November 7th 2014
Based on Isaiah 40:1-11 & Mark 1:1-8
In the ancient world, when a great leader was coming to visit an area, there were road improvements made. The potholes get filled in; the rough patches smoothed over. This preparation is taken to the `max’ in Isaiah’s vision, where he anticipates God coming to take home the people of Israel, out of exile in Babylon back to Jerusalem their beloved city. Not just filling the potholes, but every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; … then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.
Yet how is it revealed? Not by a great king, heralded by blasting trumpets, riding a great war-horse, and accompanied by thousands of troops. What does Isaiah see in the vision? A shepherd. Just a shepherd – carrying lambs, leading the pregnant ewes. This is the God who is bringing you home to Jerusalem. It is a paradox of power.
Mark’s gospel begins, not with the birth story of Jesus, but with his baptism. Mark clearly equates John the Baptist with Isaiah, a voice crying in the wilderness. “Prepare the way of the Lord, clear a path…” John preaches about the need to repent, to turn our lives around, to look deeply at what God wants from us. He offers the assurance of forgiveness for those who repent. Note that forgiveness is not contingent on Jesus dying on the cross for our sins – God has been forgiving humanity for a very long time. But forgiveness doesn’t mean we can sit back and be smug. I’ve seen a bumper sticker that says, “Christians aren’t perfect, they’re just forgiven.” Somehow I am not at all comforted by that message. What does that imply about everyone else? A more blatant bumper sticker Jim saw recently said: “Jesus loves you; but I’m his favorite.” Oh my!
Back to John and Isaiah and the message of clearing the path for God. We do that best by clearing the path for others that they may experience compassion and justice.
It might help by reminding ourselves of those who have helped clear a path for us. Who has made the road a little easier for you to travel? E.g. parents, advocates for equality, for medicare, friends, teachers etc. I invite you to name them now…
Our world seems as much in need of compassion and justice as ever today. This morning we lit the black candle, a symbol of the dark skinned people of the world. In the news over these past few weeks we are mindful of the ongoing conflicts in the US – and in Canada – the disproportionate number of African- American men arrested, and killed by police force. This inequality still exists in our so-called enlightened western society, 50 years after the civil rights movement.
We must be vigilant not to lose ground in situations where we are striving for justice. It is so easily whittled away under the pretense of national security, or fiscal restraint, a 100 other excuses, or because of what Martin Luther King Jr called the `appalling silence of the good.’
Just think what would happen if each one of us this week did one thing to clear a path for someone else.
Some path clearing comes from acts of compassion. I got a phone call from my son last night, who said, Mom I know you keep letting me you don’t need more stuff, so for your Christmas present I gave my co-worker $60.00. He’s from the Dominican Republic and is worried about his daughter there who has to have surgery on her arm. Another worker just got laid off, and I have him $40.00 for Christmas. I think that’s wonderful. I’m proud of my son, I am grateful for his generous heart. It truly is a wonderful Christmas present to me.
Other acts of compassion can include literally clearing a path by shoveling the snowy sidewalk in front of your neighbour’s house.
Visiting, and lending a listening ear to a neighbour
Practice random acts of kindness
We can support programs that provide economic and social wellbeing by buying some olive oil to support Palestinian farmers in their struggle for economic security.
We can support the Mission & Service Fund with Gifts with Vision. That’s a way Jim and I are honouring our families this Christmas.
And we can advocate on behalf of those who need justice. My task for this week (among other things) is to write a letter to Harper, supporting Amnesty International’s letter urging all political parties to support a comprehensive and coordinated national action plan to end violence against Indigenous women, as well as an independent public inquiry to identify solutions to this ongoing tragedy in our country.
So fellow travelers on the faith journey, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find a way to clear a path for someone this week – bring the kindom of God a little closer. Amen