“The Word”

January 3, 2021

John 1:1-18

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

| Centering Prayer |

One of the many loses I have felt

Over the course of this pandemic

Is the loss of our choir,

Especially during Advent and Christmas.

I deeply missed our annual Christmas cantata.

Cantata, from the Italian “cantare”, means to sing,

As opposed to a sonata, which is a composition played instrumentally.


The composer creatively intertwines theme appropriate

Music and narration to tell a story.

The Christmas cantata, rehearsed since September,

Is song and story that

Propels anticipation into Incarnation

With the birth of Jesus Christ.  

The Gospel of John sets its own pace and direction,

Apart from its synoptic siblings … Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

John speaks broadly about Jesus,

Using symbolism, metaphor, imagery, and irony,

In such a way that draws the reader into the story as a participant.

The Gospel of John speaks about a God

Who is present, intimate, powerful, and loving.

The opening 18 verses of the first chapter,

An echo of the opening creation chapter of Genesis,

Are constructed as a cantata

Weaving together early Christian music and narration

Into a theological masterpiece. 

The original Greek in these 18 verses is written as poetry meant for singing,

Interspersed with commentary about John the Baptist.

Sending John to prepare the way

Not only fulfills prophecy

But reveals God’s ongoing, never ending, unbreakable,

Intimate relationship with humankind.

God tears the divide between heaven and earth,

Rips it to shreds,

To muddle in your affairs.

Yep. God is stirring your pot.

My question for you is, “are you aware?”

God has been stirring my soul this past week

Leading me to focus thoughts and meditations on the music,

The theological poetry of John’s cantata.

Even this is too much to consume in one setting.

So I’ll focus on smaller trimmings.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (John 1:1, 14a)

“In the beginning,”

A phrase borrowed from Genesis,

Tells us there was a starting point,

With nothing preceding it.

To speak of anything prior to the beginning

Is as senseless as dividing by zero.

The beginning was the beginning,

The starting point,

Defined by the presence of

The Word.

The Word,

Logos, in the original Greek,

Is an amalgam of ancient Jewish and Greek

Theology and philosophy,

Culture and practice.

The Word, Logos,

Is a way of speaking about the creative plan of God

That governs the world.

When John uses the word Logos,

He is plowing new ground.

John uses the masculine Logos

(as opposed to the feminine Sophia)

To expand upon the Jewish understanding of wisdom

To speak of the revelation of God in Jesus.

“In the beginning was the Word”

Word is more than intellectual,

More than cognitive,

More than an unabridged collection of memories,

More than any sense can detect,

More than emotions or feeling.

Word and wisdom are tangible.

Word is John’s introduction of Jesus.

The names of God are many.

The manifestations of God since the beginning are many.

Who are we to pray to?

Sometimes, I get confused.

Do I pray to the Father?

Sometimes that is too gender specific and limiting,

Other times it just feels right.

Do I pray to Jesus?

But Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father.

How about the Holy Spirit?

I invoke the Holy Spirit to be present with

The bread and cup and every participant

During Holy Communion.

“In the beginning was the Word,

And the Word was with God.”

One God

Fully comfortable with being besides himself!

The Word was with God.

So, it is apparent to me that what we call God

Is significantly less important than

Having an intimate conversation with God.

Mix and match.

Ancient names like Yahweh or Elohim?

Good Shepherd? Great Physician? The Way?

Jesus? Christ? Lord? King? Spirit?

I Am?

Logos or Word?

It doesn’t matter what name we give the Lord.

God is way more expansive than our comprehension, anyways.

What matters is maintaining a healthy, growing relationship with God.




“In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.”

God has existed

Has been present

From the beginning.

This sheds light on God’s stamina and strength.

“The Word was God” speaks volumes about God’s faithfulness.

God is sticking around.

Even when humankind pokes the hornet’s nest and flairs God’s anger and wrath,

God is sticking around.

There is no “abandonment”

There is no “quit”

In God’s vocabulary.

When our ancestors disappointed the Lord and found themselves in slavery or exile.

God stuck around.

When they wouldn’t listen to prophets sent their way

God stuck it out.

When Jesus was sent, suffered, tried, executed, and his corpse buried for three days,

God stuck around.

