"Here is Your God"
Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8
7 December 2014
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester and West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
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, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 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. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
To understand today’s Gospel from St. Mark
It is imperative to travel back in time
To about 540 years before Jesus
And listen to the prophetic voice of Isaiah
As found in chapters 40 through 54.
For clarity sake, let’s call him 2nd Isaiah.
To make sense of today’s Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 40,
One has to travel back an additional 47 years
To listen to the prophetic voice of Isaiah
As found in chapter 6.
Let’s call him 1st Isaiah.
The common threat that sews it all together
This Second Sunday of Advent
Has to do with the concept of call.
When the word “call” is used
Quite often one’s mind
Leaps to the conclusion that call is used
Only in the very narrow understanding of
One who is called to the ordained ministry.
If I would speak about my call to be a pastor
I might cite circumstances of summer camp,
Assisting my father with Holy Communion in the nursing home,
Or of visiting a friend who was a student at Boston University
and about her giving me a tour of the seminary.
Speaking about my call, I might share with you
The affirmation I received serving the Pine Valley United Methodist church
At the age of 19 while a newly transferred student to Elmira College.
I might elaborate about working for three years in seminary
In an outpatient mental health clinic
Serving the most broken, beaten up, left behind people on our planet.
If talking about call, I might share with you about
The affirmation I received from ever enlarging circles of Christians
Who would come to celebrate my ordination.
Wow, what a self-centered, self-promotional understanding of call that would be!
Truth be told,
God has been calling lots of people for thousands of years
To achieve His purpose.
Most times God’s call
Has nothing to do with ordained ministry.
Case in point: 1st Isaiah.
In Isaiah 6 we read about Isaiah’s call,
His vision of seeing the Lord upon his throne,
Of an angel touching a hot coal to his lips
And taking all his sins away.
Isaiah’s call is a response to God’s question,
“Whom shall I send?”
He responds like a jumping bean,
“Here am I; send me!”
(see Isaiah 6:1-9)
Isaiah’s call is a “prophetic call”
And the Lord instructs him to
Cover the people’s eyes and stop their ears,
Until the day comes
When the Lord will lay waste to the land,
Bringing death to some,
And prison camp in a far off land
For those who are left.
That’s not exactly a call to become a local church pastor.
Indeed, Isaiah’s prophetic call
To announce the destruction of Judah
Because of unfaithfulness by God’s chosen people
Leads us to the waters of Babylon 47 years later.
Babylon had sacked Jerusalem;
Burned it to the ground.
Survivors had been forcibly removed;
Relocated to what is today northern Iraq, along the Tigris or Euphrates rivers.
There, generations had wept tears of remorse and repentance
Asking God to relent,
To free them from captivity,
And to return them home.
God heard their cries.
In every family there are those who are “keepers of the faith.”
Isaiah’s tribe was no different.
Picking up the legacy of one who may have been his grandfather,
2nd Isaiah also receives a prophetic call.
Instead of a Divine message communicating death and destruction,
God had a different message to deliver to the younger Isaiah.
This message was to comfort
And to speak tenderly
On the Lord’s behalf;
To let God’s people know that their punishment has been served
And that it is time to return home.
Your sentence is over.
It’s time to go home.
The first message from Isaiah for today is that of salvation.
This is more about God acting,
Not passively sitting back and occasionally listening in.
No, this is about God rending forth the heavens
(like we heard last week)
Stepping across the divide
Back into the human condition
And making it possible for his people to be set free.
Not just for one;
Salvation comes to all.
Like Marines say,
“No one is left behind.”
Everyone goes home.
God’s theme that everyone goes home
Is deeply woven into our spiritual DNA.
Hold on to that;
Claim it for yourself:
Everyone goes home.
First Isaiah’s call was to prophesize death and destruction.
Second Isaiah’s call was to prophesize release and return to the captives.
But, it doesn’t stop here!
“A voice cries out:”
Which, from the Hebrew reads
“God’s voice preached:”
Go straight home.
Go as the crow flies
Through the desert
And the Lord will provide.
Don’t go home by way of the highway,
That links village, inn, and water well.
That’s too round about.
