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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA       19014

610-459-2013
OFFICE




mail@calvaryepiscopalrockdale.org
SERMON
Advent 2
December 7, 2008
The Rev. Kristine Hill
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
Small Parish - Big Heart
The little church you've been looking for!
All are welcome!
Our Mission:

To worship
the Lord

To serve the
community

To grow the
church
Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8
The Rev. Kristine Hill, Interim Rector
The  word  of  the  prophet  is  a cherished  text,  one  we  would  love  to  hear  come  
from  various  places  in  our  lives:  “comfort,  comfort  my  people,  my  beloved.”   It  is  
a  word  of  comfort,  a  gentle  touch,  a  look  of  understanding  --  the  sort  of  thing  
we’d  welcome  from  our  spouse,  our  friend,  our  neighbor.   This  morning  Isaiah  
calls  to  us  saying,  “comfort,  O  comfort,  my  people  says  your  God.”   What  a  good  
word  to  hear.   

The  overall  message  of  Isaiah,  however,  is not  easy  to  understand.  I  took  an  
entire  class  on  the  book  of  Isaiah  last  semester  and  I  think  I  understood  it  less  
afterwards  than  before-hand.   You  don’t  want  to  get  comfortable  with  Isaiah’s  
reassurance  about  God’s  love  and  acceptance  because  the  next  thing  you  know,  
the  prophet  is  blasting  you  again  for  something  you  have  done  amiss.  This  
pattern  repeats  itself  again  and  again  throughout  Isaiah:  the  prophet  confronts  God’
s  people  with  their  faithlessness,  their  wrong-doing,  and  describes  in  great  detail  
the  frightening  form  God’s  judgment  will  take  in  their  daily  lives  --  they  will  
experience  pain  and  destruction.   Then  just  when  Israel  is  utterly  terrified,  and  
nearly  hopeless,  the  prophet’s  tone  softens  as  he  reminds  them  of God’s  never-
failing  love  and  mercy  for  his  people.   It’s  like  a  see-saw,  judgment  and  
destruction  on  the  one  hand,  forgiveness  and  a  new  start  on  the  other.  What  are  
we  supposed  to  make  of  that?

In  C. S. Lewis’  Narnia  tales,  the  children  Lucy, Edmund, Peter  and  Susan  are  walking  
with  Mr. and  Mrs.  Beaver  through  thick  snow.  The  wicked  Queen  has  cast  a  spell  
making  it  always  winter  but  never  Christmas.   The  children and  the  Beavers  hiding  
and  hurrying,  trying  to  escape  the  wicked  Queen,   and  are  rather  cold  out  in  the  
snow.   But  their  hearts  grow  warmer  as  Mr.  Beaver  talks  about  Aslan,  the  great  
Lion  and  true  Ruler  of  Narnia.   Mr.  Beaver  has  heard  that  Aslan,  the  Creator  of  
their  World,  has  returned.  If  that  is  true,  he  will  defeat  the  wicked  Queen  and  put  
everything  right  again  in  Narnia.  Mr.  Beaver  gets  excited  talking  about  Aslan,  the  
Lord  of  Narnia,  the Lord  of  all  creation!  The  children  have  a  tingly,  good  feeling  at  
the  sound  of  Aslan’s  name.  But  as  this  is  the  first  time  they’ve  known  any  talking  
beavers,  they  are  not  sure  what  to  think  of  a  huge  lion  who  is  Lord  of  all.  In  his  
joy,  Mr.  Beaver  says  they  might  even  get  to  see  Aslan,  and  although  excited,  the  
children  are  also  a  little  scared.   So  Susan  asks  Mr.  Beaver  “is  he  quite  safe,  
then?   this  Aslan?”    Mr. Beaver  stops  in  his  tracks.  He  gives  Susan  a  puzzled  
look.  “Safe?”  he  says,  “heavens  no,  child,  of  course  he  isn’t  safe.  He’s  a  lion  and  
king  of  the  jungle.  He  could  crush  any  of  us  with  one  snap  of  his  jaws.  No  he  isn’
t  ‘safe.’    But  he  is  good!”

