December 6, 2020

  “The Message”

(From Mark 1: 1-8)

     This week, as Peter and I were shopping in the Toy department of Wal-Mart for my grandnephews, I saw an adorable sight.  Two young boys had taken toy phones from the shelf and were attempting to talk to each other using them.  Of course, being toy phones, they did not transmit any voices, and the boys were shaking them and trying to figure out why these phones did not work.  They did not realize that they were playing a real-life game of telephone, and not having an actual phone conversation.  They were not receiving any message.

     Suddenly, an older brother arrived on the scene.  He immediately assessed their situation—these were only toy phones, and he walked them over to some walkie-talkies.  I was surprised to see that these had batteries in them, and they transmitted the young boy’s voices back and forth to each other.  The boys let out screams of joy—they had now shared their message.

     The Old Testament lessons for most of the Advent season come from the Book of Isaiah.  Isaiah is actually a compilation of several prophets and their prophetic messages regarding God’s plan for both the judgment and restoration of Judah, its capital, Jerusalem, and the nation of Israel in one historic and prophetic book.  The prophetic readings we share at Advent from Second and Third Isaiah authors speak a prophetic message of hope to the exiled nation of Judah, hope for its restoration and unification with the nation of Israel.  God will make the nation of Judah, exiled in sin into Babylon, the center of God’s divine rule.  These prophets proclaim that God has a plan that will be accomplished in historic events through an agent of God, a royal savior.  That agent of God was Cyrus the Great of Persia.  These prophets understood that God’s agent would execute God’s plan of restoration and wholeness for exiled Judah and for the nation of Israel.  History reveals that through the reign of Cyrus the Great, Judah was, in fact, restored when Babylon was defeated by the armies of King Cyrus around 539 B.C.  Those who desired to return from Babylon to their native homeland of Judah were allowed to do so.  God’s plan of restoration, as foretold by the prophets of the Book of Isaiah, was fulfilled within the events that unfolded in history.

     God’s plan, as it has unfolded within the events of history, did not end with the 6th Century B.C. restoration of the people of Judah to their native homeland.  God’s plan for us and for our salvation was, and continues to be, far greater than that.  Within the text, the unified message of the prophets of the book of Isaiah, we find the even broader prophetic message regarding the greatest of events that God has planned and unfolded into human history—the coming of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus for the salvation of the world.  Of the glorious event of Jesus’ birth Isaiah 9:6-7 proclaims:

          For a child is born to us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and

         He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  

          His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the

          throne of David and his kingdom.  He will establish and uphold it with justice and

          with righteousness from his time onward and forevermore.  The zeal of the Lord

          of hosts will do this.

     This morning’s reading from Mark Chapter 1 reveals to us the message of the prophet John the Baptist.  John, as we know, was a contemporary of Jesus, and also his cousin.  Growing up in the family of Jesus, I suspect John had opportunities to see first-hand the special gifts Jesus possessed. These gifts, combined with Jesus’ ministry of compassion, healing and love, convinced John that Jesus was God’s promised messiah—the promised servant savior.  This prompted John to preach repentance and preparation for Jesus’ coming reign, and to identify himself with the prophetic message found in Isaiah 40:

          I am sending a 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.” 

     As a young child about the age of the young boys at Wal-Mart, I suspect like most young children, I did not understand much of Isaiah’s prophetic message.  It was a lot like listening through a toy phone to someone speaking their message to me from another room.  I did not know what a rule of authority with justice and righteousness was, I barely recalled hearing that Jesus was the Prince of Peace, and I could not relate to a voice crying in the wilderness on any personal level.  What I did understand was the message of the Prophet Linus Van Pelt.  He shared with Charlie Brown the message and true meaning of Christmas.  Linus stepped onto the auditorium stage and proclaimed:

          For behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

          For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

          And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,

          lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly

          host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good

          will toward men.”  That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

     It has certainly been a most different and challenging year.  With all of the “safe-at-home” restrictions, it feels like we have, of necessity for our own well-being and that of others, neglected so many of our most precious Advent and Christmas Season traditions.   We are Zooming our worship services, minimizing our decorations, and hearing Christmas music while we are unable to sing our favorite Hymns together.  Perhaps we even feel a bit exiled from our familiar and comfortable holiday traditions.  Well, I am here today to remind us all of the good news—the great news, the glorious news that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love, and from God’s plan of salvation that Christ Jesus accomplished for us.  COVID-19, with its frustration and uncertainty has not, in fact cannot, prevent God’s compassionate love from being always and unconditionally available to us.  The peace of Christ is with us, even when living within systems of injustice doesn’t feel very peaceful to us.  Even now, in this Season of Advent, a child is born to us, a Son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. And that is what Christmas is all about—that is the message, for us today and for all the generations to come.  Amen—let it be so.

“Like a Child” (words and music- Daniel Charles Damon)

Like a child love would send to reveal and to mend, like a child and a friend, Jesus comes.

Like a child we may find claiming heart, soul and mind, like a child strong and kind, Jesus comes.

Like a child born to pray and to show us the way, like a child here to stay, Jesus comes.

Like a child we receive all that love can conceive, like a child we believe, Jesus comes.