Even after Jesus ascended to heaven to sit at the right side of the Father

The Holy Spirit took his place.

God stuck around.

The mere fact that you are hearing, seeing, or reading this

Tells you that God is all over you like a cheap suite.

The Lord is on you, in you, with you

And there isn’t a thing you or I can do to shake God lose.

This is the season of Emmanuel.

The Word.

God with us.

If you haven’t been aware of God’s presence

Maybe you haven’t been paying attention.

“The Word became flesh and lived among us.” John reports.

No long-winded recitation of Messianic lineage.

No Gabriel visiting Mary, annunciation, or immaculate conception.

Not a peep about angels, shepherds, or wise men following a star.

The Word became flesh.

Immortal became one with mortality.

Divinity and humanity became One

And his name is Jesus.

Don’t try to untangle Word from God or God from Jesus.

God remains God.

What changed is our world view.

The God of my experience became like me,

But not me, and lived with similar daily experiences:

Joy and sorrow.

Anger and fear.

Hatred and love.

Betrayal and suffering.

Death and resurrection.

Redemption and salvation.

Sharing life’s journey with Jesus

Allows us to make correlations between what we are going through

With what Jesus went through.

God knows what you are going through

Because God went through it before

And will, undoubtably, go through it again.

Jesus fully mortal and fully immortal is both humbling and exhilarating!

It’s humbling to consider that

The world is such a chamber pot of sin,

So mad and out of control,

That God had to personally step in and take the wheel.

At the same time,

It is exhilarating to recognize how much God loves us. 

Enormous. Expansive. Beyond comprehension.

That is how much God loves you and me.

Jesus has you covered.

His grace and truth win over every transgression of the Law,

Ten out of ten times

And twice on Sundays.

Adam Hamilton rightly observes

That we often confuse The Word with the Bible.

The Bible is sacred scripture

Sent by God for our benefit.

But the Bible is not the Word. 

Jesus is

The Word

From the beginning

Manifest in many ways

Always God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

This is the poetry of John’s great cantata,

The music of a God that is intimate, present, loving, and faithful.

This is the sound of Jesus.


“Seeing Salvation”

Luke 2:21-40

December 27, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 2:21-40

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

| Centering Prayer |

This Gospel narrative of Simeon and Anna

Always brings to mind

A childhood memory.

My parents gave me a book titled “Simeon’s Secret”.

I looked it up on Amazon;

It was written by Janice Kramer and published in 1969.

We’d read it during the Christmas season.

I thought it was really cool that God will tell someone a secret.

It seemed like insider baseball to me.

Maybe God had a secret, or two, to share with me?

What could be more exciting than a private revelation from God?

What I don’t remember is Anna in the book,

Which is really a shame.

Anna is described as one of 6 female prophets in the Bible;

Her 5 predecessors all coming from Hebrew scripture,

(Our Old Testament).

They were

Miriam (Exodus 15:20),

Deborah (Judges 4:4),

Huldah (2 Kings 22:14),

Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14),

And the unnamed “prophetess” from Isaiah (Isaiah 8:3).

Women; never feel inferior to men,

For God can, does, and has been working through women

Since the beginning of creation.

When God speaks; listen!

Take thou authority!

Men; there is no loss in self-esteem or strength

By recognizing the fact that God appears to be gender neutral

When it comes to selecting who is chosen to fulfill God’s will.

When God speaks to your wife, daughter, or granddaughter,

Listen, support, encourage, discern, and act

According to God’s will.

It is as if Anna is the cherry on the top;

The completion of the Jewish story line

Of creation, law, covenant, and prophecy.

Indeed, our Gospel is deeply rooted in Judaism;

Solidly Hebrew in its origin.

Jewish parents bring their

Jewish son to the

Jewish Temple to engage in the

Jewish rites of circumcision and purification, according to the

Jewish Law, as handed down from Moses.

Three items caught my eye here.

First, Jesus comes from a very, very poor family.

They offered a sacrifice of

“a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

(Luke 2:24)

Had they been middle class or wealthy,

They would have been required

To purchase a Temple raised lamb for sacrifice.

The comparison would be like eating an 80% fat hamburger,

Or, sitting down to a meal of free range, organic beef tenderloin.

The difference between two birds and one lamb is the difference between poverty and wealth.

