“The Arrival” on Isaiah 40:1-4, 9-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8 by Joe Ellis — December 10 , 2023
Our God is a God of perpetual, emerging Arrival. In fact, Scripture is a catalogue of God’s perpetual Arrival. We just heard four passages announcing God’s Arrivals. Isaiah leads out with God’s saying: “Comfort, Comfort my people, prepare in in the wilderness a way for the Lord. Shout without fear, say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God.” These are Words spoken to refugees from Israel who were estranged from their God, who had been forced out of their homeland on account of that estrangement. This announcement would have been like a soothing balm for a scorched soul. “Comfort my people” is spoken to a people who had broken faith, walked away from their God, and found themselves cast out of their homes to settle in the foreign land of Babylon. Now the Lord is Arriving, He is taking His refugees back home.
The passage we heard form the Gospel of Mark is also a Word of Arrival. He rekindles those words from Isaiah, saying: “A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.” John the Baptist opens the scene. His main job is to get the people ready for the Arrival: “Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptized you with the Holy Spirit.” In other words, “People get ready. God’s Arrival is imminent”.
And then there’s Peter — who also speaks of God’s Arrival. His letter was written many decades after God’s incarnate Arrival in Jesus. The letter was written so many years after Peter walked with Jesus. It was many years after Peter had seen Jesus change water to wine, saw Him walk on water. Peter was writing after that mystical experience he had with Jesus on the mountain top, years after he betrayed Jesus who was wearing a crown of thorns, years after Peter walked into the empty tomb, years after Jesus said, “Feed my sheep” and later said goodbye to Peter as Jesus was taken into the clouds in heaven. Several decades passed, and Peter is still feeding the sheep, those who were feeling like it was a long time of waiting for an Arrival. Of course, the Spirit had been arriving in powerful ways ever since the ascension, but Peter’s church was wondering about the Big Arrival. It’s what we call The Second Coming. They wanted Jesus’ return. They wanted the arrival of New Heaven and New Earth. The Arrival that would make all things in new. The Arrival where the old shabby order of things would pass away — the destruction of pain, death, decay, dying, fragility, entropy, sin, war, abuse, or cancer. And in their place, the Arrival of peace, holiness, joy, mercy, faithfulness and love; the everlasting Kingdom of God.
Like kids on a road trip we ask, “How long till we get there?” Like an expectant couple waiting for labour to begin they say, “We feel as though labour will never come.” Peter is a friend to us here — he assures us that this Arrival shall come and that it shall come ‘soon’ — and he gently reminds us that God’s relationship to time is not the same as our own.
Yes, the Scripture passages we heard this morning are full of talk of God’s Arrivals. God’s Arrival promised by Isaiah to a handful of refugees in Babylon, a promise that God would bring them home, and make His home among them. We heard in Mark the stunning announcement of this homecoming Isaiah had talked about. Mark grips our shoulders and cries out — ‘It's happening now!’ And we heard from Peter, of a third Arrival — a Grand Arrival, the promise of an Arrival in which Jesus would bring with Him the New Heaven and New Earth.
And here we are. Living somewhere between the bookends of these massive stories of Arrival. Between the Arrival of Jesus on Earth, and His longed for Arrival — His Second Coming. What do you think? Do you ever feel like this in-between time is marked by a whole lot of not arriving? Do you ever feel like living in-between Jesus’ first coming and His return is a whole lot of non-Arrival going on?
But what about the reality that Father, Son and Spirit is a God of perpetual, emerging Arrival. In between the first coming and the second coming, God is still perpetually arriving into our lives. But us moderns can sometimes suffer from a malnourished imagination around what God’s Arrival may look like. Sometimes we even stop believing that Arrivals happen. We might be in a perpetual state of forgetfulness that He has Arrived in our lives in significant ways. We’re in good company — that was one of the problems that Peter’s congregation was wrestling with — Loss of imagination for God’s Arrival.
But, there is an easy way out of this problem because God never stops arriving — So we just need to remember how God Arrives. After all, faithful lovers of Jesus for the past two thousand years have been telling new stories of God’s Arrival into their lives. There are so many stories of Arrival, and the wondrous thing is that these stories of God’s Arrival, stories that have been told about the lives of famous saints… well these same stories of Arrival have also taken place in our own lives as well!
I know of a person in this congregation who experienced God’s Arrival when they heard a passage of Scripture. That person profoundly felt God speaking to them about where specifically they were called to go. Sort of like how in the third century St. Antony of Egypt heard Jesus words as though spoken right to him when the Gospel was read, and it changed the course of his life.
