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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
December 10, 2023
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
On Thanksgiving weekend, 60 Minutes aired a story called “Rise.” It’s about an organization called the Mountain Seed Foundation that was established in 2021. Its goal is to provide mental health support to help children and their families that are caught in the war-zones of Europe, particularly in Ukraine.
It’s led by U.S. veterans, so they understand the daily issues and struggles that the families are facing, as well as the long-term effects of the trauma they’ve endured. And the 60 Minutes story featured the foundation’s Healing Base Camp in Austria.
It’s a 6-day program for children and their moms who’ve lost a dad/husband to the war in Ukraine. In the 6 days, they literally learn how to climb a mountain – and complete the last leg of a climb to the peak of Mount Kitzsteinhorn.
The children start by learning how to use the gear, how to clip onto the rope. Then they’re lowered over an embankment, so they learn how to rappel. Then they’re lowered off an overpass. And so on. As the children are doing this, their moms are in group therapy sessions with a licensed therapist talking about their own experiences.
Together, the moms and their children climbed the wall of the Mooserboden Dam, which is 32 stories tall. And, ultimately, they climb the mountain peak.
What’s miraculous, besides that they learned how to climb in such a short period of time, is the level of healing that happened in that time. Their grief didn’t go away. But they rediscovered their identity. They found their voice and the strength to use it.
And they also learned how to care for each other, and how to build a community after they return home – they called it “adding to their rope.” Connecting with people who will encourage them and help them find hope even as the war continues.
When we hear the words, “Comfort, O comfort my people…” in Isaiah, many of us can’t help but think of that part of Handel’s Messiah. In Isaiah, these words are from what’s often called “The Little Book of Comfort,” because in it the prophet speaks kind and consoling words of compassion.
It describes the essence of God’s character, and reminds us that God’s power is rooted in life and in love and in hope, not in violence or destruction.
In last week’s reading from Jeremiah, the city of Jerusalem was surrounded and its destruction, and the exile of the people, was imminent. In today’s reading from Isaiah, all of that has happened and Judah was occupied by the Babylonians. The people were at the lowest point in their lives. The center of their identity as God’s people was gone.
They’d messed up and they knew it. They were certain that God didn’t love them anymore and that God had abandoned them. They had no reason to hope for God’s mercy or comfort for them.
And, in spite of that, God commanded that they be comforted: “Go and comfort my people with a message that they’re going to be brought back to me. I will go and get them. I will gather them and carry them and bring them back to me. They’re still my people and I’m still their God – and we will have a future together.”
In the midst of their hurt and despair, God’s promise of assurance comforted the people when nothing else could have. It didn’t mean that things were going to be better overnight. But it did mean that God was with them in their exile and would be involved in their future.
The healing that God had begun planning before their exile was coming to fruition. It gave them hope.
And with that hope they regained their sense of identity. Their sense of community was strengthened as they encouraged one another. They found their voice. And they learned how to proclaim hope right where they were.
Most of us don’t know what it’s like to live in a war zone, or to be in exile. But we do know what it’s like to be in pain and how exhausting it can be. And it isn’t a stretch to say that the world today is in pain and that people are exhausted by it.
The war in Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, an ineffective Congress here in the U.S., racism, gun violence, economic inequality. There’s no shortage of painful situations. And the pain caused by these situations affects more than just the people who are directly involved in them.
And in this season of waiting and preparation for Jesus’ birth, the worst thing we can do is pretend that none of it is happening or that it isn’t our responsibility to use our voice and demand change. And it sometimes feels pointless, and hopeless, to do it.
But we do it because of who God is – because God and God’s word are permanent. Nothing else is. We put our trust in the fact that the word of the Lord will stand forever. And God’s word is life. It is love. It is hope. And it can be proclaimed in any situation and wherever we happen to be.
For us as Christians, God’s word of life and love and hope is in Jesus. That’s where our identity lies. His birth changed the world forever in ways that we couldn’t have imagined but that we absolutely needed – and still need. Jesus didn’t stay a cuddly little baby in the manger. He grew up and spoke the truth about the situation in the world.
He got angry. He confronted the systems that exclude and tyrannize people. He spoke the truth about God’s presence, and expectations, and grace.
Jesus showed us what it looks like to help others find their voice. And that speaking tenderly doesn’t mean speaking without strength. And he knew that all of this would cost him his life. But we can’t have the manger without the cross.
At the beginning of worship last week, which I know is front and center in your memory 😊, I mentioned that as Christians we live in an in-between time: between the time of Jesus’ first coming and his return.
In this in-between time, Advent is the continuation of waiting for God’s justice to be lived out in our lives. For God’s realm to be present on earth forever.
In this in-between time, this continuation of waiting, we proclaim hope. Not just for ourselves, but for the world. We speak the truth of the pain that people are experiencing. We walk alongside people in their despair and encourage them to find their voice. And let them encourage us when we need it.
It takes courage to make this proclamation. To lift up our voice with strength. And it sometimes feels pointless, and even hopeless, to do it.
But we do it because of who God is, and because God and God’s word are permanent. Nothing else is. We put our trust in the fact that the word of the Lord will stand forever. And God’s word is life. It is love. It is hope. That’s the word we proclaim and that we need today. And it can be proclaimed in any situation and wherever we happen to be.
Thanks be to God! Amen.