Contrary to many who promote a Gospel of prosperity,

Jesus is not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Neither does he become a family man, landowner, or businessman.

He is a poor, itinerant preacher, who

Lives off the generosity of the population, who

Works and serves the poor.

One cannot know Jesus

Without being immersed in the world of

Poverty and brokenness,

Powerlessness and dependency,

Oppression and suffering.

On this eve of the New Year,

Consider this question:

How might I center myself in the world of Jesus,

Serving the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed?

Our Christian heritage,

Our Christian discipleship

Spring from our roots in Jewish poverty.

Secondly, the word “sacrifice” makes an entry into the Gospel.

With the birth of Jesus has come

Unending commercialization, debt, gluttony, and gift giving galore.

Yet, we hear today of sacrifice,

First concerning Mary and Joseph’s

Sacrifice in the Temple at Jesus’ purification and circumcision,

Followed by the ominous words of Simeon himself,

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

(Luke 2:34-35)

… just what a new mother wants to hear.

There is a price to be paid for salvation.

There is a cost to the redemption of Jerusalem.

What starts in a lonely manger in Bethlehem

Ends with a sacrifice …

Dripping blood on a cross atop Golgotha.

The price to be paid doesn’t begin and end with Jesus,

Or the grief of the Heavenly Father

Whose only Son was sacrificed on our behalf.

Can we not also hear the cries of the innocent children

Being slaughtered at the command of Herod?

Listen carefully to the Gospel and

One can also hear the murder of John the Baptist, or

Jesus’ own family,

Who will come to reject him

And attempt to throw him off a cliff.

Listen to early Church Fathers,

Of their sacrifice and reports of martyrdom.

Listen to those who have risen up against an abusive Church,

And have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Indeed, redemption and salvation come at a cost,

Whose price is often paid for in sacrificial blood.

On this eve of the New Year,

Let us carefully consider this Gospel inspired question:

What price are we willing to pay …

… What sacrifice are we willing to make …

for the Lord’s redemption and salvation,

Both personally, and collectively?

If your sacrifice doesn’t hurt,

You just might be short changing the Lord.

Thirdly, the presence of the

Deeply religious, Simeon, and the sincerely righteous, Anna,

in the Gospel

exude an air of expectation,

Of forward looking,

Of anticipation.

The Holy Spirit rested on Simeon

And revealed to him that

He would not see death until he had seeing the Messiah, the Son of God.

Now, there is something to look forward to.

Messiah: the bitter/sweet nearly present,

Incarnation followed by certain death

With a Divine promise of resurrection and salvation.

Simeon’s secret must have been shared with the widow Anna,

For she never left the Temple;

Day and night she lived her life in the heart of Judaism

Praising God

And speaking to all about the child Messiah

Who was expected at any moment.

Any moment.

Some secret, huh?

On this eve of the New Year,

Let us ask ourselves:

How might we live out our Christian faith

With the same fervent desire for worship and

With the same heightened expectation for the return of our Savior?

Dearly beloved,

Each of you who are loved by God

And, who I also love as your pastor and spiritual leader,

On this third day of Christmas and

On the precipice of a New Year,

Let us resolve

To immerse ourselves in the love of our neighbor,

Serving the poor,

Determined to end the injustice of poverty in our world.

Let us resolve

To look forward with fervent anticipation

To the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

May we all find the same peace that overcame Simeon and Anna.

The Lord is faithful.

God has kept every promise, and will continue to do so.

Jesus; born and presented in the Temple.

Behold, our redemption and salvation has come.

Give God our praise and our glory.


“Draw Deep the Breath of Christmas”

“Draw Deep the Breath of Christmas”

Christmas Eve Worship, December 24, 2020

Luke 1:5 – 2:20

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Centering Prayer.

There appeared to Zechariah,

a priest of the temple,

an angel of the Lord.

(Luke 1:11-17)

Gabriel appeared

when the Lord’s longing desire

for a Savior

and Zechariah’s longing desire

for a child

came together and became one.

Gabriel appeared

to the right of the altar.

Zechariah trembled with fear.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel sensed his apprehension.

“for your prayer is heard.

Your wife Elizabeth

will bear you a son,

and you shall call

his name John.”

