Dec 25 - The Gift
Dec 24 - God's Love Changes Everything
Dec 18 - Lonely?
Dec 18 - Getting Ready
Dec 11 - The Desert Shall Bloom
Dec 4 - A Spirited Shoot
Nov 27 - Comin' Round the Mountain
Nov 20 - Power on parade
Nov 13 - Warnings and Love
Nov 6 - Saints Among Us
Oct 30 - Reformation in Catechesis
Oct 23 - The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
Oct 9 - Continuing Thanks
Oct 8 - The Cord of Three
Oct 2 - Tools for God’s Work
Sep 25 - Rich?
Sep 23 - With a Word and a Song
Sep 18 - To Grace How Great a Debtor
Sep 11 - See the Gifts and Use Them Well
Sep 4 - Hear a Hard Word from Jesus
Aug 28 - Who is worthy?
Aug 21 - Just a Cripple?
Aug 14 - Not an Easy life with Christ
Aug 6 - By Faith
Jul 31 - You can't take it with you
Jul 25 - Companions
Jul 24 - Our Father
Jul 18 - Hospitality
Jul 17 - Priorities
Jul 11 - Giving
Jul 10 - Giving and receiving mercy
Jul 3 - Go!
Jun 26 - With urgency!
Jun 19 - Adopted
Jun 12 - A Tale of Two Sinners
Jun 5 - The Laughter of Surprise
May 29 - By Whose Authority?
May 22 - Why are we here?
May 15 - The Spirit Helps Us
May 8 - Free or Bound?
May 1 - Let All the People Praise You
Apr 24 - A New Thing
Apr 17 - A Great Multitude
Apr 10 - Transformed
Apr 3 - Here and There
Mar 27 - The Hour
Mar 26 - Dark yet?
Mar 25 - The Long Defeat?
Mar 25 - Appearances
Mar 24 - Is it I?
Mar 20 - Bridging the Distance
Mar 13 - What is important
Mar 6 - What did he say?
Feb 28 - Pantocrator
Feb 24 - Singing the Catechism: the Creeds
Feb 14 - Available to All
Feb 12 - Home
Feb 7 - Befuddled, and that is OK
Jan 31 - That We May Speak
Jan 24 - The Power of the Word
Jan 17 - Surprised by the Spirit
Jan 10 - Exiles
Third Sunday of Advent - December 11, 2016
A mirage is one of the dangers of being in the desert.
The heat, that burning, all-consuming heat distorts the air so that what is ahead of the traveler is obscured.
One's imagination takes over and interprets the horizon as a place where one would rather be.
Instead of heat and dryness, the parched traveler begins to think of the refreshing coolness of water in an oasis.
This deluded person chases toward the horizon and finds only dead, dry sand.
The mirage saps the weary traveler's strength of body and spirit.
The mirage that was thought to be life-giving leads only to death.
California's Death Valley got its name for very good reasons.
The prophet Isaiah speaks to people who are weary of the struggle of life.
There are voices, lots of voices, each one calling in a different direction.
Some say “Don't worry. Be happy.”
Others see only gloom and doom.
The people of Israel needed to sort out the voices and determine which voices were part of a mirage and where were true voices.
Isaiah's voice is one among many competing voices, and yet it is his that has been remembered.
At least a few people were moved to check out what he said, and they discovered it to be the truth.
Isaiah gave stinging words of rebuke when that was needed by the nation as a whole and when it was needed by individuals as well.
He had been granted the gift to say something beyond the judgment and punishment that will come upon the people.
The barrenness which we have known and the disasters yet to fall upon us shall not have the last word.
The desert shall bloom and we will rest easy in the good fulfillment of the Lord's promise.
Forty years they had wandered in the desert during the time of the Exodus.
It was forty long years, during which time they were supposed to learn the lesson of dependence on the gracious hand of God.
Forty long years during which time disaster was always close at hand.
Hoe many times they failed!
How many times did they walk toward a mirage instead of walking in the path of the Lord.
And then once they were settled in the land of promise, it was even worse.
The looked around themselves and thought they were safe.
“Look at the fine walls we have built, the temple and storehouses.
And we have done it all ourselves.”
“It is a mirage, an illusion, self-deception,” the prophets retort.
“there is not a bit of truth in it.”
All those fine things about which you boast will be taken away, the temple destroyed, storehouses plundered.
What then? Will you curse God that he has forgotten you, or will you be too numb from the shock of it all even to curse God?
“Then, the desert shall bloom,” says Isaiah.
Not the cultivated fields which you so carefully tend.
It is not the towns which you have so carefully constructed that will glisten in the sunlight.
It is the desert, that area which you thought was useless, a wasteland.
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom abundantly.”
The question immediately pops up: Is Isaiah talking about an actual desert, or is this poetic language to talk about people whose hope and trust in God is as dry and barren as a desert?
The answer is ...Yes..Both!
Whether in nature in general or within the people of Israel, Isaiah wants everyone to know that the way things have been is not the way that they will always be.
Where there has been dried-up hope, God will make a new creation and it will be no mirage, he insists.
The prophet is talking about a complete change of the old ways; he is not talking about a prettying-up of our favorite tricks and worn out excuses.
We write someone off, or perhaps a whole group or class.
“They're no good anyway.”
When an opportunity for a new ministry comes our way, we look for excuses to avoid it instead of marshaling the resources to work with it.
Then there are the deserts of illness, old age, loneliness, and faithlessness.
“The desert shall bloom,” says Isaiah.
Those persons of situations which we thought were hopeless will be transformed.
And then there are our present day mirages, all those things around us that give us false pictures:
--You will find true happiness by making more trips to the mall.
--The public school can fully take the place of church, Sunday School, and the family in adequately preparing kids for adult life.
--Violence is the quickest and easiest way to win an argument.
--If we come to church on Christmas Eve and squeeze our eyes very tightly, we can will the perfect Christmas to happen, a Christmas like we think that we remember from a long time earlier in our lives.
They are mirages, all of them.
They are false pictures of reality.
The desert shall bloom, says Isaiah.
This is not just wishful thinking, it is faith.
We are invited to trust the God who makes a way when we have no hope of our own, replacing it with faith resting upon our experience of God's goodness in the past.
Again and again the prophets will rehearse the promises made through Abraham and his descendants.
Again and again, God has made something out of nothing, light out of darkness, life out of death.
This God found slaves in Egypt and brought them forth to freedom.
This God reached them in exile, caused a path through the desert, and brought them home.
This God came to us and delivered us through the life, death, and resurrection of a baby born in Bethlehem.
Things may be desert-dry for any number of people here this morning.
If that is true, then listen this morning to the prophet and hear the hope he proclaims; hope not in himself but in the faithful God who makes a way through the desert.
Recall God's acts of unfailing love in the past, and take heart for the future.
God can make a world out of chaos, deliver slaves to freedom, bring exiles home for Christmas, and make any kind of desert burst into bloom.
We are gathered here around what is real, the promises of Jesus.
We are doing what Isaiah says the re-made creation will be doing – we sing God's praise.
When we stick with this core activity in this group established by God, we will be able to sort out the mirages, to evaluate the difficult situations, and join the Christians of every ages in praying: Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus, and make your creation new and whole.
Hark, the glad sound! The Savior comes,
The savior promised long;
Let every heart prepare a throne
And every voice a song. [LBW#35.1]
Let all the people gladly say Amen.
Please note: The preceding sermon is provided as a resource for the thought, prayer, and meditation of the members and friends of St. Mark's. It is the residue of a verbal event, and thus it does not have academic footnotes and other details that would be expected in a written document. The writer gladly acknowledges the prior thought and work of many Christians before him.