Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
and put on for ever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;
put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
for God will show your splendour everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name,
‘Righteous Peace, Godly Glory’.
Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
look towards the east,
and see your children gathered from west and east
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that God has remembered them.
For they went out from you on foot,
led away by their enemies;
but God will bring them back to you,
carried in glory, as on a royal throne.
For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low
and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,
so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.
The woods and every fragrant tree
have shaded Israel at God’s command.
For God will lead Israel with joy,
in the light of God’s glory,
with the mercy and righteousness that come from the Holy One.
“Blessed be the God of Israel, who has looked favourably on God’s people and redeemed them. God has raised up a mighty saviour for us in the house of God’s servant David, as God spoke through the mouth of the holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus God has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered the holy covenant, the oath that God swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before the Holy One all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Holy One to prepare the way, to give knowledge of salvation to God’s people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Will you pray with me? God of peace and joy, show us your more perfect way. We are stumbling and lost—show us the path of peace that leads to the stable where we will find Jesus. Guide us on that road so that we may find him. In all your names, amen.
We don’t often read from the book of Baruch. It’s not in the Protestant Bible—the church reformers of the 15th century thought it didn’t really belong in the Bible—but it is in the Catholic Bible and you will find it in study Bibles, in what is called The Apocrypha, between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Baruch was a student of Jeremiah, but he sounds very different from his teacher. Jeremiah is angry, vengeful, scolding. Baruch—his name means “blessed” – on the other hand, speaks of hope and peace and joy.
All the uneven places of the road to Jerusalem will be smoothed out—it will be easy to get to the blessed place. God will bring peace and hope and joy and harmony to God’s people. It echoes the lines from Isaiah that we often hear at Advent—“every valley shall be lifted up and the rough places made plain, a highway for our God.”
We talked a bit last week about preparing—and here we are again. When someone special is coming for dinner, what do we do? We clean the house, we put clean towels in the washroom, we pick up the clutter in the living room, we make a special meal. Does anyone know For Better or Worse? Great comic strip, set in Canada, actually, written by Lynn Johnston. Over the years, she’s covered a lot of great topics, some of them painful or difficult—child abuse, the death of a family pet, late pregnancy, coming out, Alzheimer’s, and more. One of her more light-hearted strips shows a mom walking through the house, horrified at the mess—clothes all over the living room, toys on the kitchen floor, a sink-full of dirty dishes, piles of laundry…and she picks up the phone and starts dialling. “Who are you calling, Mom?” asks her young daughter. “Someone special for dinner,” she answers. Sometimes it takes that extra push to get us to clean up, to prepare.
Our reading from Luke today is about John the Baptist—he is the one who is to prepare the way for the Holy One, for Jesus. Much was made of this point in the early church, and we aren’t sure why now—but John says to Jesus, “I must decrease that you may increase,” and the logic of the early church put John’s feast day exactly opposite Christmas in the calendar, on June 25. But the point is that John is to prepare the way—to get people, the world, society---ready for God’s coming among them as the Christ, the anointed one, Jesus. That’s his job.
And, my friends, it’s our job, too. We are to be preparing for Jesus’ coming among us, both as a child at Christmas, and in glory, at that time that only God knows for sure. Christmas is a remembrance of his coming among us as a human being, as a tiny child, to grow and live as one of us, to know what it is like to be a human being, to experience the love and joy and terror and pain and sorrow and hope of being human. It’s a time to celebrate because God’s own child will be here, among us, present with us. That’s a very special guest indeed.
And what is it that Jesus is to bring? Baruch and Luke both speak of peace, of harmony. The Hebrew word “shalom” which is used here, means peace, yes—but so much more. It means a working together, a partnership, a mutual support network, lifting each other up, without jealousy or spite. It means having a secure foundation of trust in others, based on a knowledge of God’s love and care for each one of us, so that we know there is plenty for everyone, and we share that plenty—whether it is finances, time, service, love—with those who need what we have to give.
Now, that sounds a lot like an intimate relationship—that partnership of mutual care and support and trust and caring. Think about your relationships—with partners, family members, friends, co-workers. The best were and are the ones with that basis of trust and care and mutuality. They weren’t concerned about who spent more on Christmas gifts for the other—but whether the gift was needed and wanted and meaningful. They weren’t worried about who got to choose where to go to dinner most of the time—but whether the meal was good. They weren’t worried about who did more house work—but that each person did what they were best at.
However, we all also know that relationships take a lot of work—conversation, trust, sometimes some pain, trying this and that to see what works. It’s a balancing act, right? So if it is this difficult and tricky one-on-one, with people we know and love—our parents, siblings, partners, best friends—it’s no wonder that groups of people often can’t get along!
But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done. And this is our work of preparing. This is what Charles Dickens, that ultimate Christmas story writer, emphasised in his stories like The Christmas Carol and The Chimes—we don’t live for only ourselves, but for others, in mutual support and caring. When we care for others, when we offer them what we have—whatever it might be, however small it might seem—we are clearing the path, the way, for Jesus’ coming among us.
As we decorate our homes, as we cook and clean and bake and shop for gifts, let’s remember what we are really preparing for—the arrival of the most special guest of all—Jesus Christ, child of God.
In all God’s many names, amen.