“He will make ready for the Lord

a people prepared.”

Zechariah drew deep

the breath of Christmas

and Elizabeth conceived.

Gabriel was directed by God

back to the boondocks,

to the Galilean city of Nazareth

to a virgin

engaged to a local carpenter

and her name was Mary.

(Luke 1:26-35)

“Hail, O favored one!”

Gabriel announced.

Mary trembled with fear.

Can you blame her?

“Do not be afraid”

the angel sensed her apprehension.

“You have found favor

with God.

You will conceive in your womb

and bear a son,

and you shall

call his name, Jesus.”

“He will be great,

and will be called

the Son of the Most High;

and the Lord God

will give to him

the throne of his father David,

and he will reign over

the house of Jacob forever;

and of his kingdom

there will be no end.”

“But I have no husband,”

Mary wondered,

“How can this be?”

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,

and the power of the Most High

will overshadow you;

therefore the child to be born

will be called holy

the Son of God.”

Mary drew deep

the breath of Christmas

and conceived

the Savior of the World.

A cousin,

John was born.

Elizabeth’s barrenness ended.

And baby John

drew deep his first breath

and it was the breath of Christmas.

A cousin,

Jesus was born.

The world’s darkness ended.

“The Word became flesh

and dwelt among us.”

(John 1:14)

And baby Jesus

drew deep his first breath

and it was the breath of Christmas.

Angelic intervention did not abate.

An angel appeared

(undoubtedly Gabriel)

to lowly shepherds

tending to their flocks at night.

(Luke 2:8-20)

Like Zechariah and Mary

they were filled with fear.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel sensed their apprehension.


I bring you good news

of a great joy

which will come to all the people;

for to you is born this day

in the city of David

a Savior,

who is Christ the Lord.”

They went with haste

and found the Christ child

just as had been told them.

They peered

into the lowly manger

saw the baby

wrapped tightly in swaddling cloths

and the shepherds drew

the deep breath of Christmas.

Astrological visions

appeared to wise men in the East

like an angel

rising as a star

over the manger

where the Savior lay.

(Matthew 2:1-12)

The star

drew them to come

like metal to a magnet.

The star

led them to Bethlehem

gave them the understanding

that a child King

had been born.

Entering the barn

they saw the baby

“with Mary her mother,

and they fell down

and worshiped him.”

The wise men

drew deeply the breath of Christmas.

There is sufficient fuel

to feed the Grinch’s complaints,

especially in this pandemic environment.  

The virus feels like the Grinch’s devious plan

To smother the breath out of Christmas,

To suck the life from every home in Whoville.

“Make them bubble!” he yells to his loyal dog, Max.

“Keep them separated!” he shouts from Mount Crumpit.

“Cover their faces!” and “Outlaw family gatherings.”

Only a Grinch could be so diabolical.

From Seuss to Dickins,

From Grinch to Scrooge,

A miserly “Ba, Humbug” likewise tries to

Kill the breath of Christmas.

I hear Scrooge’s objections

all the time,

and they sound like this:

“the age of miracles is over”

“angels are just a bunch of phooey”

“if God is so great, then why did God allow …

… my loved one to die?

… suffering and famine?

… disease and injury?”

Complaints and objections

plunge death and despair

deep into the souls of

the weak and the ignorant.

Complaints and objections

Pours shadows into darkness,

Ushering in a night that knows no end

For a world that thrives on terror

and feeds on fear.

Complaints and objections

slam so hard

the wind can get knocked right out of you.

They can take your breath away.

Complaints and objections

Can’t steal away your breath of Christmas.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel Gabriel

says to you this evening.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel Gabriel

proclaims to the world.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel Gabriel

appears and announces this night:

“The Word is made flesh

and dwells among us!”

A child is born

and his name is Jesus!

The Spirit of God

has stirred

and a new wind is blowing!

Gabriel and the Heavenly host appear!

Light has come into the world;

and in him there is

no darkness at all.

In him there is no transgression.

In him there is only a desire to

take your transgressions away.

In him there is only a desire to

to save you into eternal life.

“For God so loves

this world,

that He gave

His only Son,

that who-so-ever believes in him,

will not perish

but will be given

everlasting life.”

