Summary: There is good news for those how feel far away from God right now. Preparing for the coming of Christ through repentance. Second Sunday in Advent, year B.
[Preview the Isaiah reading with a description of what Isaiah is writing to. Isaiah wrote hundreds of years before Jesus at a time when his people, God’s people, were threatened by destruction from a foreign nation. God saved them, but the warning from Isaiah and other prophets of that time was that another nation would come and conquer them because of their disobedience. And they would be shipped off, exported to a foreign land. They would spend 70 years there. But in these verses I am about to read Isaiah reminds them that even though their situation would be bad, it will seem like God has forgotten them, he had not. It was the consequence they had to face because of their sin. Don’t think for a second God forget them. Through Isaiah God shifts gears and gives a message of hope and comfort to his people. Listen to these words of Isaiah.
[Read Is. 40:1-11]
[Read Mark 1:1-8]
Today we are in the second Sunday of Advent, Advent means "coming" or "drawing near." During the season of Advent we are reminding ourselves what this Christmas season is really all about, we are celebrating God drawing near to us in Christ Jesus. The Bible tells us if we want to know what God is like we can look at Jesus because he is the visible image of the unseen God (Col. 1:15).
We celebrate God’s coming near to us. Last week we recognized that not only has God come near to us in the birth and life of Jesus, but that he will come again. We don’t know the day or the hour, but he will return and set all things right, and reign with peace, justice, and righteousness. Part of setting things right will be to gather all people to face judgment. So Advent is also a time of preparation. How do we prepare ourselves for the arrival of Christ? Obviously we are not talking about decorations, and buying Christmas presents. Last week we spent some time reminding ourselves of what Jesus said we must do to prepare ourselves for his return. Jesus told three stories or parables teaching us that: 1) We need to be spiritually ready. How is our relationship with Christ? Do we have a relationship with Christ? Are we filled with his Spirit? Jesus said before his return there will be a time of tribulation or persecution for Christians. Is our faith deep enough, strong enough, to handle people ready to kill us for our faith? He said there would also be false teachers and prophets who will try to cleverly steer us away from the truth. Do we recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice and his Word enough to recognize the truth? 2) Jesus taught about using our God given resources for his purposes. We’re talking about our time, abilities, money. 3) And in the third parable he told us what those purposes are, namely to help others in their need, particularly other Christians, whether that is a spiritual need (their need for Christ), or a physical ("I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink," etc.). These are ways we get ready. If you’re doing these things, you’ve got nothing to worry about. If you’re not…
Prepare the Way
This week we take another look at preparing the way for the Lord through the OT prophet Isaiah.
The prophets loved using imagery to get their point across, to teach us something about God and his plans and what we are supposed to do. The image God gave us through the prophet Isaiah was of the wilderness. The wilderness or desert was something everyone understood because they were surrounded by it in Jerusalem. You can see in this picture of the Judean wilderness between Jerusalem and the Jordan River it is rocky, barren, with mountains and valleys. And God is saying,
"this (picture of desert) has been between you and me. I want to come to you but this is in the way, mountains, valleys, you are in a spiritual desert. Now Isaiah, comfort my people by letting them know that I will take the initiative to remove these obstacles that are between us, to level them out. I will lift up every valley, I will lower every mountain so that there is a straight path between us, an expressway as it were, so that I can come to them without anything hindering my way."
What are the hills and valleys? What are the obstacles? It helps to understand what the wilderness represented to the people of Israel. For the Israelites the wilderness represented the place they had to wander for 40 years before they could enter the land God had promised them. The wilderness was not a good reminder because it represented their disobedience and lack of trust in God to overcome their enemies. It represented God’s punishment. Here in Isaiah the wilderness also represented their time of exile, when the foreign nation of Babylon would come and conquer them, shipping them off hundreds of miles away to a foreign land. It meant separation from the Land of Promise. It meant separation from the presence of God, his Shekinah glory, in the Temple. It was a time when it felt as though God had abandoned them, he had forgotten them, and allowed them to endure suffering and pain. Of course the exile was also a result of the sins of the people. For Jesus the wilderness represented a time of preparation for his ministry, he experienced trials as he wandered in this wilderness for 40 days without food or water, and it also represented temptations as the devil caught him at his most vulnerable time, tired, hungry, thirsty and tried to get him to take the easy way out of his mission and compromise what he knew was right rather than take the road marked with suffering and obedience to his Father?