That  is  an  important  distinction  to  make.  It  is  one  we  should  learn  to  make  with  
regards  to  the  Lord  of  the  universe,  especially  if  we  want  to  make  sense  of  
Isaiah.  Yahweh,  our God,  is  not  safe,  but  he  is  good.  It  is  not  safe  for  us  to
assume  that  because  we  are  God’s  people  we  can  do  whatever  we  want  and  get  
away  with  it – that’s  not  safe.  However,  God  is  good  and  does  love  us  faithfully.   It  
is  not  safe  to  think  we  can  hide  what  is  in  our  hearts,  ‘play-act’  at  being  religious  
people  and  think  God  will  not  know  that  we  secretly  bear  no  good  will  for  our  
neighbors;  God  isn’t  fooled.  It  isn’t  safe  to  run  off  and  live  a  careless  life  now,  
forgetting  God’s  teachings,  despising  those  who  are  different,  enjoying  ourselves  
and  disregarding  those  with  little…  assuming  we  can  repent  and  change  later…  
God  will  not  be  patient  forever.    Is  God  safe?  Not  if  we  expect  God  to  be  a  
lenient  grandpa  we  have  wrapped  around  our  finger,  or  the  genie  in  the  magic  
lamp – at  our  beck-and-call  whenever  we  summon  him.   God  is  not  safe.   But  God  
is  good  --  righteous,  merciful,  just,  a  God  of  life  and  not  death.  

The  book  of  Isaiah  can  be  confusing  to  read  straight-through  because  the  prophet  
presents  the  whole  picture  of  God,  not  just  the  God  who  forgives,  or  only  the  
God  who  demands  our  faithfulness,  not  simply  God  who  is  patient  but  also  the  
God  who  acts  in  justice.    It  is  challenging   for  us  to  understand  another  person;   
certainly  understanding  God  will  not  come  easily.    And  yet  if  we  are  to  live  in  a  
full  relationship  with  God  it  is  important  that  we  have  an  accurate  assessment  of  
who  God  is.   Isaiah  seeks  to  show  us  God.  

On  the  one  hand,  God  is  judge.   When  we  create  societies  where  people-with-
plenty  continue  to  build  upon  their  comfort  while  those  with  little  cannot  get  even  
what  they  need,  God  sees  what  is  going  on.   God  notices  when  his  people,  to  
whom  God  has  said  “love  your  neighbor  as  yourself,”  care  mostly  for  their  own  
wellbeing  and  little  for  the  sufferings  of  the  poor.   God  knows  that  societies  are  
set  up  to  favor  some  folks  and  keep  others  out.   And  God  is  not  pleased.   Thus  
in  Isaiah  five,  God  says: “(Let  me) tell  you  what  I  will  do  to  my  vineyard…  I  will  
break  down  its  wall,  and  it  shall  be  trampled  down.  …  The  vineyard… is  the  house  
of  Israel…  (because  I)  expected  justice,  but  saw  bloodshed,  righteousness  but  
heard  a  cry!”    God  is  judge,  on  behalf  of  the  suffering  and  against  the  proud  and  
unmerciful.

God  is  judge,  we  see  that  clearly  in  the  book  of  Isaiah.  But  that  is  not  all  we  
see.  For  as  soon  as  we  have  that  message  clearly  in  our  minds,  that  when  God’s  
people  do  not  live  righteous,  faithful  lives  they  will   face  judgment,  then  we  hear  
the  other  side  of  things,  that  God  is  also  merciful.  Those  who  have  suffered  
judgment,  who  have  been  rebuked,  who  lost  their  privilege  and  themselves  
suffered  want,  who  saw  their  great  cities  destroyed,  who  were  carried  off  to  live  
as  refugees  in  a  foreign  land,  who  began  to  wonder  if  God  had  completely  
forgotten  them…   those  who  have  been  judged  will  receive  mercy.  They  will  be  
forgiven  and  welcomed  back  home.  Yes,  God  is  judge,  but  God  is  also  
compassion  and  salvation.  Judgment  comes  for  a  time,  it  serves  a  purpose – to  
put  right  what  was  wrong,  to  restore true  balance  so  that  no  one  is  starving,  no  
one  is  crying  out.  But  once  justice  is  served,  mercy steps  in.

The  message  of  Isaiah  is  wonderfully  consistent  with  the  message  of  Advent.  
Isaiah  is  just  the  right  voice  as  we  prepare  to  receive  our  Lord.  His  is  an  
especially  apt  word  for  the  world  to  hear  in  preparation  for  Christ  to  return.  For  
what  was  true  in  Isaiah’s  day  remains  true  in  our  day:  God  is  both  judge  and  
savior.  During  Advent,  when  we  refer  to  Christ’s  coming  we  think,  not  only  of  the  
Nativity,  but  also  of  Jesus’  return  at  the  end  of  the  ages.  When  Christ  returns  he  
will  come  to judge  the  earth,  to  bring  justice,  to  restore  the  world  and  its  
societies  to a  right  balance  so  that  none  are  hungry,  none  are  poor,  violence  is  
ended  and  peace  reigns.    Christ  will  come  as  judge  to  bring  salvation  to  the  
whole  world.  

