“Comfort, O comfort my people,” says your God. Words of assurance for those who have seen Jerusalem sacked and the people marched off into captivity. This prophecy paints a word picture of how the LORD God will prepare the way for the return and restoration of the people. It is echoed in the beginning of Mark’s Gospel: It is a familiar passage as we prepare for Christmas in this period of Advent.
But it seems to me that it might be alright to take this passage out of its context and apply it to the unsettled times in which we live. Greed created a precarious situation which has now rippled out to affect all of us. Many here know someone who has lost a position or been cut back in hours. Many have seen the terms of the future or current retirement placed in great jeopardy. A steady diet of bad economic news has shaken investor confidence. It looks to be a pretty dismal holiday season and not much good at which to look forward in the New Year.
And yet our cities have not been destroyed; all of us have not been marched off to a foreign land to live out our lives as a subject people. Yes, things have changed but I believe it is a matter of degree. Tough to handle now but in the future we can look back and say we had faith and our faith was well founded.
That foundation is the love and care of God for all of humanity. And just as the voice commands its hearers to prepare the way, make straight of the highway for our God, fill in the valleys and level the hills and mountains. The uneven ground shall become level and the rough patches a plain. So God calls us in our time to make a difference in the plight of the less fortunate. It means pushing through food to the victims of Darfur; it means assuring that the safety net is in place in our cities; it means to give with the confidence that God will bring us through.
“Comfort, O comfort my people” is truly a call to action for us and just as many gathered earlier this week to lift the victims of the Mumbai attacks in prayer, we are offered the opportunity to provide comfort and to take part in the reordering of our societal expectations so that all can live in health and wholeness.
The writer of 2nd Peter writes about spiritual health and wholeness saying that the Lord Jesus is not being slow about his promise to return in glory but is waiting with patience, not wanting any to perish spiritually but all to come to repentance and the new life possibilities the re-ordering of our lives can hold.
Yet God will not wait forever, and I find that there are many who have a manana attitude about their relationship with God. I hear evidence of it all the time: I know I should get back to church; we just got out of the habit; I don’t need to be in the church to experience God. The last while technically true raises the possibility that this is lip service and that a person neither prays with intention nor reads scripture regularly.
The writer we know as 2nd Peter follows the pattern set by Jesus and continued by Paul—none of us know either when the end of the end times will come nor when we will be called upon to give an account of our lives and we are left with the what if game.
What if I had lived my life better; what if I had been more available to others; what if I had really discovered a viable—that means living—relationship with Jesus and with God as we may also experience God.
In a few short weeks this church and others will be packed with worshipers come for the best show all year a person can attend for a dollar. Yet I will tell you that all who come will have to sit through the proclamation of the gospel of our Lord. All may have the opportunity to be touched by the Holy Spirit in a way that extends well past the season.
My message to all of us is this: God in some way has caused each person whom we haven’t seen in a while or before to be with us on this special night and day. We need to welcome God’s guests and come early so that we can sit in our normal seats.
And remember that God calls upon us to make straight and smooth the highway that will bring people back to God’s Jerusalem—a little piece of which is right here.