:

Surely God’s salvation is at hand 
for those who fear (worship him), 
that God’s glory may dwell in our land. 

The way of the Lord is the way of grace, a permanent establishment of a better state of things.  This age of restoration is described in a variety of words: salvation, glory, love, faithfulness, righteousness, peace and goodwill.  And God’s people should be engaging with this restoration project in all the ways they can manage.Last week the main theme was waiting; this week, of course we are discovering that during this time, we prepare.  For this is the beginning of good news – to be ready to greet the Lord Jesus Christ. With his coming, salvation is brought near and glory dwells among humanity.

Steadfast love and faithfulness 
have come together; 
justice and peace have embraced.
Faithfulness appears from earth 
and justice looks down from heaven.

Steadfast love and righteousness are God’s gifts to us this Christmas, what will we offer to God as tokens of our love for the Lord Jesus Christ, coming to earth as a baby, living amongst us and effecting our salvation?

A prayer

In joyful expectation of this coming to reign
we pray to the Lord, saying,
Come, Lord Jesus.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to your world as King of the nations.
We pray for peace and justice 
for all people and for all creation.
Before you rulers will stand in silence.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to your Church as Lord and Judge.
We pray for our Churches -
those who choose to open this week,
and those who continue to meet on Zoom.
Help us to live in the light of your coming
and give us a longing to todo your will.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to your people 
as Saviour and bearer of pain.
We pray for all who face 
a most miserable Christmas -
those recently made unemployed,
those struggling with illness,
those facing death;
and who fell deep loneliness
Enfold us all in your love and mercy,
wipe away the tears of failure, fear and distress,
and set us free to serve you for ever.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to us from heaven
with power and great glory,
and lift us up to meet you,
where with all your saints and angels,
we will live with you forever/
Come, Lord Jesus.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Amen.

[prayer adapted from the Methodist Worship Book,
(London: TMCP 1999, 121]
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