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God's Word on Sunday: Restoration begins with a focus on God

  • November 29, 2020

Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 6 (Year B) Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

The God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are very different.

For many philosophers, God is passionless, remote, unmoved and unchanging. The Scriptures paint a very different portrait of God. Anger and wrath are present, to be sure, but so is disappointment, sorrow, affection and tenderness. The latter — tenderness — is the dominant theme in Isaiah’s famous comfort or consolation prophecy.

The prophecy was given in Babylon, towards the end of Israel’s long captivity and exile in the mid-sixth century B.C. Isaiah ecstatically proclaimed the good news: God was going to lead them back to Judah to begin life anew. Their captivity was over; the debt had been paid in full.

God was going to do what God does best: comfort and console the people and speak tenderly to them. The image of the shepherd carrying the lambs in his arms and gently leading the mother sheep completes the picture.

Much remained to be done — the people had to be prepared and things set in motion. Preparing the way for God in the wilderness, filling in valleys and levelling mountains, meant removing all obstacles and hindrances. Some might have become too comfortable and settled in Babylon, finding it hard to leave behind all that they had known. Others might have needed to put aside grievances, resentments and factionalism.

They had to be very clear about why they were going home and what was expected of them. It would not be just picking up their old way of life where it had been interrupted 50 years before, for that life had led to their collective disaster. Their ideals and intentions had to be clear and pure for their restoration to be complete and successful.

The voice proclaiming “Here is your God!” made it very clear that this was God’s show, not theirs. Remaining resolutely focused on God and God’s ways is the antidote for fear, hopelessness and loss of meaning.

In our own day, more voices need to proclaim God’s faithful love and sovereignty over the world, but they need to speak from inner conviction and personal experience rather than ideology and desire for power. God is alive and present for those willing to see.

People are impatient and find waiting on God very difficult. We all have our own timetables for when events are supposed to unfold — and it is usually “the sooner the better.” The author of 2 Peter reminded his impatient community that God’s timetable and concept of time is totally different from our own.

A day and a thousand years are interchangeable, for God is eternal. Things will happen when God decides and not before. Some scary end-time imagery is thrown in for the sake of motivation, but this is not necessary for the point he is trying to make: Use your time on Earth wisely. Live in godliness and holiness and be at peace with God. It does not matter when the new heavens and new Earth will be created, for we can create these realities in ourselves and our communities by the lives we lead.

Isaiah’s prophecy had multiple lives. It was used by the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls to describe their preparatory mission and by the evangelists to define that of John the Baptist. His job was to level the mountains and fill in the valleys to prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah.

John must have been a sight to behold, rather wild and extreme in his way of life and his preaching. But it was successful — he convinced people that the time was short, and they had to prepare to meet their God. Many had a “metanoia” — a change of mind and heart — and demonstrated that reawakening by being baptized by John. He continually pointed away from himself towards the one coming after him — Jesus.

Renewal of minds and hearts was a worthy ministry then and it remains so today. There must be a profound change of mind and heart on the part of humanity. People still long for the new Heaven and new Earth and the presence of God, perhaps even more so in our own day, when so many signposts and symbols are gone. “Here is your God” as a proclamation is just as inspiring and consoling now as in the time of Isaiah.