“Listen for the Voice of God!”
Isaiah 40:1-11, December 6th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
(Second Sunday of Advent Year B Blue or Violet)
Light the Second Advent Candle – Peace
“Now is the time for us to be reminded of the words of the prophet Isaiah. Let us open our ears to hear the message contained in the Old Testament, in the book of Isaiah, chapter forty, verses one thru forty.”
1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 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. 3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
“Having listened with our ears, let us now open the inner chambers of our hearts, and minds, as we seek to grasp the enormity of Isaiah’s words!
“Listen for the Voice of God!”
Assuming you are a regular follower of the gospel stories as they are told, over, and over again, then you know Isaiah is going to bring John the Baptist into our lesson today! John is the voice that cries out in the wilderness saying: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” And that is what the season of Advent offers to us. We have a new opportunity every time we hear the message which Isaiah and then John the Baptist bring to us. We have the opportunity: to prepare ourselves, even as we are reminded of the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, the newborn king, the Son of God, God incarnate. Born in a humble stable were the animals were kept. The Baby Jesus is whom we agree that we are preparing to acknowledge and be reminded of, through scripture and tradition, we are reminded of the meaning of it all! And yes, it was the Prophet Isaiah who first begins to prepare the way as he prophetically spoke to the scattered remnant of the tribe Israel, and now speaks to us gentiles whom God has adopted and offered the messages of hope, peace and all that the messages of Christ’s birth represents!
To get ourselves ready for anything we must first acknowledge where we currently are before we can make any constructive movement forward. Therefore, let us take a moment to do just that! Within the world we live in, there is a lot of misinformation, and mistrust. Because of this uncertainty and skepticism, large groups of folks are struggling to get in touch with the true meaning of Advent and our annual Christmas celebration. In modern times, this time in which we live, people are living in a form of exile. Large groups of disenfranchised individuals within our own communities, in which we live, are in some form of exclusion or another. We see this every day. Yet, little is being done to correct this malady, this disease. Sure, Christmas lights are being displayed all over our cities, towns and in our own homes. Our sanctuary looks very much as it ought, displaying the symbolic manger scene pointing us toward the message of the season. Yet, when we go to the stores or hear the reports of high levels of shopping online, it still does not point to the joy nor the peace which Isaiah was proclaiming! Truth, justice, and trust, these three seem to have been placed under a cloud of secular humanism which is a polite term for a dark cloud. A cloud that a great many people point to everyday and others of us carry on as if ‘nothing was or is amiss’. Before we can truly understand this message of new peace which Isaiah speaks of, we must acknowledge these truths. Before something can be fixed or repaired, we must acknowledge that the way it is … is broken.
When we go to a doctor’s office seeking a cure, a fix for what ails or pains us, the doctor asks for our permission to examine us before a diagnostic, an examine can begin. The exam comes before the fix, before the resolution of the problem. Then the doctor will strive to help us understand what needs to take place before a solution or resolution of the issue can commence. This often is a process. Many refuse to complete the process then complain how the doctor failed them. Others go through the process then hear the doctor’s explanation about what ‘seems’ to be the problem. Having come this far, the hardest part may yet follow. The solution may not give us what we want or had anticipated. This is where trust is needed. If you do not trust your doctor, you have wasted your time and that of the medical staff that is trying to be of assistance. Perhaps, this is where we are stuck as a people. Many of us are confident we know who ‘not’ to trust! Yet, we are still hesitant – as are not sure of ‘who’ we are to trust. Understandable, yes. Problematic, absolutely! This is where the Prophet’s message comes in. Isaiah is believed to be speaking for God. Prophesying – is what a prophet does! It is believed a prophet is inspired by God and thus speaking for God! It was believed, and still is, that Isaiah, the writings attributed to Isaiah, were and are inspired by God! This trust in the words of the Prophets is why writings, like our lesson today, are trusted by millions of people who turn to the Bible for guidance and inspiration, as well as a source for the very “Word” of God!
