Toorak Uniting Church

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Speaking a new reality

Isaiah 40: 1 – 11     Mark 1: 1 – 8
Rev. Ian Brown
4 December 2005

"Comfort, comfort my people, speak tenderly to Jerusalem" -

For Isaiah and the people of Israel, they were at a point of feeling rejected by God; failures as a nation, exiles without even a place to belong.

When we read the wonderful poetry in Isaiah of the valleys being lifted up and the mountains made low, it is meant to represent the breadth of hope that Israel had for salvation, a poetic metaphor for a smooth return to the promised land. Isaiah wasn't on about environmental reconstruction, or freeway building campaigns, he saw that all this change and hope and new beginnings would come with God's new age, and somehow, mysteriously, the prophet is called to speak this new reality into being.   "Speak to Jerusalem, Cry out" – these are the instructions – proclaim, tell the good news because God is coming.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
The Lord will lead his flock like a shepherd,
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
he will carry them on his chest,
and gently lead those that are with young.

What a beautiful pastoral image. A loving shepherd carrying the lambs in his arms.

The words in Isaiah were written to Israel when they were captive, slaves in Babylon. Words of hope addressed to people without home, without rights, without any security – a people suffering and on the verge of losing their very identity as a people.

When Isaiah writes of preparing a straight highway and making the rough places smooth, Isaiah could see that there was a lot that needed changing in his society – a lot of crookedness and roughness around him. I wonder how you feel about our world, is it any different today?
What are some of the things you see that need changing,
the issues that people don't want to see or hear about?
There are many, aren’t there?
Our world is suffering still!

Isaiah’s people needed the comfort of reassurance that even when the powerful majority see the world differently, and in fact oppressed God’s people, even so, hope remains, the eternal realities of God are unchanged.
For those who populate Christian Churches in Australia today – for people like you and me, we do not have the same respect, importance or influence we may once have had. So Isaiah’s words, "comfort, comfort my people" not only speak to us, they make sense in a way they haven’t for many generations.

Some fear this will be the end for the church. I think this is in fact good for the church, it makes us think about who we really are and why we exist, – perhaps it will even sharpen our sense of mission. Another need, another challenge! We have many fears and needs, some loom very large!

The force of military might, missile diplomacy and the reciprocal language of dissent by bombing have a dominant hold in our world.
We live with fear and what seems like an escalating panic among legislators.

The poor are still oppressed, we think it will be good for the less powerful to have less rights, while we pay more millions to CEO’s.
Our world needs new hope.
Our world needs new hope to be born.
Needs the hope of good news.
You and I need to have a hope we can live our way into.

This is the season that reminds us to renew our hope.
To look for signs of hope, to listen for the whispers of the birth of real hopes – this is our mission for Advent!
It is very much the same as John the Baptist’s mission,
Announcing, preparing, making way.

Here’s a few whispers.

In 1978 Miloslav Vik began a new career washing windows of Prague’s government buildings. He must have done well enough at it, because he held the position for 10 years. Officials looking out of their clean windows would have had no idea that the cleaner was a priest. His license had been revoked by the Communists and he had to find another means of making an income in an environment that was hostile to his particular gifts. Window washing was all he could get. When communist rule ended so did the window washing of that particular priest. He went back to ministry, in fact becoming the Archbishop of Prague.

There are many stories of "far off hope" becoming miraculous reality. The return to nationhood of the East Timorese, the liberation of black South Africans from apartheid, the fall of the Berlin wall and reunification of Germany.

In a world where tens of thousands die every day from hunger, in a world where child slavery and child prostitution still exist, in a world where there are more homeless and refugees than we have ever seen before – the promise of Jesus coming to make a difference is one we should all grasp with great anticipation.

Closer to home there are whispers of hope being spoken into a new reality too.
A few weeks ago I spoke with a woman whose art was displayed in Kinross house. She had lost so much through having Parkinson’s disease, but here was the one bright spot of hope for her, and she was glowing with pride and satisfaction that she could share it with others.
Last Thursday this church was packed with parents, grandparents and family of our kinder children for their annual nativity. Bright smiles, colour and cameras filled the church.
Overheard after, a grandmother telling her daughter, "that was just so beautiful, it moved me to tears, it gave me new hope."

There are many hopes being developed, formed, born and growing, new hopes being given reality even here!

Isaiah had the boldness to proclaim that God was present with his people in their exile and that God could make a difference to a people who were literally hopeless.
John cried out in the wilderness too, he prepared the way.

Christmas is a celebration of God coming amongst us – coming, not as judge, not to beat the opposition with might and machines of war, but coming to help, coming to make a difference, coming to make the world a better place and to give us hope.

May God open the eyes of our faith, and strengthen the weak hands of our service, that our speaking and our doing might grasp a part of that new hope, that it may be born and grow in us and through us in our often hopeless world. Amen.

© Rev. Ian Brown, 2005

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