Sermon – 7 December 2014 – The Reverend Jonathan Gale
Isaiah 40: 1 – 11
God’s People Are Comforted
40Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2 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.
3 A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 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.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
6 A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
9 Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
‘Here is your God!’
10 See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
2 Peter 3: 8 – 15a
8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
11Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
Final Exhortation and Doxology
14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
Mark 1: 1 – 8
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
As we head into Advent, that strange season where we both consider God’s arrival in the Second Coming and his arrival in Jesus as a baby – leading to two very different emotions – I’d like us to think of the coming of the Gospel – its effect in biblical times, its effect in New Zealand 200 years ago, and its effect now.
Samuel Marsden held the first Christian service on New Zealand soil on Christmas Day of 1814.
It was a momentous occasion. The Good News (Te Harinui) was being proclaimed to Maori for the first time.
In Jesus’ day, John the Baptist heralded Jesus’ coming: 3 A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God, says mark in his Gospel, quoting the prophet Isaiah.
John’s was a call to repentance because he warned of judgement to come. In other words, ‘Get right before the judge comes and sorts you out!’ I wonder just how much John understood of Jesus’ role? Certainly Jesus judges sin, but he does so by rescuing sinners from the consequences of their sin, by taking upon himself death – the punishment for sin.
And it’s so important to understand that sin is not so much a misdemeanour – a transgression that displeases an angry and judgemental God as it is the state of a relationship – in other words a disrupted relationship with God (the source of all life). Rationally therefore, when one is separated from the source of life, one experiences death. It is in that sense that death is the result of sin.
On the cross sin is judged, ironically, not so much in the sinner, but as that which represents the family of sin.
It’s a bit like a rival gang getting its come-uppance. The gang members are sin, death, suffering, sickness, and poverty – the whole curse of the Law of Moses i.e. the whole nasty family of gangsters whose very existence is a challenge to the good creation God made – and they are given a massive hiding. The gang is represented by sin. God, in his love, can’t tolerate his creation being destroyed so he cooks up a cunning plot to bring the gang down. He does so by targeting sin.
And who would have guessed his method! He sends his own Son to take sin upon himself and nails it to the cross. And then, in the resurrection, sin and its mate death are given the coup-de-grat – the bullet to the head.
That is the judgement of Jesus. Whether John understands all this at the time or not is not important. The important thing is he is heralding something mind-blowing in Jesus and the Gospel he brings.
Perhaps this is why John dies early. He had said he needed to become less in order that Jesus should become more. Who knows? He is a man who had undergone great deprivation and who suffered at the hands of the privileged, in spite of being described by Jesus as the greatest man of all time.
John was close to Jesus – the bearer of Good news. He was his cousin. His nobility lay, not in his death, but in his standing aside for Jesus.
Ruatara, too, it would appear, had only a vague understanding of the implications of the Gospel. He had seen western society at work in Parramatta where he had worked for Marsden. He possibly saw the Gospel as a means to an end – a better way of life for Maori. He was right. But like John, did he understand just how it worked? Did he understand that the message of Jesus transformed lives, including Maori lives? Again, we cannot be certain.
Ruatara, like John was a herald. In allowing Marsden and the missionaries to arrive and operate under his protection he heralded the arrival of the Good News in Aotearoa New Zealand. He may not have had a full view of the power of the gospel. It is difficult to tell. But that he opened the door is not in dispute. Like John, he too died soon, very soon after that Christmas day in 1814.
Both John and Ruatara paved the way for the Gospel, both suffered at the hands of more powerful people, both had a relationship with the bearer of Good News, both provided a context for the arrival of the Gospel, and neither man lived for long. In that sense they stood aside for the Gospel.
We tend to think that Ruatara did a good thing. But did he? In opening the doors to the Gospel he opened the door to Pakeha settlers, hundreds and thousands of them. He opened the door to an increased flow of muskets, to cheap alcohol and to diseases. Did he bring peace? Or is that too harsh a question?
The Jesus of John did not himself bring freedom from Roman oppression. In fact his message brought dreadful persecution, both religious and political. But in time, as those who accepted freedom from sin lived out the Gospel, freedom from political oppression very gradually came, even if it was in the form of a Christendom whose benefits to the church, while apparently obvious, are dubious indeed. Initially the freedom experienced was a freedom from sin.
The Jesus of Ruatara (being the one and same Jesus) worked in a similar way, with a strange exception: the bearers of the Good News brought unintentionally with them their badly behaved friends. Initially the benefits of the Gospel did not represent much other than some Western technology to Maori – the early missionaries were what the missionary society called “mechanics” – artisans who could provide practical skills for local Maori.
All too obviously it was only as the Gospel was received among Maori in numbers that they too experienced relief from sin. In time the missionaries, along with other concerned officials, realised that Pakeha settlement was a rapacious force, and they led the movement towards the conclusion of the Treaty of Waitangi which held out hope of freedom from oppression for Maori.
The Gospel will always bring mixed blessings. It brings persecution in one form or another. But it will bring relief from sin, and for those who persevere in the faith it brings a much broader goodness – what Peter referred to in our reading this morning as the fulfilment of his promise: a new heaven and a new earth
Both John the Baptist and Ruatara heralded a Gospel that first had to be received individually as an antidote to the sin problem. Both men heralded a gospel that when taken to its logical conclusion began to champion the cause of the oppressed, the marginalised, the sick and the poor.
The challenge for us is what our lives herald. We should be asking of ourselves what Peter asked his readers: what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening* the coming of the day of God?
How do we Prepare the way of the Lord?
How do we make his paths straight ?
John the Baptist proclaimed of Jesus that: he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ To be baptised means to be drenched, to be soaked. Drenched with the Holy Spirit.
We’re all drenched with something. We all have something that is the main motivator of our lives.
I would like to invite you to imagine – truthfully – not defensively, not peripherally, not in passing – what being drenched in the Holy Spirit means to you.
John said: he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ Not perhaps will, not hopefully will – he will.
As Peter would put it what sort of people ought you to be in order that our being drenched with God’s Spirit occurs – what should we do to ensure that that is a reality; not simply to ourselves but both to the Body of Christ and the World at large?
The lifestyle we herald will be determined by how we answer that question.
In case you lost the question in all my talking, here it is again: what are you doing to ensure that you are drenched with God’s Holy Spirit to the extent that it is obvious to you, the church and the world?
This, I believe, should be the daily challenge to which we each rise.
For what we do about our receptivity to the Holy Spirit, will determine what we herald; will determine the legacy we leave.
The second candle is traditionally the candle of Peace
To be lit by – John McRae and family
Advent 2B (based on Isaiah 40:1-2, 9-11)
Reader One: Isaiah the Prophet reassured the people, God is sending words of comfort to you, speaking tenderly to you. God promises that your hard labor is over, your sentence has been served and your penalty has been paid. You are forgiven not once but double all that is needed.
Reader Two: Go up to a high mountain, and call out the good news! Lift your voices up with strength and call out the good news! Do not be afraid! Your God is coming.
Reader One: Our God is mighty, but our God is also gentle. God loves the flock and will feed it just the way a shepherd would, holding us close like lambs and guiding us, old and young.
Reader Two: We wait for God’s peace and live in God’s hope as we light these candles.
(Please pause as we light two candles, then respond.)
All: Loving God, come and shine your light in the world!
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