Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Third Sunday of Advent, December 11, 2016

When I was learning to ride my bike, my dad took me to the ballpark near our house because it was nice and flat – perfect for a new bike rider. We had several lessons, but I just couldn’t seem to get it. I would ride for a little while and then lose my balance, but dad would always be there to save me, to brush me off, to get me back on the bike to try again. One time I was riding pretty well and there were some marbles buried in the ground. I fell hard and started to cry. I was feeling like I was never going to learn to ride a bike. But dad saved me again. He picked me up, dusted me off and off we went again. You have never seen someone as glad as I was when I finally learned to ride the bike.

What things did you try to do in your childhood that you needed saving from and someone came to the rescue? How did you react? Were you grateful? Did you realize you were being blessed and rejoice?

God is coming to save God’s people. That is the message of Advent. That is the message of Isaiah, who tells us a story of salvation and great rejoicing.

The Israelites were in exile in Babylon. They had been there for a long time and they were losing hope that anything was going to happen to make it better. They despaired of ever going home again. But God had promised God’s people that they were special to him, like I was to my dad. God had promised that he would save Israel, and the prophet offers them the hope of God’s coming in glory.

God’s salvation will be transformative, not only of the people, but of the whole earth as well. God is going to change the wilderness and the dry places into blooming, lush, garden spots and the earth will sing and rejoice. All of that bleak and barren land that the Israelites marched over into exile is now going to be filled with water – the symbol of life. Waters in the wilderness, streams in the desert, burning sand becoming pools of water. God is coming to save and the earth will be transformed into the way God would like the kingdom to be. From scarcity of resources to abundance. From barrenness to fertility.

God is coming to save the people too. The message from the prophet is to give them the hope they need to get ready. Those with feeble knees and weak hands must work at growing strong. And especially important, those who are afraid must be brave and not fear because God is coming. In fact God is already present with them, preparing to lead them out and bring them once again to Jerusalem, their home.

Where God is, people are made whole. That’s what Jesus says when John the Baptist sends people to ask if he is the Messiah. Tell John what you see. People are healed and made whole. God’s presence in the wilderness the people are living in will bring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speaking to the mute. The lame will leap for joy. God is transforming the people as God prepares them to be God’s people once again, to keep God’s covenant promise to them.

John the Baptist says to the people to repent and make a straight path for God to get to the people because God is coming to save and there should be no obstacles in God’s path. But in this salvation story, God is going to make the path to bring the people to God. In the wilderness there will be a highway. There will be no wandering as the Israelites had done in the wilderness, but a Holy Way for all God’s people. Not even fools will go astray, which should make us glad because we are all fools when it comes to God at some time in our lives. There will be no obstacles in their path, no danger or threats from wild animals or other evil things. There will be nothing unclean there.

God’s salvation, God’s bringing of God’s people out of exile and back to Zion, will create a fantastic amount of rejoicing. Adjective upon adjective is piled up by the prophet – rejoicing, singing, joy and gladness, unending happiness and gratitude for the salvation of God among them. There will be so much rejoicing that sorrow will end, and sighing, which expresses our wish for something we think we can never have or our disappointment with the situation at hand will be gone. God is coming to give them what they need to live abundantly, and to destroy all the dangers that face them. Their lives will be full of the majesty and glory of God.

The Israelites being redeemed from exile is a story from long ago and far away. But it carries the central message we need to hear in Advent. God is coming to save. God is coming to save us in Jesus Christ. God has promised salvation to God’s people whenever they get in a bind and God will not skip over us. We may not need to be led from one place to another physically, but there are many things that bind us and hold us captive that we need to be delivered from. What has exiled you from the beauty and the abundance that God is offering us in God’s reign?

 Maybe we are bound by broken relationships – estrangement from family, isolation from friends, divorce, trouble with a boss. All of these things can be holding us back from enjoying that new world, that restored world God wants for us, the one God has wanted from the beginning. God will save us. Maybe you are held captive by poverty, and you do not have enough to keep yourselves together much less enjoy abundant life. God is particularly concerned for the poor, but that doesn’t mean God wants them to stay poor. God wants everyone to have enough and more. Maybe you are bound by lack of education from getting a better job and moving forward to achieve your dreams. God wants us to achieve our dreams, as long as our dreams for us are God’s dreams for us. You could be held captive by anger and resentment. Anger separates us from our fellow human beings. If you are frequently angry, you are in exile from many people. Maybe you need to see or hear or speak or dance with the knowledge and love of God.

God will come and save us. We are expected to do something about our situations, to strengthen our feeble knees and weak hands and to be not afraid. We have to be willing to take risks. We have to be willing to expend the energy God will give us to walk on God’s highway to salvation. We need to be willing to follow Jesus, with the excitement and love and daring being a disciple takes. God will help us do all this in the process of saving us from ourselves, for God’s purposes and God’s reign, where we will be in God’s presence continually.

God will come and save us. There is judgment, there is mercy, there is love. God wants us to repent of our sins and rejoice at God’s salvation, because it is only through God’s will that we are where we are – already saved yet always needing to be saved.

My dad picked me up off the ground and put me back on my bike too many times to count. And God does the same for us. God saved the Israelites from danger over and over again, God has saved the world through Jesus Christ and God continues to save each of us from the dangers and evils we face in this world. Not only is Advent a time to reflect and repent, it is a time of rejoicing and singing because we know that God is coming on that path in the desert and we are heading toward God on the same path. It is a Holy Way. Nothing can stop God from coming and nothing can stop us from going, unless we let it. Put your feet on the path. Walk toward your salvation and God will come and save you.

Amen

     -- Rev. Ann Barker