Be comforted, the exile is ending. Know that God’s Word holds your fragility together. And know this, most of all: God is with you, with this world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Second Sunday of Advent, year B
Texts: Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“Comfort them. Speak to their heart. Cry out: prepare. Cry out God’s presence. Lift up your voice with strength.”
It isn’t often the preacher is given such clear preaching directives in Scripture. Seven times in these words from Isaiah I am commanded to proclaim, and I’m given what needs proclamation.
So, on this Second Sunday of Advent, I will do what God commands.
I proclaim to your very heart, to your inner being, this grace: Be comforted. Your exile is going to end.
For the first time for many of us, we now understand the ache of exile, the pain of separation, that God’s people knew in Babylon. We’ve willingly put ourselves into exile to care for our neighbor. We’ve kept away from gathering with loved ones. We’ve kept from worshipping together in person, a pain that is deeper because this also deprives us of God’s grace and strength we’ve relied on receiving in that worship.
But hear this: your exile won’t last. This comfort is a future hope. Israel didn’t go home immediately on hearing the prophet. But the comfort, the hope, the promise, is that the end of exile is coming.
There are now effective vaccines. This last Friday news of the first 24,000 doses coming to Minnesota was reported. Not enough yet, certainly. But two months ago we didn’t know when, if ever, vaccines would be found. Now we know there is light ahead.
You have served your term, your deliverance is coming, beloved of God.
Today I cry out to you this truth: God has something to say about your fragility.
I’m told to say you’re right when you feel how vulnerable you are, how vulnerable we are as a society, how vulnerable this world is. Surely the people are grass: the grass withers, the flowers fade, and so do we. You know this now.
Perhaps you know vulnerabilities you’ve never experienced before. The utter lack of ability to control your life, in the presence of something as destructive as a pandemic, especially since you can’t control what others do. The weakness and frustration of having a loved one whom you cannot be with to assist, to help, to protect. The reality that young and old, weak and strong, all potentially die from this. Even the realization over recent years that our institutions of democracy are vulnerable to collapse if we don’t keep watch.
But listen: God says, yes, you know how vulnerable you are now, if you didn’t before. You know you are like the grass. But I became vulnerable to death, to your human fragility, to show my life cannot be stopped by anything. Ever.
My Word, your God says on this Second Sunday of Advent, my promise of love for you in Christ, my grace that is sufficient for you, will stand forever. Will never be broken.
I climb high today, not in a pulpit because of our exile, and not on a mountain, but I stand and declare to you this day: Your God is here.
God is coming and has come into your life, into this world. As promised.
In the millions of people working for justice for all God’s children, for the dismantling of systems of violence and oppression, for the ending of the racism and sexism embedded in our society, in these, your God is and has been feeding God’s flock like a shepherd, as promised.
In the millions of care-givers and front-line workers, those working on vaccines and those dedicated leaders who seek to keep us all safe, keep you healthy, in these, your God is and has been carrying God’s flock in God’s own bosom, as promised.
In the millions who care for their neighbor in so many ways, who deliver goods and services to all who need it, who watch for any who slip through cracks (like those who used Mount Olive’s kitchen on Thanksgiving Day to feed 700 homeless people in encampments across the Cities), in these, your God is and has been gathering God’s lambs into God’s own arms, as promised.
And I say to you who are hearing this by yourself on a CD, or watching this on a computer alone in your place, or reading this a few days from now in your mailing, know this: you might feel alone and isolated. But your God is with you. Your community is praying for you, knows you, loves you, and is there for you. In these, your God is and has been with you. As promised.
And since your God is here, I proclaim this to you all: be prepared for God’s coming.
This is what our brother Peter says to you today: What sort of persons ought you to be in your patient waiting for God’s coming? People who lead lives of holiness and godliness, which will hasten God’s coming because you’ll become God’s blessing to others, a sure sign of God’s presence, God’s shepherding, in their lives.
John the Baptist calls this repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Out of your grace from God, out of your love from God, you turn from ways that harm and destroy, you straighten the crooked and level the uneven, and live into that grace and love in a new life. It’s sharing that extra coat, carrying another’s burden, John says elsewhere.
This is the highway you make in the wilderness of this world: the life of love you live because of the love you know from God, opens your eyes more and more to see God’s glory in your life, and witnesses more and more to others that God has come to them, too.
I need to repeat brother Peter’s word, though: be patient.
God is coming, but in a timing different from ours. God’s dream that all this shepherding and feeding and gathering of the lambs of God will be done through you and me and the others of God’s children means it’ll take more time than we’re always ready to be patient for. But Peter says, that’s because God wants all to come home, not by force but willingly, and will take all the time needed.
But good news: your patience is not in vain. God’s already doing this work, and you can know this glory and see it: Your exile is coming to an end. God’s Word holds your fragility together securely. And God is here, with you, and me, and this world. So be comforted.
And now this work Isaiah gave me today is given to you.
On this Second Sunday of Advent, you are now commanded to take up the cry, proclaim the comfort, the grace, and the presence of God to all God’s children.
So, get up to that mountain, or porch, or wherever you are called, and lift up your voice without fear, lift up your loving actions without doubt, and say, “Here is your God!”
In the name of Jesus. Amen