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An Invitation to Journey Together

December 5, 2020

When I was in high school, our choir director invited our choir to sing in the chorus for the Austin (Minnesota) Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. It was a monumental task for this particular singer. To be a very small part of that performance was a moving and memorable experience. One of the solo’s was based on Isaiah 40. Handel’s lyrics closely parallel verses 1-4: Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the crooked straight, and the rough places plain. This was also the passage used in the Gospel of Mark to introduce John the Baptist who came to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Mark 1:3b)

As the soloist begins to sing, the phrase “comfort ye” slowly rises from the depth of his soul. Aren’t these words we need to hear this Advent season? Mark 1:1 opens with this proclamation: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The Good News… the promised presence, comfort, and forgiveness offered by God to all of God’s children. This Advent season is so much different from any other Advent season I have ever experienced. 

Yes, Advent 2007 in Southwest Asia was different, but it was different in another way. Even though were deployed overseas in support of combat operations, we were together. We worshipped together, we prayed together, we laughed together, we wept together… but we were together even though we were apart from our families for that holiday season. One of the blessings of that time was the Bible study offered by a retired fighter-pilot who was a contractor on base. He had lived in Jordan for four years as a military attaché and his lessons and pictures brought the Scripture to life in a new and intriguing way.

Here we are, observing Advent in a time when there is much division and strife in the midst of the global pandemic. The isolation that is being experienced by so many is very real and is definitely recognized by your Padre. Moving across the country to a new community and church has been challenging to say the least in the midst of the Pandemic. Yet Denise and I have been called to Carrollton Presbyterian Church and that call includes the members and friends of the church. We have been called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The ways in which we are doing that are not the typical or usual ways of ministry. 

In his book, Seasons of Celebration, Thomas Merton writes about the “sacrament” of Advent. Advent is the “sacrament” of the PRESENCE of God in His world, in the Mystery of Christ at work in History through His Church, preparing in a hidden, obscure way for the final manifestation of His Kingdom… in his (St Bernard’s) theology Advent does not merely commemorate the Incarnation as a historical event, not is it a mere devotional preparation for the Feast of Christmas, nor an anticipation of the Last Judgment. It is above all the “sacrament” of the Presence of God in the world and in time in His Incarnate Word, in His Kingdom, above all His presence in our own lives as our Savior. (pp. 51, 53)

Celebrating the Presence of God in this world is so important. Especially in times where there is so much fear, division, and frustration leaking out all around us and within our own spirits. That is the Good News which the writer opens the Gospel of Mark with. God is Present in our midst, even in times of darkness, or perhaps especially in those times of darkness. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 

As we turn to the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures for the Second Sunday of Advent, we see this theme from another perspective. Isaiah shared God’s promise that the people in the wilderness have been heard.  God will forgive them and restore them. “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.” (Isaiah 40:11) Right now, I believe that in this time of isolation and physical distancing, we need to hear this message in a new way. These are loving words of comfort from our God. 

As we continue our Advent journey, I believe that the call of God for us is to journey together as a community of faith through this season and life in general. May we be guided by the shepherd, the Lord who makes a way through the wilderness. 

One Comment
  1. Michael, thank you for this post.
    During this season of Advent, your comments are a good reminder that God, Immanuel, is present with us this during this time of pandemic and during whatever physical, mental or emotional stresses we undergo as we journey through life.

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