Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 10 December 2017.
The child is quite obsessed with cars. He knows their makes, engines, equipment and the latest technology. He knows how they perform, the fastest and the safest.
But he never gets to drive one because he will not take the driving test. He would pass it with ease, but the test is an imposition by those in authority and he refuses to go along with it.
So who is to blame for his lack of driving experience, for the lack of access to the open road, even the more doubtful pleasures of getting stuck in city driving?For some, it is the state that imposes the driving test, for it is seen as irksome, bossy and an intrusion into personal space and lifestyle.
But for others, it is the boy who grew up, never accepting the opportunity to learn to drive or to take the test. In this he was the author of his own exclusion from what might have been a lifetime of fulfilment.
So who was the judge? The state? – or did the boy end up judging himself or placing himself beyond hope or help?
This rather simple picture is also true of us, for we are all also called to review our lives and to enter the realm that God always wanted us to enjoy.
And today’s lessons are about the mercy of God. The message is there and God looks for us to carry it forward. Isaiah’s message is to bring comfort to Jerusalem – that God’s plan was never for its isolation or dereliction but that the city should flourish as the City of God.
Whatever her trials, God was moving mightily to restore her. Even the most desperate within her might receive hope and look for a new life. And God’s purpose was not going to be thwarted.
The message would surely go out and the salvation of God would equally surely be achieved. And it was Jesus Christ who put it on the map as no other person in history has done, before
This is one aspect of our readings: continue to speak tenderly to Jerusalem and her people, for God would surely fulfil His purposes.
Then there is the gospel message in which John the Baptist left the great city for the ruggedness of the countryside, living very simply and yet speaking very directly.
He also had a message, this time of challenge and of rebuke. ‘Prepare for the coming One. Turn into a new lifestyle. Prepare, even in the wastelands of the nation and in the hearts of her people a highway. Prepare for something new and glorious. Do not exclude yourselves from the word or the blessing of the Lord, but rather prepare a new place and a new home. ’
‘Be ready to welcome the One of God who is coming, and coming soon!’
Both Isaiah and Mark record an invitation to make ready the people of God, to opt in to His plans and His reign, with His salvation and His mercy and His righteousness.
Both have a sense of excitement and urgency, and there is an exhilaration in the glory of their messages. Nobody should miss out: certainly, nobody needs to miss out.
Whether it is to the beaten down Jerusalem of Isaiah’s time, or the more complacent and self-satisfied Jerusalem of John’s time, the message is still the same, that God has an agenda and is looking to fulfilling it.
And this is where the life of the church comes into focus for Peter’s letter also looks forward to the Day of the Lord when all would be vindicated and when the justice of God would be proclaimed.
But Peter is not quite as gung-ho as he counsels the church to live in daily expectation of the Lord, but not perhaps at fever- pitch.
Let the church not be discouraged at the apparent delay in the Day of the Lord for it would surely come. Rather let the apparent delay be taken up as an opportunity to review their own lives and lifestyles. Let their study be of dealing with the daily affairs of life peacefully and without rancor or aggression.
Let the time be used effectively in restoring relationships, setting new priorities, finding new ways to love one another and to serve the Lord.
It may not be dramatic or glamorous, but these things would last. The love of the church for one another and for their Lord would never be wasted, for the Day of the Lord would come when wholly unexpected.
Every day would be a good day to abide in the Lord, to dig deeper foundations of faith, to encourage one another in hope.
Every day would be an opportunity for the Prince of Peace to reign in the hearts and lives of His people. But the Day of the Lord would surely come, and they would have to be ready.