While We Wait

Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, December 10, 2017


We’re in the season of Advent. A time of expectation and anticipation. A time to remember God’s love in the past, and more importantly to remind ourselves of the deep, tender love God extends to all people, to the entire universe.

Did you notice how the prophet Isaiah’s lesson begins, “Comfort, O comfort my people…” the original term in Hebrew is plural—many, many comforts, the Lord is promising. And remember these promises, this reassurance comes when their nation has been invaded and crushed, their leaders and royal family have been taken to exile in Babylon, and the beloved temple, the standing symbol of God’s care and protection has been sacked, looted and destroyed by fire. This broken, despairing people are the ones to whom the Living God is offering comfort.

A voice cries out…”In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” It is not clear whether it is the voice that is in the wilderness or the road that is to be built in the wilderness. The important thing is that this road will be level and easy to travel on…and it will run from Babylon back to Israel. God’s tender comfort means that the exiles will get to come home, at last, they will get to come home!

We discussed this road at last month’s Session meeting. As always, your elected leaders brought their own insight and experience to the words in the Bible. One pointed out that we should consider the road builder as a faithful, hard-working road builder. One who wants to build a good, safe, smooth road. Another Ruling Elder pointed out that if all the valleys are filled up and the mountains and hills are brought down. The world would only be flat, but history, at least geological history will have ended. There’s no possibility of erosion by water or wind if everything is flat. And finally, another Ruling Elder said that roads should not be flat! They need a little tilt so that rain water will drain off them. There’s a lot that goes into building a road…and even more to think about when building a road in the wilderness.

These words from Isaiah may sound very familiar; the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King often used the words of the prophet to challenge discrimination and to encourage persistence. But these words are also the beginning of Mark’s gospel. Mark does not have a story about the birth of Jesus. There are no shepherds or magi in Mark’s gospel. It starts with the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. And Mark identifies this voice, this preparer of the Way as John the Baptist. It is John who is preparing the way for one who will come after him, one so wonderful that he is unworthy to untie this coming one’s shoe!

And Mark’s gospel starts out in the wilderness, in a wild place, far from Jerusalem, far from Bethlehem, a wild place out at the Jordan River, where he is leading a movement of repentance and renewal. Crowds of people are streaming from Jerusalem, 21 miles away, through the desert, through the wilderness. He’s preparing the way…

Jerusalem was in the news this past week. President Trump shared plans to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv, on the Mediterranean coast to Jerusalem. I have to say, I do not understand the political significance of this plan. It has been applauded and ridiculed by lots of people. What I know is that all of the land that we call The Holy Land is of crucial importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians. For my whole career leading worship services, there has never been a Sunday that praying for peace, especially in the Middle East has not been a reason to pray for this region. When I looked up the distance from Jerusalem to the Jordan, where John was leading this renewal movement, I learned that there are two different distances for this trip. In the first century, it was a straight shot, 21 miles. Today to go from Jerusalem to the Jordan it’s a drive of 104 miles. That’s because there is no straight path anymore. If one starts in Jerusalem one has to take an indirect route that takes one almost to the Mediterranean, many, many miles out of the way.
Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

I think that the prophet Isaiah, and John the baptist and Mark, the author of the gospel are all telling us something we desperately need to hear. The barriers that divide people from one another, nationality, race, class, religion…all of those things keep us from walking together on a road that is level and wide enough for everyone. All of these barriers need to come down. We need to hear this word. We need to turn from roads that are familiar to us, but not open to all and prepare a better road.

We are in a season of waiting, and the epistle lesson offers advice to those who are waiting for the promised day of the Lord. God doesn’t keep time the way we do. God doesn’t measure the world the way we do. A thousand years to God are like one day to us. We’re waiting and no one, no one, no one knows when the promised day of the Lord’s return will be. But Peter puts a tantalizing notion into this season, this age, of waiting…leading lives of holiness and godliness we are hastening the coming day of the Lord! I missed that until this past week. We can make the clock run faster, by being faithful. By living our faith, by feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, carrying out the charge to faithfulness that Jesus laid out before his disciples…we can have an impact!

And this morning, we have a very tangible, concrete, practical way to live and spread faith in our Lord and savior. In just a few moments we’re going to baptize Macie Lynn Whyte. It is a time for the whole Christian church to celebrate, and we will certainly celebrate it here. But there is a local dimension that is essential on this occasion. We promise to teach her faith in Jesus Christ. This is the most important promise anyone can ever make. We promise to nurture her, guide her, embrace her and love her enough to see that she grows into the Christian faith.

We don’t know when the world will be completely flat, so there will be no need for roads. We don’t know when the world we live in will come to an end. We don’t know, and we join believers who have always asked, “How long, Lord?”

What we can do is live the faith. We can be a bright light in the Heart of Oshkosh. We can, and must, be faithful. While we wait. Amen.