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God’s Promise

Readings: Isaiah 40: 1-11 and Mark 1: 1-8


Every now and then someone asks me if Jesus’ real birthday is December 25.  Or someone will proudly tell me that the Christians just took over the pagan holidays and made them their own.  Interesting, and there are some kernels of truth there, but it is not THE truth.  

In his book of essays called God in the Dock, (this would mean God on trial) the English author and scholar C. S. Lewis wrote that throughout history there is a story that emerges from all cultures and religions, of a god who is killed and then comes to life again.  In our Old Testament, the people of Israel are given more substance to the story, more direct promises from the God who actually came for us, promising salvation and relief in a time of darkness and despair.  And in the New Testament we learn that it is God Himself who walked the earth, Jesus of Nazareth, who was not what we expected — often not what we expect now! — but came into the world with a different kind of redemption, a redemption of all of us, and the echoes of the true salvation stories that flows from one end of our Bible to the other, from Genesis to Revelation, are found in the great mythologies and even in fairy tales.  There really is a prince who awakens the sleeping beauty, put into a deep sleep by the evil queen.  There really is a warrior who slays the dragon. And that God that we’ve been waiting for — he’s already here.  


This season of Advent, the first of seasons of the Church year…this is a time of darkness.  In much of the world the days are short and cold, and the hours of daylight are scarce.  In London, for instance, the sun rose today a little before 8 am local time and will set a little before 4 pm.  As the year progresses, the days are shorter, the nights are colder and longer.

But something happens each year to remind us of a promise.  The Winter Solstice on December 22 marks the official beginning of winter, but more importantly it signals the beginning of the days becoming longer, of light coming back into a world of darkness.  So hear again these words from the opening of John’s Gospel: 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning, with God.  All things were make through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  (John 1: 1-5)

One reason for celebrating the seasons of the church is to remember the promises of God.  Jesus comes into the darkness of the world and brings light the darkness cannot overcome.  And we would do well to observe this, to remember this, every year either until our death or until Jesus returns for the final time at the end of the age. 

Because now we face Advent in a time of war, we face darkness in a time of war.    There are wars in the Ukraine and Israel, and they may expand.  Here in the United States we face a presidential election next year in which the majority of the polls tell us folks want neither of the two leading candidates.  

But this is not the only time we’ve faced darkness.  

Eighty two years ago  our country entered World War 2 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan on December 7, 1941. We declared war on Japan and Germany and the war years were dark indeed.  

Jesus said there would always be wars and rumors of wars until the end of the age.  There is a darkness in our souls, there is a darkness of sin, which is the great struggle in the world, from the beginning until the end.  

The time of the Isaiah passage was a time of darkness and despair and a loss of hope for God’s chosen people, the people of Israel.  They had been promised that God would always have a king in the ancestral line of King David, and that he would always be on the throne in Jerusalem.  This promise was made and recorded in our book of 2nd Samuel chapter 7.  

But, like many of us, the leaders and the people overlooked the “if” clause — if they obey, if they follow the commandments of the Lord, if they worship the Lord God alone and don’t offer sacrifices to other gods….

The “If” clause — it’s good to have a regular health check to see where we are with the “if” clause, for ourselves and our church.  Are we pursuing God’s will for us or what would seem like success?  Are we growing deeper in discipleship with Jesus as the years go by, or are we complacent?

It’s good to ask, isn’t it?  

Back to Isaiah….As a result of not following the Lord, of not listening to the prophets that had been sent in warning over and over again, of worshiping other gods and then assuming the Lord would bail them out in times of trouble, the kingdom of Israel was destroyed.  First there was a civil war splitting the country in two, and foreign powers overwhelmed both.  

The remnant, left from the southern kingdom of Judah, were taken into captivity in Babylon.  Jerusalem was invaded and the temple where they worshipped the Lord was destroyed.  The king was taken from his throne.  It seemed like darkness had come on the land, and that the promises of God were gone.

So keep that in mind as you hear these words again from Isaiah, chapter 40, starting at verse 1:

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.  

A voice cries out:  “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our GOd.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken….

And the beautiful passage goes on to tell us that while season pass, and flowers fade, the word of the LORD endures forever.  All people are like grass, but the word of the LORD is eternal.  

So we learn from this passage that the word of the LORD is eternal, and with an eternal perspective.  We, who are like grass,  bloom and grow and fade and are gone, but the word of the LORD is forever.  

God’s promises stand the test of time.  God’s word, our Bible, does not expire or lose its authority or relevance.  God keeps his promises, but God is not in a hurry.  

So now think of a people still waiting for the LORD to intervene, for the Messiah to come and free them from the bondage, this time to the Roman conquerers 2,000 years ago.  

And Mark’s gospel begins:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.  

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending a messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight,’” so John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins….


God came into the world,  the Messiah arrived, but not as they expected then, and not as we expect now.  Jesus came as a baby, to become a shepherd of the people as Isaiah proclaimed, and as a “suffering servant” who would take on the sins of the people, who would be bruised and beaten and killed to the sake of the people who killed him, for the world he came to save.  He preached, like John the Baptist preached, repentance and forgiveness.  He preached healing, and the strength of love.  

He did not preach sentimentality or slogans.  And he was killed by those who tried to control him or conform him to their idea of what a holy man would look like.  

And he rose from the dead to show there is another way. 

God rarely shows up as we expect him.  And for those of us who are dealing with disappointment, with grief, with tragedies maybe known only to you, and especially at this time of year, hear these words again:  

Comfort, of Comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid.  

And hear once more the cry across the generations:

Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.

See,  friends, it is the good news of Jesus Christ — It’s news, not a story.  It’s news, not a myth or a tradition.  It’s news…

It really happened. The God we have been expecting is with us now.  The Light has come into the world.  

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 



This is a sermon text preached at Cooks Point Methodist Church in Caldwell, TX, on December 10, 2023, the second Sunday of Advent.

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