(John 3:16)

In Christ there is only a desire to

fill your lungs with the sweetness of his Holy Spirit;

to give you the breath of Christmas.

“Do not be afraid,”

children of the loving Father.

“Do not be afraid,”

disciples of the newborn Son.

“Do not be afraid,”

the Spirit blows a new wind.

Breath deep.

Breath deeply

the Spirit’s breath

this Christmas Eve night.

Join with Zechariah and Elizabeth,

Mary and Joseph,

Shepherds and Wise Men,


Draw deep

the breath of Christmas.

Merry Christmas, dearly beloved!

God loves you, and so do I.


“That All Might Believe”

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 and John 1:6-8, 19-28

December 13, 2020 – Third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

John 1:6-8, 19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

(Centering Prayer)

Advent; a time of revelation.

A four-week season preceding Christmas

Where God is revealed for all to see.

The prophet Isaiah and Gospel author of Mark have revealed the past two Sundays

God is forgiving, compassionate and kind, and faithfully keeps promises.

It is almost as if

God is everything the world isn’t.

The world is stained by sin; the Lord is forgiving.

The world is cold and hard; the Lord is compassionate and kind.

The world is full of liars, cheats, and swindlers; the Lord faithfully follows through with every promise and keeps every covenant.

God’s word is GOLD.

Last Sunday, scripture revealed that

The Lord works and plays in the wilderness.

The Lord actively seeks our confession and repentance.

This draws people to Jesus, like people were drawn to confess their sins to John and be baptized by him in the Jordan River.  

We learned that God takes notice of you, all the relationships you maintain, all the plates you are trying to keep spinning.

Nothing goes unnoticed in your life, the triumphs and tragedies; the good, bad, and ugly.

God notices

Failing test scores, breaking up with a boyfriend, piles of dirty laundry, flaring tempers, never ending trips to the doctor’s office, meeting with the funeral director.

From mountaintop to valley floor,

God loves you anyway.

As I reflect on my personal journey of faith,

My walk with the Lord,

The God revealed thus far this Advent

Squares itself perfectly

With the God of my experience.

I have experienced God’s forgiveness, and continue to do so, especially so when I make it a point to ask.

Weekly worship keeps me honest.

I experience the compassion and kindness of the Lord, usually every day, often without even asking.

God’s grace and love are the air that I breath and the water I drink.  

The Lord has never let me down. Period.

The God of my experience is bulletproof faithful.

The one place I’m certain to find the Lord? It’s when I’m lost in my own wilderness.

Listening to a single mother crying that she can’t feed her children,

Mourning the death of a parent or friend,

Getting knocked down, beat up, and left for dead;

That’s my wilderness.

Once lost, I am found.

That is where I have found the Lord.

Faith has made me compulsive.

I can’t help myself;

I just blurt out my sins, known and unknown, when I experience the presence of God.

The blood of the cross keeps washing me clean,

Scrubbing me over and over again.

The blood of the cross

Keeps calling me to a higher standard,

Keeps drawing me towards Christian perfection.

There hasn’t been one thing in my life that I’ve been able to hide from the Lord.

I’ve tried and failed.

The God of my experience knows me like an x-ray,

Inside and out,

Through and through.

If you are to fill in the blank: “The God of my experience ________”

What would you say?


Write it out.

Make it real.

Has the God revealed this Advent

Squared itself with the God of your experience?

Today, the prophet Isaiah testifies further.

The Lord sent Isaiah on a mission:

To bring good news to the oppressed,

To bind up the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the vengeance of our God;

To comfort all who mourn. – Isaiah 61:1-3

There is a lot of territory to cover here.

I’ll be short and to the point.

1. The Lord takes sides, and it’s never with the oppressor, the powerful, or the wealthy.

If you want to join up with the Lord, choose to side with the oppressed.

The good news to the oppressed is that

The Lord is on your side and so are all the Lord’s followers.  

The Lord’s game plan?

Right every wrong.

Though derided and despised,

The Lord’s under dogs always come from behind for the win.

God’s kingdom will come.

Make certain you are on the winning team.

2. What breaks your heart?

What has broken your heart?

Failure? Broken promises? Others letting you down, or, you letting others down?

The Lord gathers the shattered pieces of your broken heart

And binds them back together again.

