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Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
DECEMBER 10, 2017 – Second Sunday in Advent
So a really big thing is about to happen. It is better than the best new product Apple ever announced. It will change more lives than the invention of electricity.
It will end global warming. It will restore vegetation where there have been fires. It will reclaim land that has been flooded.
It is bigger than solar energy. It is bigger than ending malaria. To say it as clearly as I can, it is the salvation of the world.
I know there are people who will be skeptical, and I know there are people who will try to make a buck out of it.
When the calendar went from 1999 to 2000 we were sure there was going to be some cataclysmic event. We were urged to buy generators and store up two months’ worth of food and drinking water.
Is the end of the world going to be survived with a generator and two months’ rations? It seemed like a way to get people to buy your stuff …and that was about it.
But this thing I am talking about isn’t a ploy. It costs no money. It is the real deal and people are going to miss it if they don’t pay attention…if they can’t stay awake…if they don’t remain alert.
It would be hard to overstate the importance of it…I don’t think you could. But you have to be credible. You have to describe it in terms that are attention-getting, but you have to say it in a way that people can believe, too. It has to make sense.
It doesn’t mean that life will be easy, but life will be so very meaningful. It doesn’t mean that you will be rich or famous, but everyone you can give this to will be forever grateful to you.
In fact, you can’t hang onto the thing I am talking about unless you give it away. And the more you give, the more you will have to give.
How should I proclaim the dawning of this new age? What should I shout about this New Earth?
I speak to a people who long to hear good news. Isaiah was writing in Chapter 40 to a people who were witnessing the destruction of their culture and were starving for good news.
We read the opening chapter in Second Isaiah and what was unthinkable a generation ago or ten years ago is happening before our very eyes. The unbelievable has become commonplace, ordinary, the New Normal. Jerusalem is besieged. Soon it will fall.
So encourage my people, O prophet. Tell them that this is not the end but the beginning of the new age.
Tell them their God is still with them. Tell them that if they do not remain faithful now…when everything seems to be falling down around them…that God’s last best hope for humankind will be lost.
But it is not lost. It is right here in front of you. The new day is breaking. A new light opens minds and hearts all around the world. A new song proclaims a new day of peace and prosperity. Listen. Look. In this season of hopeful expectation we wait and watch and listen for what has been right there in front of us all along.
We were too busy…too distracted …to notice it, though. We were creating the life we wanted for ourselves and we could not see the life that our Creator…and our Redeemer…and our Sustainer…had prepared for us.
We think we live in the worst of days, but we also know that we enjoy the best of days. There are so many challenges before us, but we have so many opportunities, too.
Where will they take us? Will we find our way back to God? Will they make everything make sense? Will we see the meaning of our lives in the sacrifices we have to make?
What would happen if we all opened ourselves to the possibility …I only say it’s a possibility…that Christ was already here in our midst …our lives have already been saved by his perfect sacrifice…and the world is about to open up a new frontier of knowledge and wisdom and hope for ages to come.
It’s like the story of the monastery that had been in the woods so long that no one could say when the first abbot had arrived or when the chapel and dormitory had been constructed.
But everyone knew that the order of monks they knew were dying. Young seekers did not knock on the door. The average age of the brotherhood was ten years greater than it was ten years ago.
Everyone knew: its days were numbered now. It was only a matter of time.
So one day the abbot walked through the woods to a cabin where an old rabbi lived by himself. He didn’t know what he was going to ask, but his heart was heavy and he needed to talk.
The rabbi listened to his friend… the abbot…with his eyes closed. He nodded understanding every now and then but he did not interrupt the abbot until he had poured his whole heart out to him.
Then he put a new log on the fire and stirred the coals. He took a drink of water. He mumbled to himself. Then he closed his eyes again and breathed in very deeply, letting it out slowly…once, twice, three times.
Then he nodded again and looked gently into the abbot’s eyes. “One of you is the Christ,” is all he said, and then he turned back to the fire and rocked slowly in his chair.
The abbot went back to the monastery and that night at their evensong service he told the friars what the old rabbi had said to him. They were astonished. It was so little. It was so much.
It couldn’t be Brother Anselmo. He only washed the dishes and the pots and pans…but he did so joyfully and lovingly, with gratitude for the meal that had just been shared.
It couldn’t be Brother Francis. He was such a dreamer that he never seemed to finish any of his grand projects…but many new ideas had grown from his experiments and their life together had been enriched by these new understandings.
It couldn’t be Brother Paul. He was so harsh in his accounting of their earnings…but they knew what they had and what they could afford, and he had saved them from many near disasters.
And it couldn’t be the abbot. You only had to look at the declining numbers and the deteriorating grounds…but he had kept them together and they had lived in peace and harmony for many difficult years together.
As they wondered about each other and even about themselves, they found new meaning in their routine tasks and they did them with more joy. They spent more time praying and singing together. They listened more intently to the scripture readings, hoping to find new meaning in them.
And they honored each other many times each day with kind words and encouragement. They took better care of themselves and their abbey.
Then, one day a young man knocked at their door. He had heard about them and that there was something special about this place.
He was looking for an abbey where he could live a holy life of joy and meaning and he hoped they would let him join them…for a little while at least. They received him gladly and wondered from the start if he might be the one the old rabbi had told them about.
Then another young man knocked on their door and told them the same thing…and another…and another…and soon they were the treasure of the whole parish, famous for their deep and earnest prayer, their brotherly love for each other, and the joy they found in the simple Christian life. They blessed their neighbors with love.
So what should I shout to my brothers and sisters so that they might see the burning bush, the waters parted in the sea, manna in the wilderness, and the promised land on the far side of the river?
It is so beautiful but you must quiet your mind and open your ears…and your heart. It is so obvious, but it is hemmed in by our busy work. We create what we think is good and fail to see what is wonderful.
So I want to shout that now is the time to watch for the Christ to return to separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep will reap a great reward and the goats will have nothing…and the sheep will enjoy their days of waiting to see Jesus far more than the goats. They will eat better, sleep better, do better work and live more fulfilling lives. They will encourage those without hope and find hope for themselves as they hear the true words they speak in love to their lost friends.
I know this is true and I know that people will be grateful to the one who brings this news… and to God…for the great blessings they have already received because Jesus walked the walk of love…and service…and power…and truth.
And they will be grateful for the blessings that await them as members of the community of faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
They will come to sit with their friends once a week to hear the Good News, and they will live out the joy of God’s love throughout the week. Life will get better…no matter what happens to them…as their love grows deeper…and their eyes become clearer…and their ears learn to hear what is poured out to them.
So what should I shout? It doesn’t matter what I wear or how strong or beautiful I am…because they will only remember what I was able to share with them of my deeper love…my greater understanding.
It is so simple, but we want to make it so complicated. It is so available but we want to have to strive mightily for anything precious, so that we will have it because of our great faith and perseverance…but we think we cannot give such a thing freely to anyone…until they do their own striving.
But it is not something we have to strive to get. We simply need to believe and act on that belief. It will come to us. It will pass through us. We will see our neighbor walking around with it and we will know that it is as true and wonderful for them as it is for us.
Prepare the way of the Lord and make your paths straight…to belief in the Goodness of God in this world. The Promised One is coming again.
He is here now. Let us live into that day with joy and thanksgiving…a Christmas gift that will renew the one who gives it and the one who receives it and all they know.
What will you shout? What should we all shout? Believe…and watch it come true for all those around you. Speak…and bring it into being.
The mountains shall be made low and the valleys shall be raised up. Your Savior is here among us. Now. Go forth in love…into life