Second Sunday of Advent - 9am & Choral Eucharist

  • Preacher

    Canon Chancellor - The Reverend Canon Mandy Ford

  • Readings

    Isaiah 40.1-11; Mark 1.1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God

It’s starting! We’re off! The Messiah is coming, get busy!

Mark doesn’t bother to prepare us for the coming of Jesus with details of his ancestry, a description of his birth, or with the cosmic origins of the word made flesh.  He starts with John the Baptist, crying out in the wilderness.

Prepare the way of the Lord!

The cry is an echo of the words of Isaiah,

“Make the way straight in the wilderness”

John wants the people to get busy with repentance, to turn their lives round, to be ready to meet their Lord and Judge.

Like Isaiah, he is expecting a Messiah who will come as King.  A Messiah whose royal progress will roll through the land, with a cavalcade of horses and a parade of armies, marching down a straight road, swift and powerful.

Make straight the way in the wilderness.

This is preparation that demands sweat and toil, working in the hot sun, levelling hills and valleys, bringing in the road builders and the engineers.

Labouring to welcome the Messiah.

Hidden in Isaiah there is another image of the labouring needed in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, this is God’s labour, a labour of a different kind.

In Isaiah 42, God says…

For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself;

 now I will cry out like a woman in labour,

 I will gasp and pant.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

God is straining and heaving to deliver the Messiah.

God is crying out, groaning and bellowing like a woman in labour;

gasping and panting between the birth pangs, the contractions, to bring forth a new thing.

Would that be so disturbing?

The great mystery of the incarnation is the mystery of God, who is unchanging, impassive, immortal, becoming mutable, suffering, mortal flesh.

What if God is viscerally involved in bringing that mystery to birth?

What if God is longing for each new step in the salvation journey to get underway?

What if God is groaning in the pain of watching and waiting with us?

Can we imagine a God who feels and suffers with us?

Some theologians claim that God cannot suffer, because God has not sinned. They forget that, although humans can’t choose a life without suffering, (because suffering is the consequence of the Fall,) God can choose and God did choose. God chooses the suffering of love, the suffering of self-emptying and self-giving.

God chooses the suffering of love in being born and in dying.  God, chooses the suffering of love, like a woman in labour, God chooses to be vulnerable in the flesh, In the flesh of a child. God is vulnerable even before birth. God is vulnerable in the waiting.

As we wait, so God is waiting.

Waiting to be born, a child in the womb, floating in the darkness, awaiting the unknown.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

God becomes flesh and becomes vulnerable, totally dependent on the flesh of the woman in whose womb that flesh will be formed into the child Jesus.

Pregnancy is a dangerous business. the line between life and death is thin. Today in many parts of Africa, one woman in a hundred will die giving birth.  But still, God waits to be born.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

God is ready to be born, born in the world, born into our human life.   It could all go so wrong. God not only births for our sake, but submits to being born for our sake.

Jesus could die In the precarious business of being born –

Crashing his birth and crucifixion into the same hour.

Today one in fifty babies across the world will die, before they are a month old.

One amazing thing I discovered recently, thanks to my friend Kerry is that babies actively participate in their own birth.  Firstly, that it is the child in the womb who produces the hormones that stimulate labour, and secondly that when the baby reaches the cervix, it is the pressure of the head which helps to enlarge it, so that the child can be born.

Jesus labours with Mary to bring himself to birth:

enduring the contractions,

the pressure of the birth canal,

the sudden shock of light and cold and noise and smell.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Jesus, the Son of God submits to being utterly dependent on others, on his mother for food and his father for shelter and warmth.

Jesus the Son of God grows up, hidden in Nazareth in the carpenter’s house. When he cuts his hand, it bleeds, when he bumps his head, it bruises.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Jesus comes to see his cousin John in the desert.

This is the Messiah that John is preparing the way for –

a Messiah who has been anointed for task

which will end

when he is utterly dependent on others,

in Pilate’s house, on the cross, in the tomb.

How should we prepare for this Messiah? How should we prepare for the Messiah who comes as a servant and a victim, A Messiah one who chooses the suffering of love, a Messiah who cries out in the cradle and on the cross. A Messiah who cries with us, a Messiah cries for us, for our vulnerability, for our pain, for our sin.

How should we prepare for that Messiah?

How do we level the hills and fill the valleys so that this needy and fragile Messiah can come to meet us as we come to meet him?

How do we sit with God in the pain of labour bringing forth this new thing?

God comes to us in such humility, choosing the suffering of love, dependent on us in so much…

Can we put aside the masks we wear, put aside the busy preparations, put aside our fears, To meet him?

To finish, some words from the poet Kathleen Raine

Who stands at my door in the storm and rain

On the threshold of being?

One who waits till you call him in

From the empty night.

Are you a stranger, out in the storm,

Or has my enemy found me out

On the edge of being?

I am no stranger who stands at the door

Nor enemy come in the secret night,

I am your child, in darkness and fear

On the verge of being….

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.