C Cycle – 2nd Sunday of Advent 21
Seven hundred and fifty years before the birth of Jesus, the Prophet Isaiah was telling the people of Israel God was going to turn their misery into joy. The Messiah was coming, and God inspired him to tell them the signs to signify his arrival. “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold the virgin will give birth to a son and she will name him Immanuel” (Isa 7:14) would be one sign. “The voice of one crying in the desert, prepare the way” (Isa. 40:3) would be another sign. After three quarters of a century, it would be easy die for everyday people to no longer look for those signs and stop looking for the promised Messiah and ignore the appearance of John crying out in the desert.
But there was an elite religious class that studied the prophets and the law. This was their life’s work, and they failed to pay attention to the birth of Christ and ignore the crazy man called John the Baptist. Their failure to respond to the signs should make us aware of how easy it is to miss an opportunity to encounter the living God when he reveals himself to us.
Jesus was born in obscurity, no one noticed his birth but a handful of shepherds and three wise men who recognized the signs foretold by the prophets. Their journey to and arrival in Bethlehem had to be noticed and talked about. Some of the Pharisees should have connected the prophet’s words about their arrival and riding on dromedaries (Isa. 60:6). We know Herod responded to their arrival in Jerusalem by summoning the chief priest and elders who confirmed the King of the Jews would be born in Bethlehem (Mt. 2:4). You would have thought their arrival would have caused the Pharisees to be on the watch for the other signs given to them by the prophets. Once again it is evident very easy to see how time impacts our ability to respond to Christ.
Jesu’s obscure birth is now on Herod’s radar, and we know Joseph and Mary fled with the baby Jesus to Egypt, where they stayed until Herod’s death. The scriptures do not tell us much about Christ after they arrive back in Nazareth and John comes out of the desert proclaiming there is one coming for the salvation of all. All this time from the Prophet Isaiah to John the Baptist they people waited and were pleading with God to send his promise King.
Why would those who wanted so desperately for the promised Messiah to come deny him instead of embracing him? We know the answer was because the entire gospel account is a record of his not being what they expected. He challenged their concepts of what God desired more than anything was their hearts not their sacrifice. Jesus was not the kind of messiah they envisioned and yet God knew all that before Christ came. The real issue we need to confront is not their response to Christ but our response to the Messiah.
Advent is our time to reflect on more than the birth of Christ because Advent tells us to look beyond the manger to the reason Christ came. We are being retold the story of Christs coming so we do not miss the opportunity to respond to Christ. God desire is for us to willingly invite him to change our lives. To invite Christ to be born in our hearts and show us our destiny is to grow in holiness by the work of the Spirit within us.
The voice of God is often gentle and can be unrecognized because he comes to us in ordinary things and through people, we encounter each day. I heard his voice today in a news cast about a school shooting in Michigan and it reminded how we think we have so much time ahead of us. I heard his voice again today as I saw a sign about a rewards card available at a golf course I play often. That voice was reminding me of the rewards of going back to the source of all we desire in prayer and in the reading of scripture. Repeated use of those things adds up and the “rewards” we gain by are fantastic.
I heard the voice of God speaking through Isaiah as I listened to a grandmother, whose heart was aching because of her newest grandchild being diagnosed with a serious problem. Every valley will be filled, and every mountain will be made low. Christ can remove obstacles to joy, and we can trust in him. Come to me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest is not an advertising slogan. Healing by the prayer of believers is a reality and is happening every day.
Let us pay attention to the signs and not ignore them because we are comfortable with our faith as we are living it. The Pharisee were not wrong by following the law but when the law became their definition of right standing with God the law became an obstacle to encountering God. It blocked them from responding the presence of Christ when he appeared to them. Those same voices are crying out to us from the wilderness, challenging us to pay attention and inviting us to allow the touch of the savior to change us.
God desires this season to take all your past struggles with sin and help you overcome them. God desires to show you how his image of ourselves is vastly different than we see ourselves. For God sees what he created us to become not what we have destroyed by what we have done. He sees wholeness and purity where we see brokenness and failure to meet the lowest of standards. God sees the innocent baby in our mothers’ arms, and we see the sinful adult who cannot ever recover our lost innocence.
Guess whose image is the real you and one that can be restored by listening to and responding to that voice inviting us.