Saturday, December 13, 2008

Comforting News

Isaiah 40:1-11


To be blunt, this Advent/Christmas season isn’t all that joyous for many of our neighbors. Indeed some of you are wondering what the new year will bring. Will you have a job? Will your retirement benefits be there? Our region stands at the center of America’s economic downturn. There is great suffering in our midst. I wish I could say that everything is going to be okay, that the jobs will be there come January. But I can’t.

Things look bad! And as the President-Elect just said, things may get worse before they get better. That’s not the kind of news that we want to hear just before Christmas, but that’s what they’re saying. We live in a time of great uncertainty.

I. An Anchor in a Changing World

I know that Advent seems to get in the way of the Christmas Spirit, but it’s at times like this that the words of Isaiah, words that we often read only at Advent, speak most clearly to our hearts. This morning we’ve been invited to look at our ever-changing and uncertain world through the eyes of this ancient prophet, whose identity is unknown to us. But the words are both beautiful and powerful. These words are spoken to people without a home and seemingly without a future. All they knew of their homeland was stories that had been passed down to them, stories about a homeland destroyed and a Temple in flames. It is to this people that the prophet speaks a word of comfort. The promise is simple. God will be your anchor in difficult times. You have heard that religion is a crutch. That may well be, but when we are without hope then life loses its purpose and society crumbles.

These words that we’ve read together this morning may be familiar to many of you. George Friedrich Handel looked at these words and found in them the promise of his Messiah. He saw in these words the promise of redemption and a word of comfort and of hope. That hope ultimately rests, he believed, in the glory of the Lord, that will be revealed, and that the people will see it together. For in that day, the Lord will reign over all. The shepherd will gather up the sheep in his arms and carry them when they can walk no more.

And when you’re about to lose hope, consider this: even though the "grass withers and the flowers fade,” God’s word of promise remains the same, ever steadfast in the midst of unrelenting storms. Indeed, life may pass us by with ever quickening speed, but God is there, walking, even running, with us.

II. Signs of God’s Constancy

Where can we put our trust? Who will be there when we need them? I love my country, but I have been frustrated as I’ve watched our leaders dither and dicker about the fate of America’s auto makers. I don’t know what Jesus would have us do? I can’t claim God’s mantle on any particular solution. But I do know that there is great pain and great confusion our midst. Many feel abandoned and without hope. For some of you this is your story. You are living it directly. We would love to see this time pass us by quickly and that the damage done to our lives would be minimal.

So, while I don’t have a solution to our economic problems, I do see in this passage, which we’re considering this third Sunday in Advent, a word of promise. I hear the promise that the Lord is coming. I hear the prophet say to us, make the pathway clear in the desert so that God can come to us. Yes, put away the things that keep you from experiencing the fullness of God’s blessings.

Yet, as we get things ready, as we prepare the way, what we discover is that God is already there in our midst. Trouble may come, but God is never far from us. Our problem is that we’re not always looking for God. But, when we open our spiritual eyes, we begin to see that God is in our midst. And in this there is hope and there is strength. Where is this comforting divine presence to be found? The answer is looking back at you. It is that neighbor who is standing with you and walking with you. It’s the pat on the back and the quiet word of encouragement. It’s the new door that opens when the old one closes. It is that restful spot in the midst of life’s turbulence. The winds blow, but standing together we discover that they lack the strength to break our lives.

III. OUR VOICE, GOD’S VOICE

We live in a community that needs to hear God’s comforting word. A number is on my mind this morning. That number is 37. According to the statistics I’ve read, about 37% of the people that live in about a seven-mile radius of this church have no religious involvement. Now, that’s about normal for America, but it’s a growing number. It’s not that people don’t believe. They just feel disconnected. They want to hear a voice from God, but they don’t think that church is going to be the place to hear it. Many of them find the voices coming from the churches to be angry, confusing, and inhospitable. They hear voices of exclusion, of wrath, of anger, even hatred. They hear that if you don’t believe just the right way, you’ll be left behind.

But is that the voice that is crying out in the wilderness? Is that the voice that is emerging from this place? I hope that the voice that the world hears from this place, is one that is open, loving, gracious, inclusive, welcoming, and yes, comforting. My sense is that there are untold numbers of people who are waiting to hear a comforting word. They want to hear the news proclaimed by the Prophet: “Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God.” Why is it that this voice is not heard? Could it be that we have hid our light under a bushel – to quote Jesus?

Today we continue walking through Advent toward the day of revelation, the day when we will see the glory of the Lord revealed in a child lying in a manger. Yes, at that time, we will see God bending down to pick up the lambs and carry them to fragrant pastures. In this there is a comforting word, and that word is this: God is with us. As you listen for God’s voice crying out in the wilderness, offering this word of comfort, remember – God’s voice is our voice.

Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Third Sunday of Advent
December 14, 2008

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