Go cross country.
Head straight home.
Every mountain will be made low,
Every valley will be filled,
And all the rough paths will be clearly marked.
Punch the accelerator and don’t look back.
For the glory of the Lord will be revealed in your salvation.
We will all see it together.
Salvation reveals God’s glory
And we are all going to get there.
A good preacher never knows when to quit,
And the Lord is the very best preacher
When He’s making his call!
The Lord calls to Isaiah.
Literally, from the Hebrew: Preach!
God is calling Isaiah to preach.
Preach to the people.
Tell them that once they have returned to Jerusalem,
They are to gather together at the top of mount Zion.
Tell them that when everyone has assembled
Proclaim to everyone: Behold,
“Here is your God!”
Tell them that the Lord God comes with might,
On the one hand,
And with abundant grace,
- Feeding his people and gathering everyone into the protections of His arms -
On the other hand.
By His might,
God protects and sustains.
Not just one of you.
This is plural here.
God will protect and sustain all His people.
God will protect and sustain you and your family,
Your neighbors and your friends.
All God’s children are promised this blessing.
The prophetic call of First Isaiah to proclaim death and destruction
Launched us to a different prophetic call of Second Isaiah
To proclaim freedom, promise, and salvation,
Which now launches us to the Gospel lesson for today,
The very start of the Gospel of Mark:
The call of John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord.
Mark, and his associates,
Were the very first to write down
What had been, up until that time,
The tradition of telling the story of Jesus
For the purpose of encouraging and empowering new disciples.
Mark is a brief, to the point, bare-bones biography of Jesus,
With nearly no extraneous tangents.
“The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,”
Notice, there are no passages from Mark
About the birth of Jesus.
You won’t find shepherds or kings,
No Mary or Joseph,
Or even a baby Jesus
In this poignant account of the Good News.
Mark begins his biography with John the baptizer
Baptizing Jesus in the Jordan.
Just as God called Isaiah to prophesize
So, too, did God call John the baptizer to prophesize.
The prophecy wasn’t death and destruction
Like First Isaiah,
Although, Jesus would die for our sins.
John wasn’t called to prophesize
The pardon of penalty, release from captivity, or the promise of salvation.
John the baptizer’s prophesy was to prepare for the coming of our God;
John’s call was to prepare for the coming of Jesus.
Instead of using words
Mark draws from Isaiah to paint on his canvas the prophetic call of John,
He clearly sees John as if he is the second coming of Elijah,
As promised in Malachi 4:5a
“Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.”
Mark believed John the baptizer was the returned Elijah.
He was in the wilderness, by the Jordan, where Elijah ascended into heaven.
He was baptizing and preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins;
Two common prophetic themes are woven together here to kick off the Gospel of Mark.
It is against this Old Testament whirlwind of prophets
Called to deliver God’s word,
Either bad or good,
John was preaching like Isaiah,
With the same voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!”
With Isaiah’s voice he continues,
“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. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Like Isaiah, John’s voice isn’t making an individual call for preparation.
John is calling upon all God’s children to prepare for the coming of the Lord.
Individual and corporate
- both / and –
Our God is Jesus
And he is coming to bathe us in His Spirit.
Isaiah’s prophecy is being made true:
God is tearing forth the heavens and coming down to save us.
Who steps from behind the curtain that divides heaven and earth?
His name is Jesus;
This is the God who protects and sustains His people.
This is the God who saves us and brings us home.
Behold: Here is your God!
John’s call was to reveal to the world our God:
Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and our Lord.
By our personal baptism,
Each has been filled with the Holy Spirit of Jesus,
Making each of us a part of the greater whole.
We are all collectively the Body of Christ,
Redeemed by his blood.
The Good News of Mark
Doesn’t end with John the baptizer.
Becomes our call.
Remember, you don’t have to be ordained to be called!
By our baptism, all of us have been called
To announce to the world this Good News:
Our God has come,
Our God Is here,
And our God is coming again!
His name, is Jesus.
He’s come to reveal God’s glory.
He’s come to protect and sustain His people.
He’s come so everyone gets home.
Behold! This is our God; Jesus Christ!