That’s what God does.

A heart bound by God

Isn’t a heart constrained,

It is a heart being healed.

3. Prisoners, listen up.

Weather your cell is made of bars and cinder blocks, or,

Your prison is a guilty conscious that just won’t go away,

The Lord wants you set free.

Free from your past,

Given all the room you need to repent with a vow to do better.

Free to get a fresh start.

Preceding and greater than the American Constitution

The Lord wills Freedom. Liberty.

The Lord want you free to make your own choices.

Make good choices.

4. In debt? Out of money? Out of ideas to stay afloat?

Dirt poor? Credit maxed out? Collection firms hounding you?

No worry.

The Lord wants your debts cancelled;

Everyone’s debt cancelled,

Before the expected 50-year Jewish recalibration.

Debtors rejoice!

At the same time

Investors groan.

(Hey, prior performance does not guarantee future results.)

The Lord so despises poverty that

God doesn’t think twice or hesitate to reset the economic playing field

Such that everyone’s fundamental human needs are met.

Consider how many times

The world’s economy has been knocked down and defibrillated back to life?

5. Isaiah tells us the Lord hates mourning.

Through Jesus, death is taken off the table.

Eternal life is given.

The intellectual rational for mourning is removed,

What remains is a natural emotional loss.

When one does mourn death or loss,

The Lord comforts.

Comfort comes through a lifetime of faith and promise of eternal life,

Through the grace and love of others,

Through prayer and meditation on the Word of God,

Through worship, repeated worship, with a focus on thanks and praise.

My relationship with the Lord

Squares itself with the God

The prophet Isaiah reveals.

How about you?

Oppressor or oppressed? Which team will you choose?

Deprived of freedom? Locked up? Let the Lord set you free.

How does the Lord pay off your debts? Was it Jesus’ suffering? Death? Resurrection?

When has the Lord comforted you in your time of loss?

How has the Lord worked through you to bring comfort to others?

Today, the Gospel of John takes the lead from Mark

Because it most eloquently describes the testimony of John the Baptist,

The one chosen and sent by God

To fulfill the promise of the prophet Isaiah.

1. The first Advent revelation from the Gospel of John is that

Jesus is light.

This metaphor worked for the ancient mind and

It is so simple, it works for me, too.

John the Baptist is setting the cosmic stage

With Jesus and light on one side vs

The Devil and darkness on the other.

Right vs wrong.

Good vs evil.

Righteousness vs sin.

Life vs death.


Son of God,

Coming after John,

The subject of John’s witness,

Is the light of the world.

The qualities of light are the qualities of God.

Light removes darkness faster than bleach erases a stain.

Without darkness there is no place to hide.

Light exposes words and actions with complete transparency.

Turn out the light and darkness immediately returns.

Don’t touch that button!

Don’t flip that switch!

The temptation may be huge,

But don’t do it.

Casting Christ out of your life leads to catastrophic consequences.

Light shines better when it is held up for all to see.

Your personal testimony of what God has done for you since Jesus came into your life,

Removes the basket covering the light,

Letting it shine for all the world to see.

The power of personal testimony is enormous.

Why wouldn’t we tap into the same power that John the Baptist used?

Sadly, witnessing about

When Jesus came into your life and

How Christ as changed it for the better

Is rarely used in many Protestant congregations.

Light makes safe passage possible.

Obstacles in your path?

Walk with Jesus.

A life with Jesus doesn’t remove the obstacles,

But it exposes them.

Light reveals the path forward.

Discernment is better in the light.

Light allows one to

See all the data.

Gather all the data.

Analyze all the data.

Make better decisions.

Solving life’s puzzles is a lot easier in the light than in the dark.

Light leads the faithful directly to God,

Exactly where the Lord wants us to be.

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” – John 1:9

2. Lastly, and I believe, most importantly

The Gospel of John reveals  

God’s deepest desire:

That all might believe.


That is as inclusive as it gets.

All means all.

Don’t like the fact that God so loves the world?

Get over it.

There is nothing we can do to change it.

If God makes room at the altar for me,

There is room for you, too.

That all might believe.

Faith isn’t the absence of doubt.

Faith is belief without proof.

Faith is following Jesus,

Walking with the light,

Even though doubt persist.