As  we  get  ready  for  Jesus’  coming,  part  of  our  work  is  to  examine  ourselves,  to  
see  what  we  need  to  change  in  our  living  for  justice  to  take  root  in  and  around  
us.   Self-examination  and  turning  anew  to  God,  striving  again  to  live  according  to  
God’s  word,  is  how  we  make  our  Advent  preparations.   And  yet  we  can  do  so  
with  confidence,  assess  ourselves  honestly  without  fear,  because  we  know  God’s  
mercy,  because  we  have  heard  this  word  from  Isaiah  and  have  seen  it  come  alive  
in   Jesus  Christ:  “comfort,  O  comfort  my  people.”   There  may  be  judgment  to  be  
faced,  but  always,  always  God  is  good,  and  there  is  mercy  and  love  waiting  for  us  
beyond  the  time  of  trial.  

“Comfort,  O  comfort  my  people,  says  your  God.  Speak  tenderly  to  Jerusalem  and  
cry  to  her  that  she  has  served  her  term,  that  her  penalty  is  paid.”   What  gracious,  
loving  words  God  speaks  to  us  today.  This  is  what  God  is saying  --  having  looked  
into  your  heart,  knowing  the  weariness  you  carry  there,  the  worries,  the  cares-and-
concerns  that  you  cannot  manage…  having  watched  your  life,  your  relationships,  
and  seen  the  worn  places,  how  you  need  rest  and  renewal,  where  communication  
has  gotten  off  track  and  it  is  wounding  you…  having  looked  at  this  city,  this  
nation  and  seen  how  people  are  suffering  from  unemployment,  from  the  inequities  
between  rich  and  poor,  from  housing  troubles,  from  anxieties  that  don’t  have  a  
name,  from  illnesses  they  cannot  afford  to  treat,  from  alcoholism,  from  
depression…  seeing  this  all,  and  despite  the  fact  that  judgment  may,  in  some  
form,  still  come,  even  so  God  says  to  us:  “comfort,  comfort…  you  are  my  people…  
prepare  the  way  of  the  Lord,”  for  your  savior  is  at  hand.

Isaiah,  unwittingly,  presents  Jesus  to  us.  Who  else,  but  Jesus,  comes  to us  like  
this,  when  all  that  we  had  built  up  over  the  years  appears  to  have  been  lost,  
when  our  hopes  have  been  dashed  and  we  are  drained,  when  we  have  no  where  
to  turn  --  who  else  is  able  to  lift  us  and  show  us  that  God’s  Word  never  fails  us,  
that  the  promises  of  God  always  stand  sure?  And  God’s  promise  is  that  we  are  
not  forgotten,  that  we  are  loved,  and  we  will  have  what  we  need,  we  will  be  
sheltered,  clothed,  fed,  healed,  held,  loved,  comforted.  No  one  else  comes  to  us  
in  this  way;  only  Jesus.  And  so  Isaiah,  unbeknownst  to  the  prophet  himself,  gives  
us  Jesus,  saying  “comfort,  O  comfort  my  people.”   This  is  our  Lord,  standing  
among  us  with  love,  with  assurance  that  God  is  still  our  God.  We  have  not  been  
forsaken.

Here  this  word.  Take  it  with  you  when  you  leave  today.  I  know  where  you’re  
going  --   I’m  going  there,  too  --  back  into  the  everyday  where  Christmas  carols  
are  already  blaring  on  radios  and  in  shopping  malls,  where  the  traffic  gives  us  a  
headache,  where  the  wind  blows  and  there  is  way  too  much  to  be  done  before  
December  25th,  where  you  bear  burdens  no  one  ever  sees.  I  know.  But  mostly,  
God  knows,  and  today  God  greets  you  and  I,  Calvary  church,  the  whole  Christian  
church  with  a  word  of  comfort.    We  are  not  on  our  own.    We  are  not  
overlooked.   God  is  sending  God’s  own  Son.   Jesus  is  coming,  the  mighty  judge,  
the  gentle  savior,  the  tiny  baby.   Let  us  “clean  house”  and prepare  our  lives  for  
Jesus;  let  us  turn-loose  of  the  smallness,  the  meanness,  we  often  cling-to  and  
open  our  hearts  to  Jesus.  Let  us  share  Jesus’  love  with  one  another,  and  with  
everyone  who  needs  to  hear  God  calling:  “comfort,  O  comfort  my  people.”      
Jesus  is  coming.  He  is  almost  here!       Praise  God,  Christ,  our  salvation,  is  on  his  
way.         Amen.