Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Advent 12/7

Isaiah 40:1-11   Comfort, 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 forever.  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.

Psalm 85:1-13  NRS Psalm 85:1 LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.  2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. 8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.  9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.  10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.  11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.  12 The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.  13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

2 Peter 3:8-15   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.  9 The 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.  10 But 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.  11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,  12 waiting 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?  13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.  14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish;  15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

Mark 1:1-8  NRS Mark 1:1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  2 As 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,'"  4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5 And 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.  6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  7 He 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.  8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

The reading from Isaiah starts with God telling Isaiah to comfort God’s people. “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.” That’s how it starts.

I found myself paying extra attention to those words this week. As some of you may know, I succeeded at having an accident and totaling my car on Monday night. Fortunately only cars were hurt, not people. But standing there in the cold and the dark and the snow, feeling almost numb, as though it couldn’t be real, I definitely felt in need of comfort. Fortunately the pastor came along and then Rae and Bob. By the time the evening ended I had been hugged, fed a home cooked meal, given generous glasses of wine and been looked after for hours. Comfort came.

Yet it wasn’t comfort like the comfort given to small children where you kiss it and make it better. Every morning so far when my body wakes up, I feel rather cheerful until my brain starts waking up and I feel like I’ve been hit in the stomach as I remember the situation. There was an accident. I was at fault. I have a job that requires going places and I have no car. Comfort doesn’t take that away.

If one could kiss it and make it better that would be nice. I would definitely take it. If I could undo the accident or make it like it never happened, I’d go for that option. But life doesn’t work that way. Our mistakes don’t just disappear. Sometimes they stay and haunt us.

Israel’s mistakes didn’t disappear in Isaiah. The text says that Israel has paid for her sins and served her term. There were consequences. There was exile from their land and all that they had ever known. Families were torn apart. Their separation from Israel lasted for generations. Those who had left as infants returned as elderly people if they returned at all. But it was over.

Yet they returned to a land which had not only been devastated by war, but which had gone on without them. Other people were working the land and living in what remained. Nobody had house sat, watered their plants, and was waiting to give them their keys back when they returned. Those who had left had changed by their captivity and those left behind changed too. Re-adjustment was long and terribly difficult. Returning to such a situation might truly feel like one is but grass. Or as Isaiah says, “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades” The people who left, their time is gone and they are faded. All that they knew has withered.

But then wait, what’s with this comfort business? What kind of a lousy hand have they got? Well, for one thing they are no longer in Babylon. They are able to return home. What awaits them at home may be no picnic, but at least it’s home. But still after all that they’ve been through, it doesn’t seem fair that this is the good news. There’s so much work to be done. What good is comfort in the face of that?

Well it turns out that comfort is a great deal of good. Despite the fact that we use comfort in the sense of “to make everything better” or almost “to erase pain,” that’s not what it means. Comfort means “to give strength and hope to.” It comes from the Latin for “to strengthen greatly.” Comfort isn’t just about feeling better. It’s like raw bits, it gives you the strength to get up and do what needs to be done. The Israelites had lives to rebuild and a society to re-order. Their world had shattered and they needed to pick up the pieces and make something of it. The pieces they had to pick up were not as easy or as simple as picking up crumpled metal off the street in the aftermath of an accident, but it needed to be done. The pieces had to be moved to make ready for what was to come. A highway for the Lord is no good if it is littered with our wrecks.

The Lord was there to give us strength to get through it and do what needs to be done and he is there for us too. Life isn’t always pretty, and sometimes it’s our fault, but with God we can have the strength not only to get through it, but to make something of it. As Isaiah says the Lord is our shepherd, who cares for us. He provides us with sustanance, carries us and leads us. Like a good shepherd, he doesn’t desert us, but is with us comforting us. He gives us the strength we need when we have no strength. He gives us the hope to strength to hope when we have no hope left. He gives us the strength to wait and watch in anticipation to hold on and watch and wait for what is to come.

The royal highway which is to be level and clear is for the coming of the Lord. It is something worth waiting for, but it is also something hard to wait for. There are no clear signs and we are hit by the concerns of daily life which distract us and change our focus. God doesn’t stop life from being life, but he gives us the strength to remember that there’s more going on that we need to pay attention to and that sometimes we need to change our focus. Sometimes in our lives all we can see are the wrecks that we make, but dwelling on them isn’t the way to go. We need to pick up the pieces and weave them into the future we want to see. If ever the task looks too big for us, it may be. But the strength we work with is not our own, but God’s. It is his strength that helps to pick up our broken pieces and turn it into what can be. In this Advent season let turn, not just to reflecting on ourselves, but to turning our broken selves into a part of the future promised by God’s breaking into our world.

Vicar Joy Proper


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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