Tag Archives: Isaiah 40

The promises of Christmas: past, present and future

given on Sunday, December 7, 2014

Christmas is full of promises, but the promises most of us think about are what comes under the Christmas tree. With our kids clamoring about the house focused only on what they are hoping Santa brings, with the commercials promising all kinds of results, and who can forget the yummy promises of the kitchen—especially when the scents greet you as you get home and open the door to the aroma filling the house.

The promises we associate with Christmas are not the promises God made; they are the promises that we have created to our kids and even to ourselves as the season evolved into an entirely different event than what God promised in the Old Testament. The purpose of God’s promises was completely different than the promises we casually talk about today.

Consider the past, the ancient past: the people were living in the midst of pagan societies, the region was a key trading center, influences tended to feed on the very sins God warns us to avoid such as excessive alcohol, immoral sexual behaviors, unethical business practices, and the list grows well past the ones targeted with the Ten Commandments. Society was a mess.

The prophets kept warning the Israelites that they must stay faithful to God, to trust in Him. Yet, the earthly influences were real. The appeals attracted the faithful with promises, too, and they were real—you could touch them, see them, smell them, hear them, and taste them. Just imagine if we were to hear the prophet’s words today:

40 “Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
and her sins are pardoned.

 

Those are the words of hope. There is a promise in those verses that lifted spirits. The promises are even spelled out in the following verses:

10 Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
He will rule with a powerful arm.
See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will carry the lambs in his arms,

holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.

 

The promises are there and when the faithful felt so lost, so alone, the words demonstrated God’s love for his chosen ones. Yet, these promises were written between 930 and 586 BC—hundreds of years before the birth of the Messiah. In fact, when Isaiah spoke, it was still 100 years before Jerusalem fell which led to the exile that took 70 more years.

By comparison, promises we make today tend to have a much shorter duration. Can you even imagine how a promise we might make today would ever get anybody’s attention if it exceeded past a few weeks, a few months, or even a year? Maybe the ancient promises were too vague to bring about an immediate change. Why maybe the ancient promises are still so vague to us that we do not hear their message, either.

That leads us to the present time. And just when did the present time begin? The year on our calendars say it is 2014, and that is certainly a long, long time since Isaiah’s prophecy was written. In fact it was a long span of years before Jesus was born, almost 750 years or more.

What promises does God make now that should be affecting our behaviors each day of our lives? Has there been any contemporary prophets speaking out so we can hear the prophecy above the noise of our everyday world?

Here is the problem: I think we are living in the present. We do not perceive the present as anything more than the moment. God may think the present is a span of time that began over 2000 years ago and will continue until a time when we will meet him.

The words written in Mark were for those early Christians in Rome sometime between 55 and 65 AD:

1 This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.[a] It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written:

“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
and he will prepare your way.[b]
He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’[c]” . . .

 

Even as we read these verses today, the time is now, the present. ‘Am sending’ is a present progressive verb. It tells the reader that the action began and is ongoing. The completion of God’s promise is ongoing. We are living in the present, not the past. Does our Christmas demonstrate that we are continuing to be present with God?

What is the future of Christmas? Are we living our lives in a manner that the promises found throughout the Bible will be fulfilled? Are we teaching our young people to love one another as God loved us?   Do we make promises to others based on the Christian principles we practice?

As we get closer to Christmas Day and the shopping carts get piled up, do we even think about the promises God makes to us now? 2 Peter was written after the gospel of Mark, yet the message echoes the warnings we hear clear back in Isaiah, almost a thousand years earlier.

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

 

The prophecy is there. The love is there. The gift of Jesus Christ fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy as well as those of the other Old Testament prophets. And the words of the New Testament are written in the present for the future.

In fact, the God’s greatest promise continues to today as we share the bread and the cup. Jesus, shared God’s promise at the Last Supper with the Apostles (Mark 14):

22 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it, for this is my body.”

23 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood, which confirms the covenant[a] between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. 25 I tell you the truth, I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”

26 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.

Today, we share the bread and the cup to renew our covenant with God. We have heard the promises God has shared since the beginning of time:

  • God loves us.
  • God provides for our needs.
  • God is with us, always—past, present and future.

As we continue through Advent and have all the fun we do with our family and friends, remember God’s promise. The bread and the cup are the symbols of our promise to God, too. We are promising to love God and to love one another—not just today, but throughout God’s time whether the past, the present or the future.

Closing prayer

Dear Father of all Time,

We continue to hope for love and justice whether near or far.

We offer love to one another whether family, friend or foe.

Our world swirls around us with so many temptations we struggle

to maintain our covenant with you.

Joining together to worship and to share the bread and cup

renews our relationship with you and with one another.

Thank you for your unending love that extends beyond time.

Thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

We promise through the sharing of the bread and the cup

to renew our efforts to do all that we can for all we can,

now and forever. –Amen

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Prepare Ye!

given on Sunday, April 6, 2014

Prepare. What a packed word! There are so many different ways to talk about that one word and it seems to affect our lives—prepare. Prepare a meal, prepare for guests, prepare for the day’s work, prepare for a trip, prepare for retirement, even prepare for the end.

Prepare ye! Just one more word added on, but it changes the entire perspective. Why prepare ye, or in today’s vernacular, prepare yourself? Adding yourself to that verb creates a simple phrase with an entirely different perspective. Preparing yourself is much more than following a morning routine getting ready for the new day.

When Mark used Isaiah 40:3 to open his gospel, he invoked a reference familiar to the Jewish people yet he was talking to the new Christians of Rome. The reference provides a historical connection to the prophecies the Jewish people knew so well. Using such a key verse can preserve the link of modern humanity to historical humanity.

Prepare Ye the Way. The words woke me. They circle around and around in my head. It triggered memories, questions, and ideas. Why? Each extra word that adds to the phrase becomes more and more weighted. Prepare yourself the way. Now the verb, the personal connection is moving toward the Way.

What way? How does one prepare for the way when it is an unclear destination? Back to the Biblical verses:

 

Isaiah 40:3 [the NIRV]:

A messenger is calling out,
“In the desert prepare
the way for the Lord.
Make a straight road through it
for our God.

 

Mark 1:3 [the NIRV]:

“A messenger is calling out in the desert,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord.
Make straight paths for him.’”

 

The way is to the Lord. Prepare yourself for the way to the Lord. Isaiah the prophet told his people they needed to prepare the way for the Lord in roughly 681 BC while Mark was repeating the same words to the newest Christians about 750 years later around 60 AD. Here today, in 2014 AD, almost two full millenniums later, these words pop up and circle through my brain.

The common thread continues to weave the generations together; it continues to direct our thinking, our actions, and our purposes toward the Lord, our father, creator, protector, and comforter. The way to the Lord is not a simple path.

Growing up on the farm, preparation is part of the structure of daily life as well as the year’s growing cycle. The farmer follows the cycle God provided for waking up, for working, and for resting. It is a cycle for the day as much as it is for the entire year. Whether it is January or July, the farmer’s pattern is set by the very world God created. Separating God from that life risks the very source of life—God’s creation meant to meet the needs of all.

After the week when farmers tackled the fields to prepare them for the seeds, planted the seeds, and left them to God’s care in the soil to warm and to water for germination is a clear example of preparing the way for the Lord. Once the preparation is complete, farmers know they must place their faith in the Creator.

This same process is what the prophets in the Old Testament had to do with preparing the people for the way of the Lord. Isaiah is full of messages trying to prepare the Jewish people for the way of the Lord. The Bible we know is filled with Old Testament prophets who tried to prepare people. If the people had listened and followed the way of the Lord—loving each other and being good stewards of the earth, would the way to the Lord have included the stories of the New Testament?

In Mark, invoking the words of Isaiah set up the connection to John the Baptist. Rather than starting his gospel with the birth of Jesus, Mark chose to begin with the work of John the Baptist. He reports the preparation that John did to prepare the people for Jesus:

And so John came. He baptized people in the desert. He also preached that people should be baptized and turn away from their sins. Then God would forgive them. All the people from the countryside of Judea went out to him. All the people from Jerusalem went too. When they admitted they had sinned, John baptized them in the Jordan River.

 

John was preparing the way for the Lord. And the way was through the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Lord’s son sent to teach all, not just the Israelites, how to live so that all could have eternal life–the way to the Lord.

Prepare Ye the Way! Our millennium is over 2,000 years after Christ walked this earth. Are we listening? Have prophets been carrying the message to the generations since Jesus’ death and resurrection? Have we prepared each other for the coming of Jesus Christ?

During the late 1960’s the chaos that spread through our country seemed to spark a movement that destroyed all the preparation Jesus and the Apostles had done. A survey of history shows that Jesus’ message had been carried by disciples/priests from the cross on the hill to the European continent and across the oceans.

The way has not been easy. The conflicts between men created much of the evil that was witnessed by the Israelites and the earliest Christians. During the 1960s that chaos included the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights, the War on Poverty, and even the Equal Rights Movement. In the middle of this came modern prophecies:

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good

            His love endures forever

            Hallelujah, oh, my soul

            Praise God, all my life long I will praise God

            Singing songs to my God as long as I will live

 

            I will praise you, oh Lord, with all my heart

            Before the Gods I will sing Your praise

            I will bow down toward Your holy temple

            And will praise Your name for Your loge and Your faithfulness

 

            Prepare ye the way

            Prepare ye the way of the Lord. . .

