To Light the Space Between Us

Image – Luminaries on pews closed for social distancing.

I’m reading Barack Obama’s Memoir, The Promised Land, and in it he refers to a previous book he wrote, The Audacity of Hope! And I thought to myself, a perfect opening for my sermon on Sunday. Most of my reading for pleasure is done in bed… so this was Friday evening… By Saturday morning I had forgotten that phrase, until I made my bed and picked up my tablet and remembered what I had been reading the night before.

The audacity of hope! One definition of audacity is the willingness to take bold risks. And Biblical hope is the confident expectation of what God has promised. So, it could be said that we are a people who are willing to take bold risks, confident in God’s promises!

Hope itself is rather audacious! It’s a willingness to look at what is, and rather then descend into a pit of despair, take steps towards a world that is full of God’s promise for everyone. Hope is so much more than wishful thinking, it’s intentional, determined and faithful. Our Bible is full of stories of such audacious hope.

We hear it in our reading from Isaiah 40.

At the end of Chapter 39, King Hezekiah was still playing power games, caught between the far greater powers of the Nile and Mesopotamian valleys. In 586, the Babylonian army over-ran Judah and took Jerusalem. The leading citizens were taken into Exile in Babylon, where some eventually settled in, becoming, in effect, successful Babylonians. But questions hovered over the exiles. “Who were they?” “Had God abandoned them?” “Was God powerless in Babylon?”  And how could they “Sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” A full generation later, around 540 BC/BCE, the new prophet spoke. “Comfort,” which, in English can speak of encouragement, translates a Hebrew word that speaks of “Compassion.” The word translated as “warfare” can, and perhaps should, mean “hard service.” The passage speaks of atonement: the prophet may have accepted the assessment of Jeremiah and Ezekiel that the Exile was the result of their rebellion as a people against God’s will and concern for the poor.) The prophet’s message calls for a freeway for God’s victorious march, in which God leads and even carries God’s flock back home. Imagine a disheartened people hearing this proclamation! And, in our pandemic, with it’s economic impact on so many, with political instability south of the boarder, let us be open to an audacious message of hope as it is written in Isaiah 40: 1-11: (Intro adapted from Rev. Stew Clarke and Rev. Catherine MacDonald)

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem’s heart, and tell it that its time of service is ended, that its iniquity is atoned for, that it has received from YHWH’s hand double punishment for all its sins.”

A voice cries out, “Clear a path through the wilderness for YHWH! Make a straight road through the desert for our God! Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low let every cliff become a plain, and the ridges become a valley! Then the glory of YAHWEH will be revealed, and all humankind will see it.” The mouth of YHWH has spoken!

A voice commands, “Cry out!” and I answer, “What will I say?”

“All flesh is grass and its beauty is like the wildflowers: the grass withers and the flower wilts when the breath of YHWH blows on them. How the people are like grass! Grass withers, and flowers wilt, but the promise of our God will stand forever.”

Go up on a high mountain, you who bring good news to Zion! Shout with a loud voice, you who bring good news to Jerusalem! Shout without fear, and say to the towns of Judah “Here is your God!”

YHWH, O Sovereign One, you come with power, and rule with a strong arm! You bring your reward with you, and your reparation comes before you.
Like a shepherd you feed your flock, gathering the lambs and holding them close, and leading mother ewes with gentleness.

Comfort, tenderness, gentleness, this is indeed a contrast to the previous chapters of Isaiah. The promise of our God will stand forever! The audacity of hope after centuries of oppression. Is it perhaps an indication of how we need to treat each other in this time of high anxiety? In this time when we are riveted by how many new cases and wondering if you have been to one potential exposure sites.

While most of us don’t have financial worries due to Covid-19, we are all affected in one way or another. Whether its not being able to see out of province family, or not anticipating Christmas in the same way, or having a parent or loved one in a nursing home, the new restrictions, as we are headed into winter, all of those things affect us.

Everything is harder now than it was a year ago. If only we could see an end point! But still… still… The audacity of hope and the promise of God lights the space between us. I experience that that at the Food Bank… in my deepening relationships with clients… and with the care that the volunteers take. I experience it in the way that some people pay careful attention to social distancing… I see it in the team that continued to decorate the sanctuary, DESPITE knowing that we wouldn’t be using it for at least two weeks. 😉

The gospel of Mark starts off full of the audacity of hope!

Mark’s gospel is the earliest gospel written. Despite being the second book in the New or Second Testament, it is generally accepted to be the first one written. It’s also the shortest. He gets right to the action-packed narrative of Jesus’ transformative ministry. No time for birth narratives here. John the Baptist is the bard in the origin story of Christianity. Making paths for new life and making way for the baptizing of the Spirit is the key here. Make yourself ready because God is about to do something you didn’t expect. (Adapted from Worship Design Studio)

Let’s listen as Mark tells it, it chapter 1: 1-8:

The beginning of the good news[a] of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[b]
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,[c]
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,[d]
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John the baptizer appeared[e] in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with[f] water; but he will baptize you with[g] the Holy Spirit.”

Do you remember who John is? He is Elizabeth and Zechariah’s son, born in their old age, Jesus’ cousin. It is he who ‘leapt’ in Elizabeth’s womb when she met Mary, pregnant with Jesus. He comes from a priestly line, but hasn’t followed his father into temple leadership. Instead he spends time in the wilderness and comes out preaching a message of repentance! Imagine the conversations in that household! A respected leader of the temple with a son who is at best unusual. But he must be charismatic… he must have a message that resonates with people, for it is written that “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

John is telling us to get ready!

Ready for Jesus!

Ready for something new!

Ready for the light in the space between us.

We may not be able to stand or sit shoulder to shoulder, but the light of Christ shines in that space between us.

The audacity of hope lights the space between us when we sanitize our hands and wear a mask.

The audacity of hope lights the space between us when we hang in together, even when we disagree with each other.

The audacity of hope lights the space between us when we realize that it’s not all up to us individually.

The audacity of hope lights the space.

Let’s light up the whole world!

Thanks be to God for hope, for light and for Jesus! Amen!

Isaiah 40: 1-11
Mark 1: 1-8
November 29, 2020 – SMUC
Advent 1

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