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Advent 2B Sermon
Reference to Isaiah 40: 1-11; Mark 1: 1-8
10, 2017


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

What would be good news for you right now, today? As I think about the relationships with people closest to me, I know that some would say things like … You got a leading role in the spring musical … You have landed a really good paying job that’s fun, rewarding and has full benefits … We have discovered a cure for cancer … What about you? What would be good news for you right now, today?

This past week we heard news that President Trump is in process of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and moving the US embassy there as well. To some people, this has been good news. There are certain denominations of Christians who feel that the messiah will not return until Jerusalem is returned to its status as Jewish capital like it was in the time of David, and of Jesus. Many citizens of Israel consider this good news because their biggest, most powerful ally has taken a step in their direction, promising to stand with them against the Arab nations of the Middle East. Indeed, news yesterday even said that it has brought unity to the various political parties of Israel. But many do not see this as good news. Many see it as a move that will undercut the ongoing peace process which is always on shaky ground. Certainly the status of this news – if it is indeed good news or bad news – will be revealed as the events resulting from this news unfold in the days to come. But many who are close to the situation fear the resulting actions of this decision. In an open letter written to President Trump, the leaders of the 13 local Christian churches in Jerusalem – including Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and The Holy Land – share this fear. One paragraph in their letter says the following: Mr. President, we have been following, with concern, the reports about the possibility of changing how the United States understands and deals with the status of Jerusalem. We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division. We ask from you Mr. President to help us all walk towards more love and a definitive peace, which cannot be reached without Jerusalem being for all. We are all called to watch and pray as we hope in Christ that peace and love will win out over hatred and warfare …

Our Gospel reading this morning begins the entire Gospel of Mark with these words, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” This story that will unfold in the next 16 chapters is God’s good news for the world! But just as we were reminded this last week that not all news is good to and for all people, so also this news was not received as good for some in Jesus’ day. In a couple of weeks we will be reminded of Mary’s song when she heard the good news that the son of God would be born to her. The Magnificat is filled with language about how those who are rich or powerful will lose their wealth and status. The hungry will be filled with good things and the rich sent away empty. Good news to those who live in poverty and powerlessness, but not so good news to those who have the money and influence in the world today.
My experience, though, is that God can take even the news that a person thinks is really, really bad, and somehow transform it into really, really good results. News of election results, a new tax plan, people resigning over allegations of sexual misconduct – all examples of news that is at the very least ambiguous, and some is just awful. But as we watch and wait for the coming of Christ in the world, we do so expecting good news will accompany our watchfulness. We are called to expect good tidings, as Isaiah told to the exiles living in Babylon in our first lesson. When Isaiah is called to be a prophet to the people, he at first resists: “What shall I cry? All people are grass, their constancy is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass!” And God responds to Isaiah’s complaints: “The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever!” Then he is told to get up to a high mountain and tell the good news of God’s presence – that God is here, and that the same warrior God who defeated their enemy with the strong arm will take those same arms and gather the sheep into his bosom like a mother sheep. Strong arms are the same as gentle, loving arms. Good news – God is coming to do this, and we can expect it to happen … no matter what the news may be that we hear from Washington, Jerusalem, the doctor’s office or the employment agency.

This past Thursday was the 46th anniversary of the surprise bombing of the US base at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. That was a very dark time for our nation – a day which will live in infamy - infamy means being famous for being very, very bad….evil….dark. There was a lot of uncertainty in our nation during the year that followed as we realized that we were suddenly being thrust into a war with two fronts – the European and Pacific theaters. We were attacked on our own turf…remember what that felt like in September of 2001? It is like having your own home invaded. It is scary.

One year after that invasion, on December 7, 1942, a radio journalist on WOR radio named Gabriel Heatter took to the airwaves to recall how life had changed since America was drawn into the war – the sacrifices of the men and women who served as well as the people who lived under rationing and other changes in their lifestyle on the home front. Then, during a particularly bleak period in the following weeks, American forces sank a Japanese destroyer, which prompted Heatter to take the air for his nightly commentary with these words: "Good evening, everyone---there is good news tonight." The phrase sparked a small flurry of letters and calls, almost all in his favor. It would become the trademark way that he began all of his broadcasts. Some called him overly optimistic – a Pollyanna amidst the evils of war; but to many, he was a voice of hope: “Hello everyone; there is good news tonight.” Gabrielle Heatter, son of Jewish immigrants from Austria, was a prophet in the manner of Isaiah and the Gospel writer, Mark. Even though there was bad news every day of the war and after the war, he prepared people for the light of God in the darkness of the world.

As we continue on our Advent journey, we do so knowing that there is good news for us to hear. Advent is upon us! Jesus is coming! Hope is alive, and all who suffer from the ills and evils of this world, the aches pains of our human bodies, the sins of others around us – and even of our own sins – God is coming to wrap us in his strong arms for comfort and peace. May the peace of the coming Emmanuel, God with us, rest upon us as we hear and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Amen!