Worship for Sunday, December 6, 2020

Isaiah 40:1-11

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.”
6A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”  
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.  
7The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.  
8The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.  
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!”  
10See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;  
his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.  
11He 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.  

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

1You have been gracious to your land, O Lord;
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.
2You have forgiven the iniquity of your people
  and blotted out all their sins.
8I will listen to what the Lord God is saying;
for you speak peace to your faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to you.
9Truly, your salvation is very near to those who fear you,
  that your glory may dwell in our land.
10Steadfast love and faithfulness have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11Faithfulness shall spring up from the earth,
  and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12The Lord will indeed grant prosperity,
and our land will yield its increase.
13Righteousness shall go before the Lord
  and shall prepare for God a pathway. Amen.

2 Peter 3:8-15a

8Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
  11Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
  14Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15aand regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 1:1-8

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
  2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, 
who will prepare your way;  
3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,  
make his paths straight,’ 

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And 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. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He 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. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

They say confession is good for the soul so here it goes – I am raising my voice more than usual.  I am allowing more frozen pizza to be consumed by the McFarland sons than I normally do.  I am less patient and more snippy.  I may have announced this week that “the next person who interrupted me while I was clearly and obviously working was not getting fed for the next 12 hours!” 

I am only guessing here – but I would bet I am not the only person who is feeling a bit pressured right now.  Or who is feeling just a wee bit overwhelmed by life these days.

After all – for many of us – it feels like our lives were turned upside down and inside out this spring and it hasn’t calmed down since.  In fact – for many of us – it has only gotten more intense!

Last spring I went from being a pastor and a mom and a wife to being a part-time educator and tutor too.  Now I write sermons and help with 2nd grade social studies.  I write blogs and chat about prepositions and synonyms.  I makes phone calls and help with spelling words and reading.  I write e-mails and send people outside to get fresh air – lots and lots of fresh air! 

Most days I feel like all I do is juggle and make lists and juggle and try not to fail anyone too badly. 

This week – Will’s teacher added a new math computer program to his daily to do list and I felt crushed.  “Oh no!”  I thought “Something else for us to do!”  My first thought wasn’t about how the computer program might benefit Will.  Nope – it was “SERIOUSLY – I don’t have time for THIS!?!?”

There are days when I don’t feel like I have had a complete thought that is all my own until Will’s bedtime.  (And I can tell from the prominent twitch above Jason’s left eye that he is feeling just like I am!)

And now it is December.  Seriously – December!!!

This is Mimi and Papa’s tree. Our tree is still in the basement . . .

In our Gospel reading for this week – John the Baptist’s message to us is all about preparing for Christmas.  John declares that some incredibly important company is arriving really soon and we need to get ready.  He doesn’t want us to get caught unprepared. 

For most of us – this isn’t surprising news.  We all know Christmas is coming.  The countdown to Christmas began weeks ago – right after Halloween.

At our house Will has been making sure we are well aware that the two most important “holidays” of the ENTIRE year will soon be upon us.  Because December contains both Will’s birthday on the 21st and Jesus’ birthday just 4 days later.  (And yes – my youngest son does believe that HIS birthday is an actual holiday!)  Will reminds us of the impending arrival of Christmas (and his 8th birthday) at least 3,000 times each and every single day.  He also reminds his Mimi and Papa and his auntie and uncle and his teacher and I am pretty sure our goldfish knows too!

Christmas is coming.  Each time Will makes one of his sweet countdown to Christmas reminders – it sends a zap of fear through my brain!  I wish it didn’t – but it does.

As I was reading our Bible passage from Isaiah for this week – I underlined the passage “Comfort, O comfort my people says your God. . .” like 8 times and wrote “yes – please!” next to it.  I could really – really use some of that!

It is so very easy to feel overwhelmed this time of year.  We tend to put an absolutely ridiculous amount of pressure on ourselves during December.

We insist on baking 47 kinds of cookies, cakes, pies, cupcakes, and candy all from scratch.  Even though 7 kinds would probably make everyone just as happy or even happier!

We have convinced ourselves that we need to purchase Christmas presents for everyone in our lives.  Even if we can’t afford it.  Even if our credit card bill in January will make us cry!  Even if our kids don’t need more stuff. . .

And then we insist on wrapping these same presents just like the cool lady on Pintrest does.  Even though we end up weeping into our hot cocoa or our bourbon at midnight with tape in our hair – glitter on our teeth and absolutely NO Christmas cheer.

Thankfully when John the Baptist comes to us this week and tells us we need to start getting ready for Christmas – he isn’t talking about wrapping presents or baking cookies.  He doesn’t want us to run the vacuum or to water the Christmas tree.  Rather he wants us to prepare our hearts for the coming of our Savior. 

John the Baptist asks all of us this week – is your heart as ready for Jesus’ arrival as your house is?  Have you spent any time preparing yourself spiritually for Christmas this year?  Or have all of your preparations been focused on presents and cookies and cards?

For most of us these questions cause us to pause and reflect.  Because we know we have spent way more time writing cards, baking cookies, and wrapping presents than we have spent preparing our hearts for Jesus’ arrival. 

It is so very easy to get so wrapped up in our preparations for Christmas that we forget who we are preparing for. 

But the good news is we still have plenty of time to prepare our hearts for Jesus’ arrival.

John the Baptist tells us we only need to do one thing to prepare our hearts and souls for Christmas – and that is repent.  But what is repentance? 

Repentance – isn’t really a word we use all that much in our daily lives.  Well – repentance is about facing up to the truth – that we are all sinners who fail to obey God.  That we sin and make a mess of things. 

Repentance means acknowledging that we clutter our lives with all sorts of stuff that keeps Jesus from being the center of our lives.  Repentance means taking an honest look at your life and admitting you need God’s help – that you need God’s grace and mercy.  Repentance means admitting that we really do need a Savior.  That no matter what we do – we can’t save ourselves.

This is a wonderful time of year.  So bake your favorite cookies – decorate your Christmas trees –and wrap those presents!

But just don’t forget whose birthday you are preparing for!  Don’t forget you are getting ready for Jesus.

Because our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and God’s amazing grace, love, and mercy really are the reason we celebrate this glorious season.  AMEN.

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