The Second Sunday of Advent 2020
Every valley shall be lifted up,
every mountain and hill made low,
then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together!
Let us hear what God the Lord will speak,
for God will speak peace to the people,
to the faithful who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely salvation is at hand for those who trust God,
that God's glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
and make a path for God's steps.
Isaiah 40:1-5; 9
1Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2Speak 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.
3A voice cries out:
"In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4Every 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.
5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
9Get 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!"
Isaiah / Advent
At some juncture the three sections of the book we call Isaiah got assembled into a single volume. A single individual probably wrote each section; each also contains verses that don't match the rest, so most likely those were written by famous, prolific anonymous.
• First Isaiah, chapters 1 – 39: before the Babylonian exile. This writer sometimes gets called Isaiah of Jerusalem or the historical Isaiah.
• Second Isaiah, chapters 40 – 55: during the Babylonian exile. Chapter 40 opens with today's First Reading, "Comfort ye… every valley" we know from Handel's Messiah. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann observes, "Second Isaiah funded Handel's Messiah."
• Third Isaiah, chapters 56 - 56: back in Jerusalem and Judah after the exile, trying to rebuild physical, community, and religious structures.
Because YouTube videos never are there forever, I've stopped linking to them, but for several years I've loved MIchael Spyres' Comfort Ye-Every Valley. It will be at the top of a search for Michael Spyres Messiah Comfort Ye Every Valley. This performance may be so wonderful because although audio is good, the video gives the impression they'd decided to record spur of the moment. Everything comes across as natural and close to spontaneous—though clearly tenor and orchestra were extremely well-prepared. Preparation and spontaneity feels like a good model for our going into 2021.
Last Sunday Advent began and the church opened wide another new year of grace; I love our starting a new year a month before the official civic one on January 1st. During this Advent season we wait and hope together for God's presence with us in the infant Jesus. Isaiah announces God's arrival (or more accurately God's presence in a way people can see and appreciate because God never had left); God then calls the people (Zion) to announce God no longer being hidden. In exactly the same way, God calls us to proclaim and testify to God's presence in the world today.
The Road Home / COVID-19
Although this short Isaiah passage contains enough substance for a very long book, for starters:
The road second Isaiah sings about is not for the exiles' return home; maybe surprisingly, the highway is for God's journey. During Advent we wait and hope together, whatever unusual cyber-forms togetherness may have assumed this year. This scripture tells us we all will experience God's glory together, too.
It's a street, a path, an avenue, and not a static location with coordinates we can cite. The scripture continues with talk about earth moving and feats of civic engineering: 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. Easier to walk on and drive on than we'd expected or known in the past, probably quicker, too.
Exiles in the culturally and politically strange Babylon wanted to go home, though you may remember Jeremiah telling them to settle down and contribute to Babylon's greater good—the original Bloom Where You Are Planted.
I've asked at least once if this pandemic breakaway from normal is exile (a place and way of being away from a settled place we considered home, like the Israelites'), or sabbath (a period of not working productively while trusting the sufficiency of God's supply for right now), or winter (a however long time that may look inert, but life is preparing to bloom when it's ready and the setting is right).
This Week's Questions
Short list: so far in 2020 we've had pandemic, economic recession, high unemployment, unprecedented wildfires, hurricanes, racial injustice, climate crisis, LARiots2020, disputed presidential election results, COVID-19 surge upon surge…
• Besides not another calamity before the calendar year ends, what do you hope and pray for this Advent 2020? For the entire year 2021?
• Does this seemingly endless and increasingly severe pandemic qualify as exile, sabbath, winter, or something we can't yet name?
• This week brought great news of two highly effective vaccines ready for approval and distribution with a third well on the way. Still others are at an earlier developmental stage. Are you excited about a vaccine? Or maybe not?
• Is home a perspective or a location or is home both/and? Or does it all depend (that's my answer)?
• How would you describe homecoming or home?
• As an individual or within your church, workplace, or other group have you ever gotten an "aha" moment as inspiration from God related to your next move toward a goal you might even consider a type of settled situation or "home"?
• Do you have a particular attachment to your childhood home or homes, the city or town where you grew up, a grandparent's house or a vacation spot you enjoyed as a kid?
• Do you ever go back to your place of roots, desire to go back, or do you consider that chapter thankfully closed?