Sermon for December 6, 2020          Second of Advent       “Speak Tenderly”

This week we have the intersection of speaking tenderly and a voice shouting in the wilderness. In my musings about the texts from Isaiah and Mark I am left with the distinct feeling that these are exactly the correct voices for us to hear at this time.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem says Isaiah for her years of anguish are coming to an end. The people can relax and not live in fear. Hope and peace will be the language heard in the land. I can imagine how soothing that proclamation must have been for the people. For a people that lived in a constant state of being held captive and being free these words of solace in a time of upheaval would have been welcome.

In our day, thousands of years later we too are comforted by the words that open the possibility of a new time following this year of upheaval and worry and stress. The tender words of ‘a vaccine is coming’ offer that glimmer of hope into what has seems like a long year of fog and storm and disarray. We are beginning to hold out hope that this year will not be repeated. We may even be thinking of how we will retell the stories of this year to the generations yet unborn.

At the very same time the people hear the prophet proclaim with shout and fanfare ‘make straight the highway for our God’ This voice seems to come out on nowhere and yet seems everywhere. Its meaning does not have an attached operational plan that can be held up with certainty. It is the way of the human condition that we crave detailed plans in the midst of crises. Little did the people of Isaiah’s time know that the wait for the revelation of the plan was going to take thousands of years. And yet they held with fierce tenacity, to that hope for the Messiah.

We have lived for more than 2000 years knowing with certainty that the promise is fulfilled. That the Messiah was born and continues to have impact for our lives and our world. So we may wonder what: “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” means for our day?

I am beginning to understand that image is as varied as are the people who believe in Jesus. For some it is an economic level playing field, for others it keeping the status quo, for some it is holding on to status or standing for others it is breaking a glass ceiling, for some it is land justice and for some it means holding onto land, for some it is climate for others extracting resources and the list goes on and on.

For me, at least for these days, the image is a nudge or even a sudden wake up call to live with equity and good intention to make correct the ways that our ancestors treated neighbours. We could argue that it was never right or biblical to miss-treat others. Each generation believes they are more enlightened than the past ones and corrections are made. In our day it is the work of gender equality, recognizing the scope of gender identity and working at setting aside stereotypes and prejudices about people. It is also the hard work of sustaining our home –planet earth- so that this creation remains as a habitat for all living creatures and fauna.

It is also about our internal landscape. The tending to our spirit and soul, working to set aside assumptions and stereotypes that impede our potential and that of others. It is the understanding the teachings of Jesus for our day and being a herald of and not an impediment to the Glory of God being revealed.

The image is an apt one as some will need to be lifted up and others brought low and all learn respect for each other and God. Making the way straight is not a call to sameness it is a call to human and earth justice that will herald the Messiah, in our case for the second time. Speaking tenderly is the language of heart and spirit that is more powerful at sway than a crashing cymbal or noisy gong. It is the voice that influences the heart and that allows the heart to speak to the brain and mind to try new routes and methods.

We cannot idle in this intersection for long. The voice of Isaiah and of John the Baptizer are a call to action, to get on with the work enabling the teachings of the Messiah to work for all. As we move ever closer to the arrival of the Messiah may we, with tender zeal be the ones who are beacons of hope and peace for another.