Raise Your Voices!

Raise your voices!

Isaiah 40: 1-11

I imagined a mass protest from environmentalists at the plan for Jesus to return because it is going to make a real mess of the countryside! The HO2 rail link, an additional runway at Heathrow or a tunnel under Stone Henge are nothing compared to God’s great plan.

EVERY valley shall be raised up; EVERY mountain and hill made low so that we can build a new highway for our God…

I was in a bible study once with a fundamentalist who believed everything in the bible was a literal understanding of what had been and what was to be so he walked out of the room when I said I didn’t agree. Perhaps, if he had hung around to talk about it we would have agreed that this is an expression of God’s ability to do what we know to be impossible. As the angel will say to Mary in the Christmas story, “for nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1: 37) It is something Jesus tells us in his ministry: “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” (Luke 18: 27)

If we believe God can flatten the countryside, destroying every beautiful valley and removing the mountains and hills, straightening the crooked and smoothing the rough then I, for one, will lift up my voice in praise of our God who can restore all that is good.

I have big differences with some fundamentalist friends but even when we are poles apart we agree that the “word of our God stands forever.” This text starts with comfort for God’s people through tender words and forgiveness of sins, concluding with being gathered up, carried close to his heart and being gently led. That sounds like a good way to help people get to know Jesus better….”Make way, make way, for Christ the King in splendour arrives. Fling wide the gates and welcome him into your lives.” If only we could lift up our voices in song!

Make way! Make way for the King of kings, King of kings! Make way! Make way and let his kingdom in!”

Raise your voices,” we are told. “What shall we say?” we ask.

The Kingdom doesn’t come by creating a physical highway along which the Lord can travel to reveal himself in great glory because he comes in humility like withering grass or falling flowers. If we raise our voices while we can the Spirit of God will breathe upon us and the Word of God will endure forever through us.

We can PREPARE the way for the Lord in the wilderness not through physical strength and power that destroys, but through the Word of God that raises up the lowest and humbles the proudest. That’s good news for us to shout from the highest mountains and we shouldn’t be frightened to say that “our God is here!” Our God is here, among us.

God IS here, through you and me, them and us; the God of everyone and everywhere so when you lift up your voice with a shout of praise let it be the voice of God. Not words of empty promise with nothing done, but with the will of God being done so people see, as well as hear, the hope to come. PREPARE the way into people’s hearts where the Lord can go to be revealed in all his glory.

Before we can do anything we must PREPARE the way, but who is going to do that work of sowing seeds for the grass to grow and the flowers to bloom? The Word of God is the light in the dark to follow so who is going to raise their voice and shout it out? God needs messengers, so who are they who will deliver the good news? Mark’s gospel can tell us of one such messenger:

Deliver the Good News….

Mark 1: 1-8

At communion we remind ourselves of the message Jesus delivered to the world and the sacrifice he made in doing it, but some people are not ready to remember with bread and wine so feel excluded from what we call a celebration.

At my first church in Leeds there were six people who would leave the service when we got to the communion and so I have always wanted people to feel included so that together we can PREPARE hearts and minds for the Lord. The addition of grapes to the table is a way of acknowledging that for some people faith is still growing and the pruning of the branches will help us become good fruit. The pruning is the PREPARING for something better to come and as the grapes produce the wine no one — no one — need be excluded from the time of remembering together.

We also had some children at my first church who attended a Pilots project on Friday evenings and they would often come on a Sunday without parents. On one Sunday an eight-year-old girl brought her mum and it happened to be a communion service. When the bread was being distributed the mum took some and the girl was going to do the same when the mum stopped her and said: “You’re too young!”

The girl said: “I come to Church every week and Jesus welcomes me. If you can have bread on your first visit why can’t I?”

We begin to PREPARE the way for the Lord with our welcome and get straight to the heart of the message which is good news for everyone from the beginning. Age and gender, race and culture, don’t matter with God because we are all commissioned to teach through our lives everything Jesus commanded. (Matthew 28: 20).

Everything God created was good and simple, but people have made religious mountains which are hard to climb and valleys of darkness which are hard to escape. God’s truth is good and simple, but people make the roads to it rough and rugged with many twists and turns.

The reflections in Word for Today from UCB today have been about the need to “train leaders who can train others.” I don’t like the word “train”. It speaks of formal study and techniques created by human mind — mountains to be conquered, rather than hearts PREPARED. Our mission is to “encourage leaders who can encourage others to lead” and that is not through the Word of God stored in the head, but through a faith in the Word that travels in Hope, Peace, Joy and Love to reveal the Light of Christ at Christmas.

Advent is not a road to travel, but a call for disciples to walk the way to Christmas and celebrate the good news God has revealed. We’ve been building mountains and digging valleys for too long and God wants people to go ahead and make the road straight so people can follow.

Advent isn’t a time for waiting to be found, but is a call to travel and find. What we find might be a John who encourages us to repent of our past wrongs, but having done that the journey is not concluded. John is a messenger PREPARING us to receive our Lord and the Spirit he will deliver.

It’s not a new message because it was delivered by the Prophet Isaiah, but it needed another messenger to deliver it. In fact, God sends so many messengers to try and convince us of how we can find the kingdom of God, but we are waiting rather than following.

We’ve been here before, with Isaiah and John, and much more from scripture and we remember how we found the Light of Christ so WE have the responsibility now to share what we know and PREPARE the way for others to follow.

God has sent, and continues to send, messengers to prepare the way. They can be prophets with a vision for the future, angels with encouragement for the day, shepherds praising God for what they found or Wise Men and Women telling the story of the gifts they left for Jesus to use.

If you have found the Light of Christ for yourself in the past share the good news that you know and PREPARE a way for the Lord into the hearts of others… AMEN