“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.”

Prayer.

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.

Nothing.

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.

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