Cry Out!

Kenora             2 Advent

Year B

6 December 2020

Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

God of hope, you call us from the exile of our sin with the good news of restoration; you build a highway through the wilderness; you come to us and bring us home. Comfort us with the expectation of your saving power, made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

______________________

As I look at the readings for today, what I wonder is how do we respond to God in each of our lives?

After all, Advent is a season of preparation, not for the guests and the family we would normally expect, at Christmas; not to plough our way through an expected mountain of baking, and cooking, and decorating, all for the Christmas season, but rather, to prepare for the coming of God, of the King, of the Son, of the Messiah in our lives, in our hearts.

Advent is the time when we listen, once again, to the words of the prophets as they describe to us, to our bruised hearts and to our battered minds the promises of God to save God’s people and to bring us into right relationship with God.

So, how we respond to God, is the question that comes to mind, as I look at the passage from Isaiah for today.

This question comes to mind because, looking at it closely, it appears to be a call and response, a conversation between Isaiah and God.

We know that God declares God’s prophesy, and Isaiah, God’s prophet is supposed to proclaim this prophesy. But rather it looks like Isaiah has not only declared God’s words of prophesy, but he also seems to be doing something more.  Either he’s responding to God, to God’s words, or perhaps this is a bit of commentary by the prophet, himself?

We’re familiar with the words of prophesy we hear today. They bring comfort to those in exile, or those who dream of returning home.

They point to the work of John the Baptist who will prophesy the coming of the Messiah, and these words are echoed in today’s gospel.

But then, we find what might be commentary. Now, Isaiah has been prophesying for 39 chapters before this.

He’s been pointing the way to God, he’s been providing comfort pointing out that nothing will last forever, and that God’s promises will be fulfilled, but now we seem to see Isaiah pointing out either that people are not listening, or that God’s expected timeline of fulfillment is longer than the lifespan of those who hear Isaiah proclaim God’s words

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.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
    but the word of our God will stand forever
.” (Isa 40:6-8)

And like when we often enter into arguments with ourselves (no, you don’t have to admit it, especially when you lose), we come to the logical conclusion, and in this case, it’s the words “but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa 40:8b)

So, how do we respond? How does this shape our lives as we prepare for the coming of the Messiah, for the birth of the Christ Child? How do we wait for the fulfillment of God’s word?

Isaiah says: “A voice says, “Cry out!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
… the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa 40:6a, 8b)

What God has to say to the generation around Isaiah is also valid, apparent, and comforting to the generations that have followed after Isaiah’s proclamation of God’s word.

It’s incredibly relevant to those who came to the realization that John the Baptist is “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” (Mk 1:3a)

It continues to be relevant today, as we know that God is still looking out for us, for all of humanity, and even to the generations that will follow after us, these words are still able to bring comfort in tight places, reassurance when it seems nothing goes or is going right, and hope that we will see the fulfillment of God’s word within our own lifetimes.

A voice says, “Cry out!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

Now, if we remember that Isaiah was speaking to the people of Israel around the time of the Babylonian exile, this commentary gives us context to take these words away from those in or going to Babylonian exile and to be as important as the words of God’s prophesy, in and for each of our lives.

I say this because God’s word of prophesy, today, has been interpreted to point to the work of John the Baptist, another prophet, who in turn points to Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed one of God, the Lamb who takes away the Sin of the World.

And this brings us back to the question of: how do we respond? Does this change how we see the world around us? Will it give us the ability to share the seed of hope we’ve found in Isaiah’s prophesy with those who are having trouble finding the sunlight?

In a way, this chain of events can be seen like a treasure hunt.

A nugget here, a prophet there who points to another prophet to come, who then points the way for all of us to the prize, if we have the eyes to see, and the ears to hear.

A voice says, “Cry out!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”” (Isa 40:6a)

If we look at it like a treasure hunter, one clue leading to another until “x marks the spot,” then we’re well on our way following the trail of clues from Isaiah’s words, to John’s prophesy, to the work of John at the River Jordan, and the anticipation of the arrival of the Messiah in our midst, in our lives, in our hearts.

A treasure hunt not just for those who heard Isaiah proclaiming God’s message, but for those who know about John’s ministry and even those today who need to feel the guidance of the Holy Spirit to realize this is their treasure to, to find, and to embrace; to allows it to change our lives forever.

But something is only a secret if it’s never shared, and this gives us permission to share the words of Isaiah, to be that voice crying in the wilderness, and to add our words to those if Isaiah when he says: ““A voice says, “Cry out!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?” (Isa 40:6a)

But aside from the obvious pointing by Isaiah to John, or I should say, obvious to those of us who are able to look backward along this chain of prophesy that has covered many generations between the proclamation by Isaiah, and the reality of John’s life and ministry, and the many generations between each of our lives and the life and ministry of Jesus.

Isaiah tells us: “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.”  (Isa 40:10-11)

The paradox that is God in our lives and in our hearts is right here, in Isaiah’s words, in John’s proclamation, and in Jesus ministry. All of the clues of our treasure hunt are found in this passage, and with them comes the hope of God’s prophesy “Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid.” (Isa 40:1-2a)

In today’s passage we find both the image of God as warrior and king, and as the Great Shepherd are found in these words from Isaiah, as well as the industrious work to point this out to all of the people who need to hear the words of comfort.

In these words, we find the tools to help all who need to be encouraged, and who need to see that glimmer of hope that Isaiah gives to not just the generation around him but to successive generations all the way to today, and even beyond.

A voice says, “Cry out!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”” (Isa 40:6a)

We see the warrior king, the second coming of the Messiah with power and glory and might, yet, in the very next breath, we see the beloved image of the Shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. We see the concern and the care for the young, and for those unable to defend themselves.

So, in these two verses, we see the essence of Jesus’ ministry, the heart of his teachings.

Isaiah’s words around God’s prophesy continues to point out the relevance of God’s words, not just for those who are being led off to Babylonian captivity but also for those who come after.

And after them the generations that saw the miracle of John’s birth, his ministry and his pointing to the messiah, the warrior shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.


And this continues to inspire us all, through today, and into tomorrow. But the initial question remains, how does this inspire us? How do we respond to God’s prophesy? To Isaiah’s words of encouragement?

A voice says, “Cry out!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”” (Isa 40:6a)

This isn’t just Isaiah, any more. He’s had his say. Now its up to us, because “… the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa 40: 8b)

And this word needs to be shared.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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