Our reading from Isaiah is a classic Advent text. It begins with surprisingly sweet, intimate words of “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God, speak tenderly to Jerusalem” and then we hear the original “Prepare ye the way!” The battle cry of advent! “Prepare ye the way!” This time leading up to Christmas, this Advent we prepare, prepare, prepare. Now, we are used to preparing for family gatherings, travel plans, menu planing, shopping, Christmas recitals and programs. But Isaiah gives us a different way to prepare during advent, when Isaiah says “Prepare ye the way!” we promptly asked, “How? How do we prepare for Christ?” This seems an impossible battle cry to answer with any enthusiasm.
And then the reading continues, and we hear this dialogue...
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 flowers fades...but the Word of our God will stand forever.
(this video was not in the sermon, just a bonus!)
“Cry out!” another battle cry of advent! And what should we cry? 50% off? Wrap faster? Get on the plane? Fix the Christmas tree? Sing louder? Is that what we should be crying? This seems to be the cry of my advent! And Isaiah responds to our, “what shall I cry?” Isaiah responds with a reality check, a response that puts our earthly preparations and our self-centered battle cries to shame.
All people are grass, the grass withers, the flowers fades...
This Advent the preparation and battle cries turn to our mortality. Isaiah reminds us of our place in the cosmos lest all the distractions of Christmas preparations and the weight of this season drown out what our cry should be.
As Isaiah says,...The Word of our God will stand forever.
There it is, the hope, the assurance, the authority of Advent. The Word of our God will stand forever. So, church...what shall we cry? We shall cry out, speak out, act out of the Word of God alone. During Advent we speak so much about waiting and hopeful expectation, but as we wait and as we hope we must also name who it is we are waiting and hoping for! Otherwise our actions, our words, our message as a church is lost, empty, a lot of busywork.
So, for what do you wait? For what do you hope? Can you articulate it? Could you share with your family this Christmas your hope? What shall we cry? Is an honest, authentic, advent question...what shall we cry as we prepare for the coming Messiah?
The Word of God has come to you and to me, not just in the reading today. But the Word also comes in the form of our neighbor, in the form of love and kindness embodied in another person. The Word comes to us as we hear and practice forgiveness, as we pray and listen to the Word speaking to us in our silence. You will receive the Word incarnate as you come to this table and hear the words “The body and blood of Christ...for you.” For you, the Word made flesh, is here for you to receive, to encounter, to save you and set you free.
The Word of God has come to you and to me, as an active, moving, messy, life-changing, healing, saving Word. Yet, if you leave it at the door of the church when you leave, no worse, if you leave it in your pew, then you have not heard the Word, you have not received the message. You have received Christ, but you have not heard what Christ has to say.
If you take this Word into your heart, if you take this Word into your marriage, into your relationship with your children, into your spending habits, into your work place, into your time management, into your struggles, into your mental-emotional and physical illness, if you take this Word of God into your lives...there is encounter, there is life-giving freedom, here and now...for you.
How do we answer the battle cry of Advent? Open your Bibles this week and read Isaiah 40, consider how God will have you crying out. Spend time praying or writing...and sit silently with God. Begin talking, begin by articulating to at least yourself what it is you are hoping for.
If you are anything like me, you may need a visual, an example of what it would look like to answer the battle cry of Advent.
Many of your are probably familiar with Handel's Messiah. An oratorio written by Handel in 1741, a musician commentary on the person of Jesus. We often hear performances of the Messiah around this time of year (performance in the Dalles) and around Easter. The most famous piece of the Messiah is, of course, the Hallelujah chorus. I have sung in a few performances of the Messiah and most often think of it as done in holy and beautiful places, black ties, choir robes and anything else formal and hoity-toity that goes along with it. Yet, that is hardly the story of the Messiah, is it?
If we are serious and engaging the Word made flesh, the Messiah and taking it into all places and people of our lives, there is nothing formal and hoity-toity about it! And what we know of Jesus' life; being born in a barn to an unwed teenager, coming as King in the form of a human, an infant even, spending his ministry with uneducated handymen for disciples, the man who spent time with the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors and you and me. The man, the Messiah, who died in the most crude and cruel way on the cross and came back to new life, and came back to new life so that we all would have new life. This is the story of the Messiah, this is the Word made flesh, this is the King of the Kingdom that will have no end.
I would like to show you a video that may seem a little absurd, much like the story of our Messiah. It is perhaps a most profound performance of Handel's Messiah that I have seen. Strangers, coming together around a mission and a vision, then going out, into the world, into a common, crowded place to raise their voices. This is perhaps a better picture of what the church could and should be, this is the Word made flesh. This is the cry of Advent, talking the Word wherever we go, and speaking it in all places and spaces of our lives.
And we will now hear sung, in a most unusual way the hope of Advent. “The Kingdom of this world, is the Kingdom of our Lord. And He shall reign forever and ever.”