Sunday Sermon 6th December-Major roadworks ahead
The chosen hymns for this week, Ding Dong Merrily on High and Love Came Down at Christmas can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Theme: Major roadworks ahead
One of my favourite topics to teach the pupils was the railways unit in S3.
A fun activity was when the children were presented with a landscape and they had to put a railway through it.
Of course, there were a number of problems and obstacles they had to design ways of overcoming – marsh land, roads and canals, forests, uneven ground like valleys and hills, towns and rivers.
They were given the task of doing this so that the gradient is no more than 4 metres.
When they did this task, they became road makers – preparing the way for a fictional railway.
And I am always reminded of the passage from Isaiah and the call of John the Baptist – make a straight highway, every mountain will be made low, the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places as a plain.
Isaiah gives us dramatic and beautiful images and metaphors of peace that comes from God.
In the image of the valleys joining the mountains is the declaration of the presence of God in the world. The mountains made low is a metaphor that God has come down from the mountain where he resides to be the God of this world.
We are given a picture that no place is God forsaken. The highway through the desert is the metaphor of God claiming this earth as the place of God’s love.
The desert is metaphorically the place that is full of terror and chaos - it is seen as God forsaken.
So the highway carries the people through times of chaos and terror. God is on the journey with the people as guide and support. There is nothing outside God’s shalom, God’s peace.
This passage from Isaiah begins in comfort and peace - peace that is more than the absence of war. God’s shalom is the true vision of reality.
Living in the comfort of God’s shalom the people are strengthened to face whatever life brings. No matter what disaster happens the people can face it for God journeys with them.
This poem is about the providential nature of God. It’s a poem about the peace that comes from the comfort of God, the image of being held in the everlasting arms of God, as an old gospel song puts it.
The power of God is one compassion and persuasion. God provides an aim of peace and we can respond out of free will.
We can join in this journey of God, and be part of this dream of God. Our God is in the midst of every moment offering the possibility of peace, peace that is beyond our imagining –and we are invited to join him and share in that peace.
Today we lit the candle of peace and we read the scriptures about comfort and peace and we await the coming of the promised prince of peace.
And I find myself reminded this year of the same word, the same gift, the same prescription: the peace of the Lord.
It was the dream of the prophets. It was the hope of his parents. It was the message of his preaching. It was the legacy of his Passover.
Peace. We want peace. But we know so little peace in our world, in our community, in our lives. I don’t need to rehearse the areas of strife in our world today – the economic situation, how best to fight the coronavirus; political dissatisfaction here and around the globe and so on.
We can give into a pessimistic view of life, that our present and future is defined by who were, and what we have done. It is easy to be caught by the idea that “that person will never change”, or I cannot change, or I can do nothing about that – whatever the situation may be. It’s easy to become defeated.
And so we know no peace.
There is a story told of Ruth and Billy Graham. They were traveling through some mountains one afternoon, and they encountered several miles of road works. There was one-lane traffic, there were detours; it was a little frustrating.
Finally, they came to the end and they saw a road sign. Ruth Graham turned to her husband and said, "Those words, on that road sign, that is what I would like to have printed on my tombstone." The words on the road sign read:
End of construction. Thanks for your patience.
We are in a time of transition. We wait with a sense of promise. Do not be demoralised if the world does not seem to be a very peaceful place. Do not be discouraged if anxiety rules within your heart and confusion pervades your mind.
Those who walked with God before us knew this same dissonance, and yet they listened for a harmony at the heart of the universe.
Like the Isaiah passage, Mark reflects a community’s experience of transformation. It is an affirmation that there is a reality breaking into every moment that heals and brings peace beyond all understanding. This is the gift of God, and the community found it their interaction with Jesus.
The providential love of God is found here and now, the kingdom of God is continuously breaking into reality. Jesus is another moment of transformation.
Advent is a time of spiritual practice that prepares us to see how our reality has been transformed. It changes our hearts so we can see that the shalom of God is the true word about reality.
We are being called to prepare for a time when kindness and truth will meet, when justice and peace will kiss, when truth will spring out of the earth, and justice will look down from heaven.
Advent is a time for serious road construction—and we all know the inconvenience that that entails.
Isaiah is not describing minor repairs, such as filling in potholes or repairing kerbs.
He is calling for major reconfiguration of the terrain: filling in valleys and levelling mountains; smoothing rugged land and rough country. He is calling for serious transformation of the landscape of our lives.
Advent invites us to stop so we can begin again - see in the movement of history and our lives the love at God at work. It is to shake off old ways of seeing and preparing our hearts for the shalom of God.
God’s peace is here and we can let it inform our hearts and heads so we live out of values of the kingdom – here and now – in all we say and do.