Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2,8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
The Rev. Drew Brislin
In the name of the One Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen
I love the season of Advent! It is a season of preparation. I know it feels like we started this preparation back in October if not earlier for some, but this is really when it starts to feel real. Allison begins to make lists for me for all the things I need to get done, from taking inventory of our Christmas lights to when I need to get the outdoor garland and wreaths up. These lists and preparations are especially important for us this year as we will be welcoming my brother and his family from Texas as well as my brother in Tuscaloosa here to Montgomery for Christmas. It will be the first time that all three of us have been together in the same place for Christmas in what seems like at least fifteen years or so, if not longer. And we are so excited about being able to create more family memories with our nephew. In the process of our annual preparations, we are always on the lookout for things to enhance our celebration with my family, which include but not limited to fun beverage napkins. I noticed some new ones Allison brought home for us to use while my brothers are here the other day that caught my attention. They bared the quote “Nobody’s walking out of this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, No! We’re all in this together.” I’m sure most of you are familiar with this quote but it is from everyone’s favorite Christmas movie dad, Clark Griswold and the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. As I read that napkin, it brought a smile to my face as I began to conjure up memories of Christmas’s past and all the people and times who I have watched that movie with over the years. I began to reminisce on the many gatherings of family and friends of years past. I remembered when we began to put up a real tree and how frustrated my dad would get with the tree and the lights. So much so that it would be left up to my mom and me and my brothers to decorate it. I find myself longing for times gone by that seemed such a simpler time in my life. The joy and excitement experienced as a child watching my mom bake cookies and make candy and fudge to give away as gifts and getting to lick the bowls coated in chocolate. The happy memories of family and loved ones who are no longer with us. And then I inevitably start to think about how I can recreate those memories. Our reading from Isaiah this morning reflects this same sense of reflection and longing for the past and a return home by those who have been exiled in Babylon. As our reading from Isaiah says “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 reading luckily though does not end there nor does the story of God’s chosen people.
The book of the Prophet Isaiah is thought to have at least two if not more authors and so many scholars often refer to chapter 40 as the beginning of the poet known as Second Isaiah. This chapter begins to explore Israel’s exile in Babylon and the hope and faith that they should have in their God who has covenanted with them to deliver them home to Jerusalem. “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.” The poet is preparing us to receive God’s forgiveness and blessings as it continues to tell us that there is a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord and to make straight the highway in the desert for God. The glory of the Lord will then be revealed. [Our communion hymn that we will hear shortly Hymn 67 Comfort, Comfort ye my people, will echo our reading from Isaiah and this message of hope and deliverance.] This vivid imagery is all about transformation. The wilderness is a place of uncertainty but also a place of change and transformation. Change is always scary because we often don’t know what things will look like on the other side. We find comfort in things being like they always have been, looking to the past and not embracing the promises of God for our future. Faith without doubt doesn’t require a lot of trust, trust in God or trust in each other. Faith is not so much about what we know or think we know or believe but about trust especially in God but also in each other. I find it so fitting that in this season of celebrating endings, like the end of the calendar year, for many the end of semesters or school all together, the end of the Holiday season the day after Christmas for many or very sadly the end of college football, we the church are celebrating new beginnings as Advent marks the beginning of a new church year. The beginning of our annual liturgical life that patterns itself in Christ’s life and death. Our reading continues to tell us that while “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tiding; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear.”
I have good intentions in trying to recreate some of our family traditions like Clark Griswold had very good intentions in his desire to recreate the family Christmas traditions of his past. One of my favorite scenes though is immediately after the dog chasing the squirrel incident, Clark asks his dad how he made all those Christmas’s of his childhood so wonderful? To which his dad replied that he had a lot of help from Jack Daniels. Remembering and paying homage to our past is right and good but as the elder Griswold lets us know, the past is not always as rosy as we think it was. Many of us will have a hard time finding the joy in this season as they may have experienced some loss whether the death of a loved one, the change in some other social or economic condition. Many will be moving through grief. The Friday before Christmas we will have a Blue Christmas service here at noon to hopefully help those of us who experience that sense of grief to acknowledge those feelings of loss. Isaiah offers hope this morning in knowing that God has covenanted with us. The theologian and Christian mystic Julian of Norwich helps us to understand this more fully as she tells us that God holds all of creation in his hand like a hazelnut and loves and cares for it deeply. He loves it so much that he is willing to offer up his son for it and in this new dramatic act in Jesus, we are receiving forgiveness and comfort while at the same time experiencing the fulfillment of God’s promises as we experience a true joy that is so much more than we could have ever imagined it to be. Isaiah reminds us that we are called to remember the past while embracing the future. This is embodied in Jesus. In this season of new beginnings let us reflect on our past while embracing all the hope and joy that the future has to offer as we walk hand in hand with Jesus and with each other.