December 5, 1999
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran with a special Realaudio clip in the sermon text
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Scripture Readings

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. (NRSV)


 Mark 1:1-8     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." (NRSV)

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There have been several articles in the newspaper recently about the difficulties faced by Jews, Muslims, and people of faiths other than Christianity during this season when we are so soaked in Christmas.  Christmas overwhelms everything.  It dominates the commercial and cultural life of the country.  It’s not hard to appreciate how someone who is not a Christian could be made to feel like an outsider during this onslaught.

 And even the observant Christian might feel dizzied by this whirlwind of Yuletide cheer.  After all, the twelve days of Christmas has not yet begun.  We are only into the second week of trying to observe the season of Advent.  And the tone and mood of Advent are quite different from Christmas and easily overwhelmed, lost, and forgotten in the joyful music and bright lights.

 Advent is a season of quiet and darkness.  The background of Advent is the darkness of night and the foreground a simple candlelight.  The light seems small against the backdrop, but it shines all the more brightly for the contrast.  It may be a single light, but it shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot put it out

 The darkness of the background is the story of a people, a story established over 2000 years, the life story of the children of Abraham, the people of Israel.  Let me give you the two minute version:

 In 2000 BC -Abraham begins as a wanderer, called by God to leave his homeland and travel to a new place that God will give him and his descendents. Abraham, his son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob grow in wealth and prosperity, but Jacob’s sons sell their brother Joseph into slavery.

 Joseph ends up in Egypt and prospers there, bringing his whole family to him and saving them from starvation.

 But eventually their status as outsiders sours on the Egyptians, and they are forced into hard labor and once again enslaved.

 In 1400 BC - Moses leads the people out of slavery and in a few generations David comes along and builds up a great kingdom.

 In 900 BC -The David’s grandsons split the Kingdom and their heirs follow false gods. 

 In 721 BC - the Assyrians plunder the north, and

In 587 BC - the Babylonians plunder south; the leadership and educated people are deported to labor camps far from home.  

 When Persia comes to power,  the Israelites are allowed to return and they rebuild Jerusalem.

 Two hundred years later Alexander the Great conquers the area and after his death the region is fractured again among warring parties, and new rulers desecrate the temple and force the people to renounce their faith.

 In 167 BC  - Judas Maccabeus leads a revolt and wins freedom for the Israelites.  The temple is rededicated.

 In 63 BC Jewish leadership becomes corrupt and civil war breaks out.   The power of the Roman army is engaged by one side against the other, but, in fact, the Romans use this opportunity to take control over the entire region.

 In 37 BC - The people are once again under foreign oppression as the Roman puppet Herod becomes king of Judea.

 So that’s the story: the children of Abraham had been wanderers, refugees, captives, exiles, and now were betrayed, sold out, oppressed, and displaced in their own homeland. 

 This is the background of Advent, this story of displaced persons, of people whose lives are overshadowed by the darkness of loss, fear, and suffering.

 It is clearly a story that transcends time, place and a particular people.    People can be displaced by many factors, the shadow of darkness comes in many forms.

 Look at the world today.  People are displaced by war, ethnic cleansing, deportation, ecological disaster and dislocation.

 They might not even have to physically move from one place to another but can be spiritually and emotionally displaced in the familiar surroundings of their own home by a loss or crisis

 the break up of marriage

a child leaving home




 All these factors can put people into personal exile, under the shadow of death, into a land of deep darkness.

 This is the land of Advent; this is the mood of the season, the dark background against which a single light will shine.

 Perhaps some are in this land right now.  Some lives are in a season of Advent, a time of darkness.  Perhaps for others a corner has been turned and they are emerging just now from darkness into a dawning of light.  And perhaps for still others the darkness is a distant memory, one just as soon forgotten. 

 Whatever is the case for you, for a moment I’d like to request that you enter into the mood of this season and listen with me for the word of the Lord.  What is the word God speaks to us in this land, in our hour of need.  What is the message God sends forth to us in this season.

 If you can, I’d like to invite you to close your eyes for a minute and get in touch with the realities and memories that fit the mood of Advent.  Just close those eyelids and block out the light and sit quietly in the darkness of your own awareness and listen with me for the word God wants us to hear.  Listen for a distant voice in the darkness. Realaudio Link - Comfort

 Isaiah 40:1-11     Comfort, O comfort my people,

        says your God.

 For generations people had imagined the power of God’s righteousness, of God’s judgment, of God’s wrath.  But where they fell short was in their capacity to imagine God’s mercy and comfort.   And so God brought them that message personally.  That is the light that shines in the darkness.

 Jesus Christ is God’s word of comfort; Christ reveals the height and breadth and depth of God’s mercy.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

 Let us celebrate this day together a remembrance of God’s mercy, let us recall the sacrifice God has made to be for us a light in the darkness, let us hear again and anew the word of God’s comfort and saving grace as we participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

 For our gathering around this table is a token of comfort and of hope,

a promise made at the cost of a life

that the exile will end,

that the refugee will return,

that the wounds will be bound up and healed,

the losses restored and all love renewed.

 Comfort, O comfort my people says your God.

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