Let us listen again to that opening line from our scripture taken from Isaiah’s writing in the beginning of chapter forty. Isaiah’s opening words, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” /Isaiah 40:1/ These words are mean to bring both ‘hope’ to a ‘broken people’, and a time of ‘peace’ to the ‘exiled tribes’ of Israel! It is also believed by scholar and theologians alike that these writings are timeless, thus their meaning, their message is still speaking to us today, in our time within the boundaries of history! Last week we began Advent with the symbolic candle of hope. Without hope we are lost. If you and I, if we do not believe there is hope then our willingness to press ever forward is lost! In normal times, the “Church Universal” is considered that ‘ray of hope in the darkness’. In spite of this, in our current time, all branches of Christendom do not agree upon the details of our theological views nor do we all agree to the same dogma to structure the workings of our churches. Nor do non-Christians agree with our understanding of who Jesus was and is within the structure of the ‘Ultimate Deity’! Yet! All religious sects that have a pastoral center realize that “hope” is the glue that holds a group together as they move toward a common goal. Upon a foundation of ‘Hope’ we can start building the bridge toward a more lasting peace; a peace that starts in the heart. A peace that builds, piece by piece, step by step, toward more relational unity. Being able to attach ourselves to the Ultimate Spiritual entity of the Universe is a good place to start!
Moving into our common message, which we are all seeking for and listen for – the “Still Speaking Word of God!” This is the foundation upon which our bridge can support our differences and upon this footing, our weaknesses will begin to diminish and fade away. Hear now a personal testimony to how this can work.” While in seminary, I was scheduled to meet with the committee which was to decide my readiness for ordained ministry. It goes without saying: I was very nervous about the upcoming meeting, being as I had put so much effort into my journey at that juncture in time. The academic Dean of the seminary, and my mentor and guide, were working very closely with me at this point and they counseled me about the meeting. One of the points which became crucial to me was that ‘I was better served’, if I would just join with the stated purpose of the meeting, rather that put myself into a… ‘them against me’ ‘attitude.’ (Note, how a previous lesson regarding one’s ‘attitude’ has once again snuck into our lesson.) Rather, I was advised to see the common ground between the committee members and myself, which was to determine my “readiness” for ordained ministry! Once I saw that by working ‘together’ we could make the correct judgement and discernment, as to my ‘readiness’ at that juncture, I surely would be able to come out of the meeting more prepared to do the ‘will of God’, which was the stated belief by all – concerning my “call” from God – which ushered my entry into ministry! This is the right attitude for us to move toward finding more, ‘common ground’, for this desired ‘peace’ within our relations as individuals, as communities, and as a nation. Prayerfully, if done with due diligence… this shift in attitude… could spill over into our relationships throughout the world.
Let us joyfully continue our journey toward the season of Christmas, in a manner which shall attest to and demonstrate its meaning: “the coming of the Light of God – to light up the world!” As Christians we proclaim that this season is about Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. As we ‘usher in’ our annual celebration of the birth of our God’s coming to live amongst us! We are all ‘called’ to ‘Listen for the Voice of God’ as we interact with the hustle and bustle of this season which is upon us! Which we pray shall bring forth… rekindling this Great Light that shall touch all humankind!”
The ancient voice of Isaiah reaches out to us today reaffirming the theme, the melody, of renewed hope which shall lead us to the peace which God wants for all humankind. A peace that shall bridge our diverse and conflicted understandings of God’s love for us! If you look closely with an open heart you can feel the shifting tide of disunity… as new hope ushers in a new sense of peace. Listen again to the closing words of our lesson. “Here is your God!” “See, God comes with might, bringing reward and recompense. God shall feed the flock like a shepherd; and will gather us, carrying and leading the children of God with gently love.” /Isaiah 40: 9-11 adapted/ Isaiah prophesied – John the Baptist proclaimed the time was at hand! The Living Word of God came into the world! Let us now reopen our hearts to hear the ‘Still Speaking Voice of God’ in our Midst! Peace be with us all.