Sunday, December 7, 2008
Second Advent, 2008
The Prophet Isaiah , 1511-12
December 7, 2008 II Advent
(RCL, Year B) Isaiah 40: 1-11; 2 Peter 3: 8-15; Mark 1: 1-8
At we looked at these lessons at Bible Study this past Wednesday morning Beth Middleton commented that for those of us who know and love the great music of Georg Frederic Handel’s “Messiah” it’s almost impossible to read the first words of the 40th Chapter of Isaiah without beginning to sing. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.” I asked Melanie to print the reading this week in the King James Version. One of those passages of scripture so deeply ingrained in our Biblical and cultural heritage and memory.
The Prophet as we open the second part of Isaiah is speaking to this community of exiles, still under the dark cloud of their defeat and degradation, scattered in refugee camps and urban slums in what would be modern Iraq and Syria and Egypt and Iran, decades later, holding on in spite of every setback, the memory of their city in ruins, their homes ransacked and burned by the marauding infantry of the Babylonian Emperor, their sons cut down in the flower of their youth and vigor, a field of bones and death around the perimeter of the city, their daughters taken to be sold as slaves, the priests massacred where they stood in the Holy Place, the ancient Temple defiled and ransacked, the King, God’s anointed, the Son of David, led away in chains. An ocean sweeps over them of humiliation and loss.
The battered survivors scattered, lives continuing somehow. 2,500 years before the diagnostic manual would provide a clinical definition, but a universe of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. One foot in front of the other. One day at a time. And the years pass, and the decades. The old die, children are born, stories told, fading memories passed from one generation to the next.
And then in the far distant world of international geo-politics, the empire of Babylon is overrun by the empire of Persia, and a new, powerful Shah of Iran, Cyrus, begins his strategy of approach to the ancient enemy of Egypt by tearing down the colonial structures of the Babylonians and Assyrians and re-establishing a system of client-states across the fertile crescent. And the word goes out, to the refugees and conquered peoples of so many lands: the way is cleared, permission is given, and we may return home.
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Comfort ye my people.
It is a second Exodus, a second Wilderness, and now a second crossing of the Jordan, and healing, and reconciliation, and restoration, and new life. The Land of Promise, of Milk and Honey, the place of Covenant, and fulfillment.
For us it is the song and story and theme of Advent. John the Baptist, in these Sundays, speaking into our dislocation, our exile, our brokenness: “the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, every mountain and hill made low, the crooked ways straight, the rough places plain, and the glory of the LORD shall be revealed.”
And as in this wonderful passage from II Peter, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth. If it were only a story about a baby born and laid in a manger, and angels singing and shepherd’s worshiping, all that long time ago, what would it matter? But it is a story not of the past, but of the future, of our future, God’s best hope and all his love given to us in Christ, in the manger and on the Cross and in our hearts and our minds and our lives. Where Jesus is to be born, in us, and to make in us a new heaven and a new earth and a new hope. Promised land. New Jerusalem. Healing, forgiveness, restoration and return, his grace and love. Christmas.