|Easter 2, Commemoration of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, 2018||April 8, 2018||Easter 2, Commemoration of the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King||Luke 6:27-36, Ephesians 6:10-20|
|Easter Sunday||April 1, 2018||Easter, Year B||John 20:1-18|
|Sunrise service, 2018 – “The Road to Emmaus”||April 1, 2018||Easter||Luke 24:13-35|
|Good Friday||March 30, 2018||Good Friday, Year B||John 18:1-19:42|
|Maundy Thursday, 2018||March 29, 2018||Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018||John 13:1-17, 31b-35|
|Palm Sunday, Year B||March 25, 2018||Palm Sunday, Year B||Mark 15:1-39, [40-47]|
|Lent 5, Year B||March 18, 2018||The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B||Psalm 51:1-13, John 12:20-33|
|Lent 4, Year B||March 11, 2018||The Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B||John 3:16|
|Lent 3, Year B||March 4, 2018||Third Sunday in Lent, Year B||Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22; Psalm 19|
|Lent 2, Year B||February 25, 2018||Second Sunday in Lent, Year B||Genesis17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30, Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38|
|Lent 1, Year B||February 18, 2018||The First Sunday in Lent, Year B||Genesis 9:8-17, Ps 25:1-9, Mark 1:9-15|
|Ash Wednesday, Year B||February 14, 2018||Ash Wednesday, Year B||Isaiah 58:1-12;Psalm 103 or 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10;Matthew 6:1-6,16-21|
|Last Sunday after the Epiphany||February 11, 2018||Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||Mark 9:2-9|
|Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 4, 2018||The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39|
|Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany||January 28, 2018||Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||Mark 1:21-28, Psalm 111|
Second Sunday in Advent, Year B
Sermon Date:December 10, 2017
Scripture: Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8, Psalm 85:1-2,8-13
Liturgy Calendar: Second Sunday of Advent, Year B
This is the time of year when words like “merry and bright,” “joy,” “peace,” and “tis the season” fly around like so big fat beautiful snowflakes in the air.
A blizzard of merchandise piles like snowdrifts on store shelves, seasonal music plays in elevators, fattening food proliferates, and the pressure is on to find just the right gifts for the people on that gift list.
But not everyone is feeling merry and bright, or joyful. For many, this can be a season of dread and grief and sadness, or even anger.
I have a friend whose son, a senior in college, was killed over the Thanksgiving weekend one year. He had been to a party with a friend, and on the way home, the friend, who was driving, took a curve too fast, hit a tree, and my son’s friend died in the wreck.
When Christmas came a few weeks later, this father was too dazed with grief to find any joy.
This year, some people will be spending a first Christmas alone after the death of a beloved person. With that familiar person missing, joy dims or even vanishes.
Some people are dealing with the uncertainties of illnesses.
For some people who are addicted, the desperate need for the next fix blots out any thought of joy.
Some people don’t have enough money to put food on the table.
And some people are living with depression.
Others buy into the anger perpetuated by the culture wars, getting upset over things like which phrase store associates may use—“Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” or getting bent out of shape over this year’s design or lack of design on the Starbucks holiday cup–
But this seemingly trivial anger over phrases and cardboard coffee cups can be a manifestation of grief and sorrow that “things aren’t how they used to be,” that a “miracle on 34th Street” is no longer possible, and that opportunities for “a wonderful life” have vanished.
Anger can bring with it a state of being unable to forgive the person or the institution or the situation that has created the anger in the first place. We can even get angry at the passing of time!
I remember someone telling me that she was angry with her father for getting old and dying, because now she, an only child, was the only one left to care for her mother, who could frequently be rather grumpy and unpleasant.
Have you ever been angry and felt unforgiving toward someone who has let you down in some way, has made choices you wouldn’t have made, and whose choices then affect you whether you like it or not?
And certainly, people get angry with God. “God, how can you let the person I love so much have to suffer with some horrible disease?” “God, how could you let that young man who had his whole life ahead of him die?” “God, how could you?”—fill in the blank.
Our angers can pile up like those hard crusty, ugly gray packed snow banks that line the roads after a snowstorm, snowbanks that soak up car exhaust and dirt and gravel, make the shoulders impassable, and take forever and ever to melt.
But—here’s the good news!
Into the sad and depressing and angry states in which we can find ourselves come the words of the prophet Isaiah.
“Comfort, O comfort my people,” says your God.
This comfort of which God speaks is for all of us to receive, and for all of us to offer.
Comfort is more than consolation, more than relieving someone’s sadness or grief, more than feeling a lack of pain or distress.
Comfort is also about strength!
The word “comfort” comes from the Late Latin noun “fortis,” meaning strong. The verb related to “fortis” is “confortare,” which means “to strengthen.”
So when God gives us comfort, God not only consoles us and relieves our sadness, but God also gives us strength. And God wants us to strengthen one another.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.
And then this passage from Isaiah goes on to say that God has forgiven the people for all the ways in which they have let God down. Forgiveness is a necessary condition for comfort to take place.
In today’s gospel, the prophet John proclaims a baptism of repentance so that the people, by repenting, can open their hearts and accept the forgiveness that God is ready and waiting to give them.
God, who is infinitely loving and patient with us, and generous, is ready and waiting to give us a double dose of forgiveness! And forgiven people are strong people.
That’s very good news for us, because our imperfections weaken us. As children, we can let our parents down by not obeying them. All of us can let our friends down, we can let down those we love the most, and we can and do let God down all the time, which is why we pray a prayer of confession each Sunday—including these lines, “we have not loved you, God, with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent.”
Our bonds with God and one another get weakened when we let one another down, but God’s forgiveness and comfort strengthen us! Every Sunday, when we repent by confessing our sins, we lay aside our weaknesses and find that we are now free to receive God’s comfort, which includes God’s strength.
So surely, we, the forgiven, can find ways to forgive and strengthen others.
We need help to do this, so we ask in the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
The writer of the letter to the Ephesians spells out the details. “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
Forgiveness is the action that can break down those mountains and hills of resentment and anger that we allow to loom in our lives.
When we can forgive, then we find ourselves in “the valley of love and delight,” in the wonderful words of that old Shaker hymn, that place of peace in our lives where truth springs up from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.
In this place, where forgiveness is the foundation, mercy and truth can meet, and righteousness and peace can kiss each other, as the psalmist so poetically puts it in today’s psalm.
The prophet John, out in the wilderness, quotes Isaiah when he tells the people to prepare the way of the Lord.
As we wait for the coming of Jesus in this season of Advent, the way of the Lord that we are to prepare is to be straight, and level, as the roads constructed for the coming of a king into a village on a royal visit in the time of the prophets.
And the way for us to prepare that road is through forgiveness, letting go of those things that have brought discord into our lives, and paving the pathway of the Lord with peace—for the psalmist says that “peace shall be a pathway for his feet.”
Through both the humble receiving and the gracious giving of forgiveness, and putting down everything that separates us from God and one another,
God frees us to hold out our arms and welcome the One who is coming—the One the prophet describes as coming with might, with strong arms, the arms of a parent that through strength provides and cares for the family and in doing so gives every member of the family strength.
God’s strong arms will bring us the comfort of strength when we let God’s forgiving power work in our lives.
And God’s strong arms will bring us consolation for all the sorrows of this life. God’s arms are the arms that will gather us up as a shepherd gathers the lambs.
God’s arms are the arms that hold us close and comfort us, as a parent holds and comforts his or her crying child, and within the circle of those loving arms brings that child peace.
Lord, in this season of Advent, give us the grace to hold out our arms to you so that you can welcome us into your strong and saving embrace.