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Advent 2 - Nowhere Beyond God

Lighting the candles in our Advent wreath is a symbol to remind us of those who prepared for the coming of Christ.  Last week, the first candle was for the Patriarchs, Abraham, our father in faith, and David the ancestor in whose city Jesus was born.  Today, very appropriately, the second candle celebrates the prophets and this morning we have heard one of the best known and poetic of Isaiah’s words foretelling the coming of God.  It happens too that this remains one of my favourite parts of Handel’s Messiah and since it comes at the beginning I sometimes get no further!

Advent, as we know, is a time of watching and waiting.  Last week we looked more deeply at the quality of our waiting, wondering if we should be more urgently wishing God’s presence and in particular striving harder to be free of our own self imposed obstacles; the things inside us that we do or think or say that are an impediment to Christ reigning in our hearts.

The wonderful words of Isaiah chapter 40, “Comfort, O Comfort my people”, says your God, “speak tenderly to Jerusalem” were written to remind the exiles (in this case nearer the beginning of their fifty year ordeal than last week) that God is full of grace.  The people of Israel had accepted that they had sinned, that as a punishment for the nation the Babylonians had destroyed the city of Jerusalem and that they had been forsaken, scattered and abandoned.  Yet Isaiah tells them firstly that they are forgiven, speak from the heart to Jerusalem, they have paid for their iniquities, he says and secondly he stresses that there is no place, no matter what wilderness we may find ourselves in, there is nowhere that is beyond God.

At both baptisms and at weddings I often include in my sermon the idea that we are celebrating either a child beginning their journey of faith or a couple beginning a new life in the community as man and wife and that these beginnings together with the promises have been made in the eyes and in the house of God – God who will be with them, the child or the couple, for the rest of their lives wherever they are and no matter what happens to them in the future.  God is always going to be there and will be overwhelmingly loving and graceful.

Isaiah goes on to tell us and especially the exiles to whom he writes, that we must prepare for God’s coming; in the words that we heard repeated in Mark’s Gospel: “Prepare the way of the Lord make his paths straight” Isaiah here is using the image of the highway in three senses.

Firstly, it was quite usual for roads to be prepared for a victorious conqueror or king (this continued for many centuries, and is in a way the forerunner of the modern ‘red carpet’) and in this case there may be a deliberate reference to the processional street in Babylon itself, known as the Marduk where the victorious generals would process, driving before them the people, naked and bound in chains, that they had captured.  This street, Isaiah implies, will become the road for the God of Israel.

Secondly, the highway was to be the route out of the desert wilderness back to Jerusalem for the exiles, make straight in the desert the highway as for the second exodus, just as Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt across the Red Sea so would God lead them back to Jerusalem where they will rebuild the temple.

And thirdly, for our lives, the prophet speaks of a heavenly preparation for the coming of Christ.  “Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill made low” so that God, Jesus may come and save us.  All obstacles to his coming, real, imagined, physical, mental and psychological, internal and external are to be removed.  As I said earlier, no matter where we are, there is nowhere beyond God’s reach nor beyond God’s grace and this is the message of Advent and as we shall see when we retell the Christmas story in a few weeks’ time God tells the poor, the lowly, the rich and the wise, it is indeed a message for everyone.


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