December 7, 2008

Sermon 12/07/2008


Sermon for Advent 2 B
December 7, 2008
Michael Coffey


Text: Isaiah 40:1-11
(Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God)
Mark 1:1-8
(Prepare the way of the Lord)


You might sense at times
that something is keeping you from God,
something has become a roadblock in your life.
It might be something you have done,
or you are avoiding doing,
or you have experienced,
or was done to you.
But it can often feel like something is keeping us from God,
something is getting in the way of moving forward in life.
We might be trying to get beyond it
or pretend like it isn’t such a big deal for us.
But we keep finding out
that until it is dealt with
we still feel distant from God,
and likely distant from other people,
and distant from our own selves.

So listen up to what is happening with John the Baptist:
It’s time! Come out! Whatever is keeping you distant from God,
it’s time to deal with it, confess it, and clear it away!
I suppose we have to admit first
that John was weird.
He ate bugs and wore rough clothes.
He seems like an odd character
to motivate us to tend to our roadblocks.

But he had some kind of charismatic way about him,
so much so that he is the most important figure in the Gospels
other than Jesus.
He called people out to the wilderness, and they came.
They were confessing their sins.
I would like to convince you that this is not a normal thing to do.
The normal thing to do is hide your sins,
pretend you aren’t at fault for anything,
blame everyone else for your problems
and for the craziness of the world.
The normal thing to do is fear exposure,
resist honesty,
and deny truth.

But there they were:
They came out to John confessing their sins,
being baptized,
starting over.
Why were they doing this?
Because when God is encountered as comfort and grace,
there are no excuses left.
With the promise of forgiveness, mercy, and renewal
given ahead of time,
there is no reason not to lay it all out,
get rid of it all,
and finally be done with it,
these things that keep us from God:
Sin, fear, guilt, failure, doubt, shame, pain.
The response from God to these things is good:
comfort, mercy, grace.

It seems that people suffer long enough
under the weight of their own failure and misguided choices in life.
When people have suffered enough,
and sometimes more than enough,
the message from God is pure comfort, mercy, and good news.
It brings people out of their resistance to God,
through their roadblocks,
and opens them up to a new and surprising reality:
God is good news.

God’s people Israel were in exile in Babylon.
They had suffered a long time.
They knew all too well
that it all went bad
because they had turned away from God
and away from mercy, justice, and care for each other.
But now, decades later,
they had suffered a long time, too long.
Certainly, if they had been sentenced to prison
they had served their time.
Their sadness and grief and loss
were so great, they were near the end.
They thought they had built an impassable roadblock
back to God, back home, back to life.
Hope had slipped away.

So God sent the prophet, the poet of good news,
to tell the people:
You have served twice your sentence!
There is no doubt!
The only thing left to hear from God
is comfort, grace, mercy, new life.

Israel was a long way from home.
Mountains and desert were blocking the way.
But the message from the prophet is loud and clear:
The mountains will be made flat,
and the rough places smooth.
There are no more roadblocks between us and God,
between us and home.
The only thing keeping us from getting beyond the present reality,
is a hurdle of our own making, not God’s.


How often have you reached some kind of end,
found a roadblock you can’t get past,
maybe one of your own making,
maybe one made for you by someone else.
And then how often have you only heard more requirements,
more judgment, more guilt?
We’ve been good at that in the church,
setting up not only rules for people that they can’t live up to,
but also impossible requirements and doctrines and dogmas
to buy into if you want to even try
to get beyond where you are now,
and get back to God.

So John the Baptist
and Isaiah the prophet
bring the heart of the good news
exactly when people needed it the most:
When they were stuck, hopeless, unable to get anywhere
and see God in their lives
and find strength for new ways of living and loving others.
John and Isaiah bring this good news
with boldness and energy
because the good news of God
does not rely on our perfect faithfulness,
but only on God’s dependable promises.
It is not weak and withering like the grass or our own lives,
it is strong and dependable.

Isaiah says to people who think God is far from them:
Your God is right here!
John says: The new thing of God is coming and is here!
The good news is that God is here
as trustworthy grace and comfort for you,
you, because you have been away too long,
you, because you have suffered long enough,
you, because you aren’t sure what to hope in anymore.
God is our always present reality and hope,
both the comfort we need in the present,
and the good news we need for the future.

John calls people to repentance,
a change of mind, and turning in a new direction.
This call to repentance, I hope you can hear it now,
is good new, not bad news.
The good news of God is here and now,
and all the roadblocks are removed,
and there is no excuse for not moving forward.
The only thing keeping us from moving forward
when we feel we are lost and blocked from God
is ourselves, not God.
God’s word of comfort pulls us away from whatever keeps us from God,
and pushes us toward a new life with God.

John called people out to the wilderness.
It is always the place of getting away,
opening yourself up to something new,
and rediscovering who God is for you now.

I think we need the same spiritual wilderness time.
Maybe it’s just a day,
but wouldn’t a week be great?
But if you can’t find a week
to retreat and let go and listen,
then do this:
Give yourself a day,
a day away from noise and distraction and TV and internet,
a day away from busyness and shopping and consuming.
Yes, I mean right now in the middle of this crazy busy time,
this Advent month when you think
you can least afford to tend to your roadblocks with God.
Go out and away somewhere in a park or a wood,
or find a still point at home or in your yard.
Be still and listen:
Listen to what you need to turn away from.
Listen to what you need to turn towards and embrace.
Listen to God gently but persistently pulling and pushing you,
Pulling you away from whatever keeps you from God,
and pushing you towards a new life with God.
You probably know what all of that is already,
but you haven’t cleared your mind and your schedule
to hear it and accept it and trust it.

This is a season for hopeful living
that is wrought from the hard work of repentance,
facing your roadblocks, letting them fall,
turning away from old ways,
turning towards the new ways God is leading you to.
And those new ways
are about sharing the same comfort, mercy, and grace
you have found in God through Christ
with everyone else who is still hurting,
hiding, and stuck behind their own roadblocks.

As people gathered around Christ Jesus,
the message is clear: God is comfort, mercy, and grace.
Put away all your excuses:
they don’t mean anything.
God has removed anything and everything
that gets in the way of knowing, loving, and enjoying
life with God.


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