God’s deepest desire:

That all might believe

Jesus is the Christ,

Our example,

Our redeemer,

Our savior.

God’s deepest desire:

That all might believe

Jesus is the promised Messiah.

Messiah fulfills every prophetic prophecy.

Go down the check list: descendant of David, anointed, sent on a mission, died and rose again, promised to return.

Jesus checks every box.

Messiah is our savior, liberating the world from sin and death

Into righteous perfection and eternal life.



Son of God.


Beloved, Advent reveals much about our God.

Even still, there is so much more to learn.

The mysterious nature of God remains, as it should.

Keep watching, waiting, learning.

Take it all in.

All the while,

Witness and Testify

To the God of your experience,

To our Lord revealed through scripture,

To Jesus the promised Messiah.

Become the living testimony God is calling you to be

That all might believe.


“Out of Wilderness: God is Further Revealed”

Isaiah 40:1-11 & Mark 1:1-8

Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Isaiah 40:1-11

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.

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”


Advent lifts the veil

Revealing the nature and characteristics of God.

Revelation creates and builds anticipation in the faithful.

We learn more about our Creator.

Our experience of working with God increases.

Our relationship with the Lord deepens

Until that promised moment arrives

When Jesus Christ comes again.

Last Sunday the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel of Mark

Led us to remember

God is forgiving, compassionate and kind, and faithfully keeps promises.

Scripture calls to our attention

The God who created us is the same One who nurtures and grows us,

Forming and shaping us according to God’s need and will. 

Today, more is revealed.

By the end of Advent,

Come Christmas day,

We will echo the words of Isaiah

Lifting our voice with strength

Speaking to the people of the world,

“Here is your God!” – Isaiah 40:9

I’m able to identify four revelations of God through scripture today.

1. God works in the wilderness.

The wilderness for our Hebrew, Jewish ancestors was

Egyptian captivity (approximately 1,500 B.C.E.),

Defeat and exile as prisoners of war to Assyria (740 B.C.E.),

Defeat and exile again, this time by the Babylonians (587 B.C.E.).

Defeat. Exile. Prison. Slavery.

That’s some serious wilderness.

Yet, the wilderness is where God likes to play.

Perhaps that is what drove John the Baptist out into the wilderness.

If you are going to lead people to God,

Draw them to where the prophet Isaiah told them God would be …

Not in their fancy temple or beautiful synagogues …

Not places of power, authority, or grandeur.

Seeking after the Lord in the wilderness is de-centering.

Not seeing God in the usual places;

In sanctuaries and churches,

In volunteering or missions,

Can begin to feel like we’ve been abandoned

By our divine Creator and heavenly Father.

If you are looking for the Lord,

Don’t look here.

Search the wilderness.

Where is your wilderness?

For some a health or emotional crisis

is a wilderness experience. 

For others wilderness might come with being laid off, or

Hungry bellies and empty cupboards.

When facing the most difficult times,

When journeying through wilderness,

It is often my pastoral guidance

To fine tune your spiritual radar

To be alert to God’s presence and work.

Whether you are facing one enormous disaster

Or multiple crisis that just keep piling up and never seem to end,

This is exactly the time to

Watch, listen, be aware.

God is near.

God speaks through

The calming voice of a first responder,

A warm casserole or pot of chicken soup from a friend,

A prayer with a fellow church member.

Time alone by the creek, in the meadow or woods,

In the isolation of quarantine.

The Lord’s healing balm of Gilead

Working in and through others

Makes straight a highway for our God.

Likewise, be aware

God is speaking, working, acting in and through you

When you are led to respond to the needs of others in crisis.

Walking with others through their wilderness

Is one of the most Jesus-like things the faithful can do.


2. God seeks confession and repentance.

John appears in the wilderness

Preaching and practicing a baptism of repentance

For the forgiveness of sins. – Mark 1:4

His words and his actions

Draw the crowds.

John cries with his voice

Where no one is there to listen.

He cries out in the wilderness

Confess your sins.

Repent of your former ways.

Be baptized and let your sins be washed away.

You are forgiven.

And people came.

Like water drawn to a sponge

Confession drew the crowds into the wilderness.

A willingness to turn broken lives around and return to God drew the crowds.