            –from Michael W. Smith’s lyrics “Prepare Ye the Way” in the musical Godspell

 

Prepare.

            Prepare ye/yourself.

            Prepare ye for the way.

            Prepare ye for the way for the Lord.

 

In today’s society we do not talk about prophets instead the term used is futurists. Typically futurists do not focus on spiritual topics but trends in the lifestyles and/or business. They look at what may be next in how we conduct business. The think tanks do not spend time assessing how humans live as much as they look at what can be done to improve quality of earthly life. Yet, the prophets are there we just do not want to hear the messages.

Godspell prophesized we need to prepare ye the way for the Lord. Just like Mark, the musical goes directly to the prophet Isaiah’s words to prepare ye the way for the Lord. Undoubtedly the parallels are too uncomfortable to discuss, yet in the 1960’s the truth is in the words, not only in Godspellbut in another rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar. In the theme song, Judas says:

Ev’ry time I look at you

            I don’t understand

            Why you let the things you did

            Get so out of hand

            You’d have managed better

            If you’d had it planned

            Now why’d you choose such a backward time

            And such a strange land?

 

            If you’d come today

            You could have reached a whole nation

            Isreal in 4 BC

            Had no mass communication . . .

           

            Don’t get me wrong, now . . .

            Only want to know . . .

            Jesus Christ

            Who are you? What have you sacrificed . . .

            Do you think you’re what they say you are? . . .

 

            Tell me what you think

            About your friends at the top

            Now who d’you think besides yourself

            Was the pick of the crop?

            Buddah was he where it’s at?

            Is he where you are?

            Could Mohomet move a mountain

            Or was that just PR?

            Did you mean to die like that?

            Was that a mistake or

            Did you know your messy death

            Would be a record breaker?

 

            Don’t get me wrong, now . . .

            Only want to know . . .

            Jesus Christ

            Who are you? What have you sacrificed . . .

            Do you think you’re what they say you are?

                  –from the lyrics of Jesus Christ Superstar

 

Judas set into motion the end of Jesus’ story. He betrayed Jesus, and Jesus knew he would betray him:

17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “What I’m about to tell you is true. One of you who is eating with me will hand me over to my enemies.”

19 The disciples became sad. One by one they said to him, “It’s not I, is it?”

20 “It is one of the Twelve,” Jesus replied. “It is the one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But how terrible it will be for the one who hands over the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

 

Place yourself in Judas’ place. Did he prepare the way of the Lord or not? Had the prophets known that Jesus’ ministry would end in such a betrayal and gruesome manner? Was it part of the plan? During Jesus’ last supper with his family and friends, was he continuing to prepare the way for the Lord?

When we come to the Lord’s table, are we preparing our way to the Lord? Are we a Judas? Are we a Peter? Are we prepared to carry on Jesus’ work or not? Are we prepared?

Today as we share the bread and the cup, do we hear today’s prophets telling us to prepare the way for the Lord or do we just go through the motions with no understanding?

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread. He gave thanks and broke it. He handed it to his disciples and said, “Take it. This is my body.”

23 Then he took the cup. He gave thanks and handed it to them. All of them drank from it.

24 “This is my blood of the new covenant,” he said to them. “It is poured out for many. 25 What I’m about to tell you is true. I won’t drink wine with you again until the day I drink it in God’s kingdom.”

 

Prepare. Get busy. Make sure you have done what God has asked you to do. Live the life given you by God. Share the stories of Jesus. Demonstrate God’s love to one and to all.

Prepare yourself. Do not slide on the very acts of piety needed to keep your Christian faith strong. Pray. Study the Bible. Worship—privately and corporately.

Prepare yourself for the way. The work never stops. Farmers know this all too well, but so do successful parents, businessmen, artists, and more. Preparation is not just an occasional process; it is a daily even lifelong process.

Prepare yourself for the way of the Lord. Buried in this phrase is a tiny little word that can make such a difference: of. Think about the implications of that one tiny word:

  • . . . the way of the Lord: OF seems to indicate that we are to follow the way of the Lord, not our way—but His way.
  • . . . the way to the Lord: TO indicates that through preparation, we will reach God’s side; a goal filled with hope.
  • . . . the way for the Lord: FOR the Lord implies that one needs to be open to the possibilities the Lord may have for one’s life; a promise.

 

What a challenge! What a thrill! What a reward! Prepare yourself for the way of the Lord. The prophets have spoken. Jesus has lived. We are the ones who are to prepare the way.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

We hear you.

We know you.

We prepare for you.

Guide us as we prepare

not only ourselves

but others

for the way

of the Lord,

for the way

to the Lord

and to eternal life

by your side. –Amen

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