For those of you who are particularly liturgically minded, you may be thinking, “Wait, this coming Sunday is the first week of Advent!” Well, yes, for you maybe. But we at St. Stephen’s UMC in Houston decided that we wanted to have four full Sundays of Advent, and with Christmas Eve being the fourth Sunday of Advent, we just moved everything up a week. So on Sunday, we’ll be talking about the second set of Advent texts.
I’m going to be trying to do some reflecting and thinking about them here each week, and that will hopefully inspire some conversation in our church — and maybe even in internet-land. Alright, let’s start with Isaiah:
Comfort, comfort my people!
says your God.
Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her that her
compulsory service has ended,
that her penalty has been paid,
that she has received
from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins!
A voice is crying out:
“Clear the LORD’s way in the desert!
Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
Every valley will be raised up,
and every mountain and hill
will be flattened.
Uneven ground will become level,
and rough terrain a valley plain.
The LORD’s glory will appear,
and all humanity will see it together;
the LORD’s mouth
has commanded it.”
A voice was saying:
And another said,
“What should I call out?”
All flesh is grass;
all its loyalty is
like the flowers of the field.
The grass dries up
and the flower withers
when the LORD’s breath blows on it.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass dries up;
the flower withers,
but our God’s word
will exist forever.
Go up on a high mountain,
Raise your voice and shout,
Raise it; don’t be afraid;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
Here is the LORD God,
coming with strength,
with a triumphant arm,
bringing his reward with him
and his payment before him.
Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock;
he will gather lambs in his arms
and lift them onto his lap.
He will gently guide
the nursing ewes.
Isaiah 40:1-11 (CEB)
This passage, to me, feels like everything significant about the Advent season boiled down into one beautiful piece of poetry. Again and again and again God’s people find themselves separated.
From home, stuck in Egypt.
From home, stuck in Babylon.
From each other, in fractured relationships.
From even God, in fractured relationship.
This is not who we’re created to be, or how it’s supposed to work. We know that. God knows that. Nobody wants it to be this way! Or at least, that’s what we want to think. But…
What do we do or say to make it true?
How do we respond to the God that calls us into God’s own arms?
What do we put ahead of these hopes?
Okay. On to the epistle text:
Don’t let it escape your notice, dear friends, that with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day. The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day the heavens will pass away with a dreadful noise, the elements will be consumed by fire, and the earth and all the works done on it will be exposed.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be? You must live holy and godly lives, waiting for and hastening the coming day of God. Because of that day, the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will melt away in the flames. But according to his promise we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
Therefore, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found by him in peace—pure and faultless. Consider the patience of our Lord to be salvation
2Peter 3:8-15a (CEB)
I wasn’t sure about including this text, as I’m pretty sure we’re actually going to be focused on the Gospel reading (the familiar story of John the Baptist).
But the theological ideas in here are so awesome, and connect so deeply with everything that John-the-locust-eating-wilderness-living-way-preparing-Baptist said and did, that I felt like it needed to be part of our reflection. Because at the heart of this passage is a truth about how different time is for us than it is for God.
Every year, Advent ought to be brand new.
We need to look with fresh eyes at the hurt in the world.
We need to look with fresh eyes at God’s promises.
We need to look for the places we’re called to be John the Baptist: to prepare a way for something we know we won’t see all the way to fruition.
We need to look at ourselves and remember that God delights in who we are. And that God likes this place we live. In fact, God likes the world enough that God sends us, you and me, out into it to bring about the Kingdom every single day.
If you join us Sunday, we’ll work in these texts and focus on Mark 1:1-8 as we worship God and prepare the way!