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A Voice in the Wilderness





A READING FROM THE BOOK OF ISAIAH

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, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 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. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." 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. 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!" See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 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.

ISAIAH 40:1-11


Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Maryann Amor

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, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 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. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.


Advent, like Lent, is a time of preparation. During Lent we look towards Easter, preparing for the resurrection that will come after the death of Jesus. At Advent, while we experience the heavy darkness of winter, our Christian narrative calls us to prepare for the Lord’s coming as a tiny baby, a light shining in the darkness. So, this season is all about getting ready, getting ready for God’s light to enter into our world, enter into our lives.


But a lot of the time it is really hard to believe that the preparation is worth it, that the light will come. We have all experienced moments when we prepare for something and it doesn’t happen. We might think back to the pandemic… preparing for a family gathering then suddenly someone gets Covid, can’t come, plans fall apart, and we are left disappointed. While preparation often leads to what we hope for, it is the bad moments, the times when preparation doesn’t work out that stick in our minds, fill us with endless ‘what ifs’, cause worry, doubt. So we might think to ourselves…we prepare for light, but is the light really going to come or are we going to have yet another disappointment?? The world doesn’t seem so light filled these days, is there any hope left??


Our reading from Isaiah actually addresses these types of question. Isaiah speaks of a voice in the wilderness, a theme which is also picked up in the Gospel of Mark with the appearance of John in the wilderness. The wilderness in the biblical texts was a place of chaos, of threat. Unlike the structure of the city, where roads and homes lined the streets, neat and orderly…the wilderness is where humans struggle to survive, everything is uncertain, where one could face danger around every corner.


And it is in this wilderness chaos that Isaiah speaks of comfort, tenderness, a way for the Lord. Isaiah is constructing an image for his people, a people who had suffered immense loss, who, like us, had prepared for one thing to happen, enjoyment of their land and their lives, only to see it all fall apart, see it taken away. It is to these people that Isaiah speaks of God breaking into the chaos and disorder, overturning it and transforming it. Through the desert, a straight highway will appear, valleys lifted up, mountains made low, uneven made level, rough made plain. God is undoing all the danger of the wilderness, breaking into it and transforming it into something that is no longer a threat, that is no longer chaotic and uncertain.


And when this happens, Isaiah describes how the people will experience God’s comfort. What we miss in the English translation of the Hebrew is that God is commanding comfort…comfort is coming, God is giving it to the people. So, the promise of Isaiah is that within the disorder, chaos, uncertainty of all they are experiencing, as their lives feel like a struggle in the wilderness, God is coming, light is coming, God is going to transform it all and comfort them. And it is this experience…light, comfort, amidst danger and chaos that will bring all people to God…as Isaiah notes, God’s glory will be revealed, and all people will see it.

As we encounter these images today, that of the wilderness and God’s activity in it, of comfort, of all people coming to God…we find good news for us. Isaiah is reminding us that yes life is hard, yes we find ourselves deeply ensconced in the wilderness, where life lets us down, where we feel like there is no reason to hope…but we can count on God, we can prepare for God’s light, because it will, it has come. God has broken into all our struggles and suffering and God transforms our lives.


I know that this message is hard to hold onto…even though I am a priest, I often struggle to believe it. Just look at our world, our lives, the wilderness chaos so many of us are in right now. Often it seems light will never, ever come. But our faith calls us to believe and to trust that God is making a way through our wilderness, in our deepest valleys of despair God is lifting us up, when the mountains seem too high to overcome, God will bring them low…and when the path in front of us is filled with rubble, God will clear it. When we are disappointed because all we hoped for falls apart…we must put our hope in God, prepare our hearts and minds for the light to come, because it will absolutely come…God will never let us down. And in this we can take comfort…and in this we must put our faith and proclaim it whenever we can, thereby, becoming the ones standing in the wilderness eagerly calling out, comfort, comfort, God has come, light is here.


This Advent, as we prepare for the birth of Jesus, for that light to come into the darkness…remember that unlike what we often experience in life, preparation that does not result in what we hope for, disappointment and frustration…God will not disappoint us, God will not let us down. Can we believe that amidst the chaos of the wilderness moments of our lives, God is making straight paths, God is acting and in this can we take comfort, take heart? It is when we embrace this truth, that we will be messengers of the good news to others…when we live this way, the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.


Amen.


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