Sermon – 4 December 2005

I often concentrate on John the Baptist at this time of the year – we get him twice in Advent and then return to him after Christmas. Often I say, listen, what a surprising voice this is. The one who witnessed to the Lord was a wild and lonely figure raging over the hills and telling people to watch out or else God would get them.

This morning, I want to reflect on the fact that John himself was pointing not only to the Jesus who was to come but also to the promises and hopes and dreams of his people which we find in the prophecies of the old testament and particularly in the portion of Isaiah that we have this morning.

We find something there that is as joyful and exuberant as faith can be. We hear the voice of a prophet who is proclaiming once and for all what religion should be about.

If you look in the bible at the book of the prophet Isaiah, you will find it a long one – over 60 chapters. And if you start reading it at the beginning, it can be hard going after a while. All kinds of unfamiliar imagery are present in the first 29 chapters. Then all of a sudden, we get chapter 40 and it seems like a whole new experience. “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God”.

And it is a whole new experience – the truth is, it is a different voice altogether, for the book of Isaiah is not the voice of a single artist – it is a compendium. Several prophecies were bound together under the title Isaiah by the Jewish people. And chapter 40 is where the second voice comes in.

If you want something biblical to read as you prepare for Christmas – and why not after all read something to get yourself ready during advent – then read the book of the prophet Isaiah, but start at chapter 40.

You’ll recognise plenty of it. It can seem as though Isaiah was cribbing it all from Handel’s Messiah!

In these verses and the chapters that follow it, you have much that will teach you what religion, knowing God, is really about.

We sang some of this just now. “Prepare the way O Zion, your Christ is drawing near”. (It is a carol I picked up in Sweden).

There are 2 things to note here. Firstly that Christians have been unable ever since the time of Jesus on the earth to read these verses from Isaiah and not think of him, the king of heaven who came to a grubby barn to be born. And secondly, that in these verses we get a positive spin on what religion can be.

It is hard sometimes these days for people to feel that they can make the case for being religious at all.

Even harder to be religious in an organised, going to church kind of way too.

Yet let us bind Isaiah’s words to our heads and hands and hearts with the same zeal and exuberance that they bound the promises of God to their bodies long ago. For when we read and sing words like these we have nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of.

“His rule is peace and freedom, and justice, truth and love!”

So we just sang.

Can we find others who will sing that song with us. Are there not others who want those things to be on the tips of the tongues of all of God’s people. Peace and freedom and justice, truth and love.

I want a world which is at peace. I believe that the world can be more peaceful. I know in my bones that we should not simple settle for war.

I want people to feel free to be truly themselves without harming others. (And that is the basis of what I think the best ethics are about – though that is not what many Christians think. [Must preach about that soon!])

I know that justice and truth and love are things which people don’t just fancy, don’t just aspire to, don’t just desire, but they crave.

I know I find these things embraced, embodied, incarnate, bundled in a barn in a Bethlehem of long ago. And I know that I find these things, peace and freedom, justice, peace and love in the hearts of God’s people – the Christ that is in them today.

These words of Isaiah tend to be known by the name of Servant Songs by biblical scholars. For it is impossible to read them without the thought of singing. It matters whether or not you like Handel’s Messiah, or modern worship songs or obscure Swedish carols. These words are meant to be sung.

We take the word Zion to mean the people of God. Isaiah orders us to do something which will cheer up God’s world, whatever winter blast seems to be blowing through it.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion! Lift up your voice with strength. Sing to the cities of Judah – the people who are out there, in other words, “Look, look, your God is coming.”

Behold, he is coming very soon.

Speak Your Mind