Psalm 85: 8-13, Isaiah 40: 1-11, 2 Peter 3: 8-15a, Mark 1: 1-8
This really has been a year like no other that any of us can recall.
However, the years roll by, whatever problems the World faces, and now we are back to Advent again, thinking and preparing for the nativity of Jesus. The Gospel this morning, itself referring back to the Old Testament reading, bids us to prepare for the Lord’s coming.
Our Gospel today is from St Mark, which is held generally by Biblical scholars as having been the earliest Gospel, probably written down within thirty years or so of the Ascension of Jesus. And it starts where? In the wilderness, with John the Baptist telling people to prepare for the coming of the Lord, whose sandals he was not worthy to stoop down and untie.
We rather feel like we are in a bit of a wilderness ourselves at the moment with all the worries and the restrictions of Covid. Our busy and interesting and useful lives have been put on hold and many people are feeling frightened and others the effects of loneliness or idleness or a sense of a lack of self-worth. We are still in a form of lockdown and we do not know what the future holds, even to the extent of not being entirely sure how and if we will be able to get together with our families and friends at Christmas. We may not be wearing clothes made out of camel’s hair or living on locusts or wild honey, but life feels pretty grim just at the moment. We are in our own wilderness.
Oscar Wilde once said “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”. We may not be in the gutter, but we are in the wilderness of Covid. And we as Christians are those who, though rather down at the moment, are not out and we are looking up at the stars. Or more precisely for one particular star, as it steers our hopes and our expectations towards Bethlehem, as it once guided the Wise Men.
Jesus provided a way for humanity out of the wilderness of sin and death, providing a path to salvation. And today too faith in him and trust in his unfailing love and care for us will help us through the current Covid wilderness that the World finds itself in right now.
John was calling us to preparation. And this year, with so many fewer opportunities for enjoyment and making merry, perhaps it is the ideal Advent season to think a little bit more about our faith, to think about how good we are at welcoming Jesus into our hearts and homes not only at Advent, but throughout the entire year. Many people will be suffering this Advent season and perhaps it is beholden on us to try to reach out even more than usual in prayer and other ways to those less fortunate or who need comforting, however socially distanced it must be, and to ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit on how we all might better witness to the World.
Our churches plan to hold some Christmas services, but the numbers we will be able to accommodate in church are likely to be smaller than we would want to welcome. The much-loved Carol Services will not be able to happen in the ways that we are used to and which give us hope and peace. But despite all the changes this year, the crystal clear and wonderful message of the birth of our saviour, less than three weeks away now, will not change.
I like sometimes to quote hymns and one of the ones I have always liked at Christmas is “It came upon the Midnight clear” One verse that touched me as a child and still touches me now talks about the angels:
Still through the cloven skies they come, with peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats o’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains they bend on hovering wing;
And ever o’er its Babel sounds the blessed Angels sing.
The Angels will still come and the nativity of the Lord will still bring joy and peace and comfort. The Christmas message remains the same. The love of God is always still there. We must prepare for his arrival prayerfully and thoughtfully, readying a home for him in our hearts and in our minds, perhaps even more so this year than any other.
To conclude, another verse from a favourite hymn, Hark the Glad sound! The Saviour comes:
Our glad hosannas, Prince of Peace
They welcome shall proclaim,
And Heavens’ eternal arches ring
With thy beloved name.
I wish you a blessed Advent, as we all wait for the arrival of our Lord and Saviour.
Hosanna to the Son of God!