I was about six years old, and it was about this time of year. My mother, my father, my baby sister and I were shopping at K-mart. Doing Christmas shopping, I presume in my memory. My parents were discussing gifts for the extended family and my little sister was in the stroller, contently playing as I recall. My parents walked through the toy aisle to get to house goods, when I was distracted by toys bright and shiny, exciting and new, interesting and soon to be on my Christmas list. I paused to look at these list potentials and I imagine my family kept walking. I imagine they when to find baking pans, shower curtains, or whatever was on their list for one of my aunts. It took me a little while until I turned around to realize I was by myself. No mother, no father, no little sister in a stroller. Just me – I remember that I thought I can either go find them in house goods or walk to the customer service station at the front of the store. I did not debate long before I walked to the front of the store – told the clerk, I had misplaced my parents, and heard the voice of the loudspeaker ask for Monica’s parents to come to customer service. It was a short time without much excitement or fear, but I can remember it felt disconcerting to be all alone.
This week, a good number of folks gathered on Wednesday evening to enjoy the viewing of Home Alone. A movie that was released and became a popular Christmas movie 24 years ago. With some characteristic signs of the times, this 1990 video explores what happens when a family flies en masse to Paris to visit family, leaving their 8 year old son at home accidentally to fend off opportunistic burglars who stop at very little to achieve their goal of cleaning out the best houses on the block. 8 year old Kevin conducts himself very well on this unexpected time of being home alone. He even goes shopping and finds himself at church on Christmas Eve, before his big showdown with the burglars. His trip to the church finds him chatting with a neighbor who his family had written off as creepy and mysterious. Watch this clip as he explores his new found wisdom after being home alone.
(Showed a Movie Clip)
We hear words of wisdom and comfort in the face of both anticipated and unanticipated challenges. The prophet Isaiah brings words of encouragement and comfort to the people of years ago. A people who felt abandoned in a foreign land. A people who were sure that the world was changing around them and in ways that they did not understand or resonant. The world they lived in had turned upside down; many were repatriated to new homes, new occupations, and new allegiances to a new king. They felt that the God they had known had been left behind with the all that could not be brought with them to Bethlehem. Imagine their surprise, when they heard the voice of God in the wilderness. When the prophet Isaiah spoke the language they knew, told the stories they knew, and brought a message from a God who did not desert them, instead, was with them all along. Comfort, o comfort my people.
We hear the words of Isaiah that could not remain only in the voice of the 6th century exilic prophet. These words found voice in the throat of John the Baptist as he called people with a mix of comfort and repentance, honey and vinegar to come back to God. These words have found voice in the words of Handel in the 1740s with the famous music that accompanies the Messiah bringing the encouragement and challenge of being God’s people. These words have
found voice today as we seek the comfort and highway of God in a time in which both God’s comfort and God’s highway seem worlds away.
Isaiah and Mark both announce God’s intention to visit God’s people. Directions are clear that preparations must be under way. God does not say, “Tell the people to get ready and when they have done so, I will come to them.” God says, “Prepare the way! I am coming to my people (whether they are ready or not).” Ready or not, here I come! So, Mark’s Gospel announces that this plan is, once again, about to be fulfilled. John the Baptist is one of God’s agents preparing the way for the Lord to come. He offers a baptism of repentance as a means of “getting ready.” Preparing the way of the Lord is our work to do.
But too often, we feel frozen in fear, losing track of our role and how to contribute to God’s kingdom. It is often that we feel like we are left home alone. We feel as though in a season of family and friends, gathering and celebrating we are by ourselves when it really matters. Sometimes it is physical health or illness that keeps us from fully enjoying the presence of others. Sometimes it is mental health, anguish, or fear of judgment that keeps us contained within our experiences and not engaging with others. Sometimes it is our perceptions and judgments that write off others before they have a chance to weigh in with their own thoughts and actions that keep us removed from the very ones who might share Christ’s presence with us.
Many of our founding fathers and mothers understood God in a particular way. They understood God as one who created and began the world, but like a skilled clockmaker steps back at some point in time and allows humanity and history to unfold, as it has been preset. A God, who is a creator transcendent over all, but not intimately or immanently involved in the personal lives of humanity. This is a compelling response to an understanding that values the presence of God in creation, wisdom of God in development.
But what it misses is the God of Advent, of coming, of presence, and of intimate and personal experience of not being left alone. The God of Advent is coming in our presence. Throughout Advent, we hear the title, Emmanuel, God is with us. The prophets foretold the Christ child by this name and contemporaries described Christ is this way. The presence, the immanence of God, is so important that this is one of the primary ways we understand God. Not just as a God who is transcendent, over all , but a God who is so intimate as to know each of us.
Like the mother in the movie who stops at nothing to reunite with her son, God does not leave us home alone either. Like the neighbor who is always watching and caring for Kevin, even when he believes the motives to be different, God is always prepared to care for us.
We may find ourselves feeling as though we have to rig paint cans to the entryway to get through our challenges. We may find ourselves convinced that if we do not boobie trap the house, it will indeed be taken over and burglarized. But God has not and will not leave us to on our own to let our lives just play out. Let us prepare the way for us to know God’s very presence among, receive God’s son among us, and live as if God’s kingdom was already fully realized here on earth.
This is the Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 40:1-11
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. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 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. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 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. 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; but the word of our God will stand forever. 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!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 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.
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 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. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”