Better than a Billy Graham altar call

John the Baptizer brought in the crowds by the boatload

Who wanted to confess their sins,

Repent of their ways, and

Be forgiven.

Cynics tell me the Church isn’t sustainable or vital

Solely based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe they are wrong.

I’ve wagered my life and my call on it.

It is the gracious act of Jesus Christ …

… crucified on the cross …

That once and for all

Grants forgiveness of sins.

Jesus paid for our sins with his life.

As long as there is a need to confess sins and be forgiven

People will be drawn to Jesus.

Confession is good for the soul, it is said.

Confession also brings out the crowds and

Breathes vitality into the life of the Church.  

“I’ve just to tell someone,” I’ve thought through my guilt.

Confess, the Gospel tells us.

Get it off your chest.

Make your confession to God.

By the very nature of sin and the brokenness of humankind

Confession is never be a one-and-done deal.

Confession must be on-going, never ceasing,

To the point such that it becomes the posture of the faithful.

Confession is both individual and collective.

All of us together are guilty of institutional sins

So all of us together must collectively confess our sins.

Our collective repentance results in change for the good,

The transformation of the world,

Progress towards God’s fulfilled kingdom.

Confessing our sins together has the added benefit of keeping everyone honest.

It is tempting to confess other people’s sins.

That is called playing the blame game.

Living in indignant judgment.

Corporate confession requires us to

Look our sisters and brothers in the eye,

Hold one another accountable,

Keep each other honest.


3. What we go through hasn’t escaped God’s notice.

The Lord knows what’s happening.

The Lord knows what is going down.

For nothing can be hidden from God.


Not motive or intent.

Not greed or lust.

Not envy or desire.

Nothing can escape God’s notice.

This is sobering.

Recognizing the omniscient nature of God,

Being aware that God sees all and knows all,

Should drive us to our knees in humble introspection.

Ask yourself,

What are the secrets in my life

That I have been trying to conceal from God?

Pastoral counseling classes in the seminary teach that

Secrets are a sure sign of sin and dysfunction.

The Lord observes everyone, remembers everything, forgets nothing.

One might escape human justice.

There is no escape the Lord.

The all-seeing and all-knowing nature of God should also be comforting.

No matter what crisis you face,

No matter what desert you cross,

No matter how severe the pandemic this may become,

The Lord takes notice.

Oh, the sorrows that fill our soul,

The withering storms through which we sail,

The trials and temptations we endure.

God takes notice.

The Lord seeks to comfort us.

“Comfort, O comfort my people,” says our God.

The day is soon upon us when our term will be served,

When our penalty will be paid, and

When the abundance of the Lord will return two-fold.

– Isaiah 40:1-2


4. Lastly, we are reminded

We remain God’s own, even in exile and loneliness.

The Lord does not abandon his own children.

Rarely before is this message so poignant

Than today, at Covid-19’s ground zero;

Where emotions are raw,

Needs go unmet,

And anger bleeds through every aspect of life.

The Lord isn’t preventing the pandemic from happening,

But the Lord has given us the scientist the knowledge to bring it under control.

The Lord hasn’t turned a cold shoulder,

The Lord has sent us medical professionals to heal and care for us throughout the duration.

The Lord isn’t shielding us from loss and sorrow,

But the Lord is opening our heart and deepening our resolve

To be more supportive, empathetic, loving of our neighbors.

We remain God’s beloved.

We remain in need of forgiveness.

We remain in need of salvation.


Out of wilderness,

God is further revealed this Advent day.

God works in the wilderness;

This is where the Lord can be found.

Where is your wilderness?

Are you seeking after the Lord in your wilderness?

God seeks confession and repentance.

Can you give it up?

Are you able to repent and improve?

Are you ready to experience the blessing of forgiveness,

The gift of Jesus Christ?

What we go through hasn’t escaped God’s notice.

God knows your pain, your sorrow, your suffering.

What prophet-strength comfort can be found

By connecting your wilderness

With the temptation of Christ,

The baptism of Christ,

The crucifixion of Christ?

We remain God’s own, even in exile and loneliness.

Nothing can separate God from you.

Like it or not.

Accept it or leave it.

God created you.

God loves you.

And God is never going to leave you.

The next move is yours. Amen.