I know of other people in this congregation who prayed similar prayers to St. Monica in the fourth century. Monica was Augustine’s mom. Augustine didn’t know or love Jesus for a bi part of his life. Monica prayed for her son, and God answered her prayers. Augustine developed a deep love for Jesus. I know many in this congregation who have seen their prayers answered in similar ways.
I know of another one in this congregation, who experienced God’s Arrival with great comfort and assurance during a time when their own body was failing. God spoke to them in that physical weakness, sort of like how God arrived to a fourteenth Century woman named Julian of Norwich. She became deathly ill, and Christ appeared to her.
I know of a very little one in this congregation, who saw a passageway open up into heaven — in a way maybe similar to God arrived to Catherine of Sienna in the 15th Century. St. Catherine was only six years old when she had a vision of Christ in heaven. Yes, He even arrives to the little ones.
I know of another who experienced God’s Arrival not unlike John Calvin, who experienced so deeply God’s presence through sustained and disciplined study of Scripture.
I know of another one, who at a prayer meeting experienced God’s Arrival not unlike John Wesley did in the 18th Century. He was at a prayer meeting and felt his heart ‘strangely warmed’. This person also experienced wonderful waves of peace.
I know of another who experienced God’s Arrival like Father Greg Boyd who told a story of being led up a mountain by a stranger to be ministered to deeply by a native up there. The friend in our congregation was in a foreign land, was led mysteriously by a child at night into a strange house and was there introduced to Jesus.
I know of another who experiences God like Bede Griffith. After class one day, Bede experienced the most profound encounter with God in creation. Similarly, our friend experiences times being drawn into the beauty of God in His creation.
I’m being pretty vague because these aren’t all my stories to tell. As Gerard Manley Hopkins said, “Christ plays in 10,000 places”, and that is no less true for our congregation.
Yet no doubt, talking about the Arrival of God can also create a sense of longing. A longing for Him to arrive now, to make himself known. Of course, if you are waiting for Him to arrive, that does not mean there is something wrong with you. This is just the normal course of events. What comes before the experience of His Arrival is longing for His Arrival. If you are longing for His Arrival, you’re in a good place.
So, what do we do when we are waiting for His Arrival? Every Christmas we sing what is perhaps my favourite carol: ‘Joy to the World.’ And in that song, we sing over and over: “Let every heart prepared Him room.” I think that’s a pretty good instruction for what we do as we wait for His Arrival. We prepare Him room. We prepare our hearts to be a home for our Divine Guest.
Prepare Him room: that’s what is spoken of in all these passages. Isaiah says, “Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord.” We hear this Word about preparation again in Mark’s Gospel: “Prepare a way for the Lord.” To help with this, John the Baptist comes on scene. His role is to help people prepare God’s Arrival in Jesus. They are preparing for His coming through baptism. Baptism was a symbolic action of drowning their old way of life, and emerging into the new life that God is leading them to. Baptism is sort of an outward sign for the inward way the people were preparing their hearts for God’s Arrival.
In His letter, Peter also is calling His people to prepare their hearts for God’s Arrival. He is writing to a people after some terrible teachers who had come among them. These teachers were leading them to expect no Arrival. None. No expectation of a second coming, which resulted in no preparation. This looked like a congregation whose hearts were closed off to God’s Arrival. They made a practice of not ‘preparing Him room.’ They did not cultivate hospitality in their hearts to welcome the Spirit of God. Peter pleads for His friends to remember that He is coming, and we must prepare a place for Him. Peter invites his friends to trust that God will Arrive and is Arriving. So he invites his friends to prepare their hearts for His Arrival. He says, “You should be living holy and saintly lives while you wait and long for the Day of God to come and speed its coming.” And again he says, “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to (His Arrival), make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him.”
This is true for the big second coming, and for the small ways that God enters our day by day lives. Our God is a God of perpetual, emerging Arrival. When we expect Him to always be arriving, as He does, then it makes more sense to prepare our hearts to welcome Him. So as we wait, how might you prepare your heart to be hospitable for Him at His Arrival? How might the Spirit be calling you to prepare Him room? For some it might be cultivating some devotional practices, that for a little time each day, sends out the message, “You are welcome here.” Sort of like leaving the porch light on for a long expected visitor. For others, it might look like cleaning house, like taking to the dump some things lying around that your Holy Guest might not experience as especially welcoming. For others, it might be simply resting, trusting that He will arrive when He arrives and when He does you will experience His total and complete love for you, no matter how disorganized your house is.
How is the Spirit of God inviting you to prepare for His Arrival? Will you join me, in extending an invitation for His Arrival?