Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8
A cartoon once appeared in a national magazine that showed a husband and wife driving along at a rapid pace on a barren, desert road. The wife is saying to her husband, “Yes, I know we’re lost, but I didn’t want to say anything about it because we were making such good time.”
How many people you know does that cartoon describe? How many of you does it describe? Going through what feels like the desert places of life – mahybe even rushing through those places – maybe even making good time – but lost nonetheless.
If you have ever felt that way – and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at one time or another – but if you have ever felt that way – or if you feel that way right now at this moment – is there any hope? Where do you go – to whom do you turn – for a word of hope?
Listen to our reading from Isaiah again. “Comfort, oh comfort my people says your God.” And then, the reading goes on to say, “A voice cries out: Prepare a way in the wilderness – make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Prepare a way. In your wilderness. In your chaos. Prepare a way. Through the muck and mire of whatever it is that you might be going through right now – what I want you to hear right now is God’s word of comfort – to find God in the wilderness places of your life:
- Some of us have experienced the death of a loved one this past year. The death of a loved one can feel like a wilderness experience.
- Some of us know what it’s like to go through the pain of divorce.
- Some are struggling with serious health issues – either your own or that of a loved one – some illness, or a surgery, an accident, trauma, dementia. Or just the challenges – the aches and pains that come along with growing older.
- Maybe it’s the loss of a job through a lay-off or downsizing.
- Not enough money to pay the bills.
- Failing a test or a course at school. It happens.
- Moving to a new city or a new state where you don’t know anyone.
- The pain of loneliness.
- The burden of a drug or alcohol addiction – again maybe your own, or that of someone who is close to you.
- Sin can also be a wilderness experience, a place where we have lost our way, or a situation where we have become attached to other gods.
Well – this list goes on. These are desert experiences. Wilderness moments.
Having identified some of life’s challenges – is there hope in these difficult situations? You bet there is. Advent is a time when we prepare to meet the Savior – especially as the Savior comes to meet us in the wilderness experiences of our lives.
So what word of comfort can we expect to hear on this second weekend in Advent? What word of hope will help? When you leave here today – what’s the good news that you can take with you?
Listen again to what our reading from Isaiah says; and although Isaiah is speaking to the nation of Judah at a time when they have been conquered by the Babylonians – and they are in exile in Babylon – I want you to hear these words as though they are spoken to you. “Comfort, comfort my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” Speak tenderly to the folks gathered for worship at Zion Lutheran Church in Clarence Center.
Listen! No matter what your wilderness situation might have been – or what it is right now – God comes to you– right where you are – and offers a word of forgiveness – of hope – and a word of comfort. And it’s all because our God is a God of love. He will not let you stay in our wilderness experience – not for very long anyway. That’s good news! Good news for you today!
And then Isaiah finishes this marvelous passage with these words:
“He will feed his sheep like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs in his arms,
And carry them close to his heart.
And gently lead those that are with young.”
Do you see the image that Isaiah is painting here for us? Do you see here a picture of Jesus the Good Shephed? It’s like the story that Jesus told of the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to look for the one that is lost. Let me share with you the following story:
A number of years ago, there was a story in the Los Angeles Times called “A Mother’s Search for Russell Love.” Beverly Elliot lived in Houston and had not seen her son Russell Love for four years. She had not heard from him in two, but she knew he was homeless somewhere in Los Angeles County. Neither the FBI nor the L.A. Police Department could help her.
Longing to get in touch with her son, Mrs. Elliott ran a personal ad in the L.A Times for 12 days. It read:
RUSSELL L. LOVE – From Houston or anyone knowing where he lives please call his mother collect. [after including the phone number, she continued] Russell, your mother will never forget you. She loves you!
Maybe someone would see the ad, she thought, and get in touch with her.
A man named Ralph Campbell, who had spent 25 years on the street, had given some extra sandwiches to a friend. The friend had turned to another friend and said, “Russ, do you want a sandwich?”
Campbell phoned the newspaper. He led a reporter to some shipping containers in a parking lot on Western Avenue. There were some bedrolls there. He thought this was where Russell love might be sleeping.
The next morning the reporter returned. A young, blond-headed man was asleep, rolled up in a bright yellow blanket. When he finally awoke, the reporter asked if he was Russell Love. He said he was.
“Your mother wants you to call her,” said the reporter. He gave Russell the ad. Russell rolled up his bedroll and walked off down Western Avenue, the paper with the ad under his arm.
Russell called home on a Friday. His mother told him how much she missed him. They talked three times between Friday and Monday. She said she would send him some money. When she got paid at the end of the month, she would send him a ticket to fly home for Christmas.
“I’m going to see that he gets all the ID necessary to get a job,” said his mother. “I’m going to make it possible for him to rethink his decision and come back into the world he came from and to make a better decision.”
Russell Love did go home. A follow up article showed a picture of him and his mother together. It told about the way they “grabbed each other and hugged and hugged.”
“It feels great to be home,” Russell said. “It’s nice to be a family again after being a traveler.”
Folks – isn’t that what Advent and Christmas are all about? They’re about God coming to us. God comes looking for you in your desert places. God knows what’s going on in your life. If we’ve sinned against God – God is there to forgive. If we’ve somehow messed up – in any way – God is there to give us a second chance. If we’ve wandered away – God is there to call us back home – and to bring us back home.
Listen! In this life we will have heartache and pain. In this life we will have setbacks and hardships. So no matter what your tragedy might have been – or is something you’re going through now – or – perhaps might one day be something you will have to deal with – especially those circumstances beyond your control – I want you to know that God comes to you – especially when you need him the most.
And he brings a word of hope for those who need hope. A word of encouragement for those who need encouragement. And a word of comfort for those who need comfort. He comes to you – and he says to you – “I love you and I am with you. I will walk with you – and when necessary carry you – but in all circumstances – help you to rise above whatever your wilderness situation might be.”
“Comfort, oh comfort my people, says your God.”
This is the voice crying out in the wilderness – the wilderness of your life. This is what we celebrate every year at this time of year. It’s all about the God of mercy and love and grace. The God of comfort. The God who comes to us through his Son Jesus Christ.