Tag Archives: Isaiah

Strengthen the weak hands…

Isaiah 35.1–10


To spend time in Advent in the company of the prophets is to open ourselves up to the great and costly truth that the world is God’s and can be lived in peaceably and joyfully only by people who know who they are and whose they are. In that sense, we are all called to be prophets, in that we point to the bigger narrative of which we are a part; we point towards the action of God in Jesus Christ, and prepare ourselves to live in the world that God has made. — Jane Williams, The Art of Advent, Day 8


In some Advent traditions, today is Gaudete Sunday, Joyful Sunday. It comes from an old tradition of Advent as a time of repentance leading up to the celebration of Christmas. At one time, Advent was a time to think on the ‘Four Last Things’: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. For some, Advent is still a time of fasting, like Lent. 

So the Third Sunday of Advent became a little break from the focus on the Four Last Things, a time to focus on joy. One sign of that can be a pink candle, though ours is still purple. (One thing I’ve decided: God is less concerned with the colours we use that almost anything else. The colours are for our benefit, not for God’s.) 

Giving you this potted history helps to understand why the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent direct us to joy. Isaiah 35 begins,

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.

I wish that were the case right now in Australia. Instead, the land burns and is laid waste, and the powers that be do anything except address the issue. Perhaps true joy, deep joy, comes once hardship is faced and lives changed so that we can feel a worthwhile, lasting joy—along with peace and hope and love, the Advent themes that we are more familiar with. 

Perhaps there’s no joy until we face the pain of our land, which goes beyond those unprecedented fires. This pain includes the frontier wars that decimated the first peoples, who today are still not recognised as they should be. This pain is a result of greed, which means that water is not allocated properly. 

Pain runs deep in our country, and it will not be patched over. Until the roots of its pain are addressed, we shall not know true joy. 

Advent is about looking for Jesus as he comes to us; does he come to us in painful times? Is he ‘Emmanuel, God with us’ through those times? 

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From doubting to waiting — Advent 3A (15 December 2013)

Isaiah 35.1–10
Matthew 11.2–1


Poor John the Baptist. He’s been on an amazing ride for a few years, baptising crowds of people by the Jordan River and witnessing a religious revival. It gave him the confidence to confront King Herod about his adultery—and got him thrown into jail.

One of the highlights of John’s mission was seeing Jesus of Nazareth come into his own. It seemed that Jesus may be the one they had come to hope for, the deliverer, the Messiah, the coming one. But now he was in jail.

There, he has time. Lots of time. Time to think, to reflect, to ponder. Time to wonder if he is on the right track or not.

It must be hard to stay confident when you’re imprisoned, your future uncertain, and there’s nothing much happening on the outside.

John wants to hear that things are happening on the outside. He has begun to doubt what he had proclaimed, which was:

the kingdom of heaven has come near.

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Passion/Palm Sunday (Year A, 17 April 2011)

Jesus: emptied of ‘all but love’

Isaiah 50.4-9a
Philippians 2.5-11
Matthew 21.1-11

 Last week, we sang that wonderful hymn, And can it be. Recall these amazing words from verse 3:

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.

Jesus ‘emptied himself of all but love’. As I’m saying these words, some of you will be hearing the tune in your heads.

Scholars think that the passage from Philippians we read today was originally a hymn, so the Philippians may have also heard the tune in their heads when Paul wrote these words:

Christ Jesus…emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

We have no idea of the tune today; it would sound like a kind of chant to our ears rather than a song. I’m sure it sounded nothing like the tune to And can it be, but the words certainly inspired Charles Wesley.

He left his Father’s throne above…
emptied himself of all but love…

That summarises the first half of Paul’s words very well indeed.

Paul isn’t trying to give us a stand-alone theological explication of the ‘being’ of Jesus. He has a very practical reason for speaking of the ‘self-emptying’ of Jesus. Let’s look at why Paul introduces this hymn. He says,

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

So the ‘mind’ of Christ Jesus is a mind that has something to do with being emptied for others.

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Second Sunday in Advent (Year A, 5 December 2010)

Confronted, converted, consoled

Isaiah 11.1-10
Matthew 3.1-12

The spiritual writer Richard Rohr says this in his series Preparing for Christmas:

‘The Word of God confronts, converts, and consoles us—in that order.’

I’d like us to think about our preparation for the coming of Jesus into our lives and into our world with those words in mind:

The Word of God confronts, converts, and consoles us—in that order.

The Word of God confronts us:

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t like to have John the Baptist as a neighbour. I reckon he’d be an argumentative old… thing. If you invited him for a barbecue, he’d insist on bringing his own locusts to chuck on the barbie rather than have snags and kangaroo steaks. And he’d want to talk about the state of my soul all the time.

He’d be a confronting neighbour. He’d always be telling me to repent of this and that and the other thing.

I’d get annoyed at his continual going on and on. After all, I’m a minister of the Word. I’ve got a PhD in theology. I work full-time for God! Surely I’m ok?

And John, for the last time, I don’t want a piece of barbecued locust! I don’t care if it does have your special wild honey marinade! I just don’t want to eat locust!

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Servant Leader

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 42.1-7 & 49.1-9

‘Ich dien.’ This is the motto of the Prince of Wales, currently of course, Prince Charles—Ich dien, ‘I serve’. I worked some years ago now at the Prince Charles Hospital; its motto is taken from the Prince of Wales: it is, ‘We serve’.

I remember a conversation with a member of staff way back then, over 25 years ago now. He said he hated the hospital’s motto. ‘I am no one’s servant!’ he said. I was taken aback by the violent tone of his words, spoken as they were over a cup of tea and a biscuit in the morning tea room.          

Though I have often failed to put it into practice, I loved the motto. I’m sure that it was inspired by the words of Jesus: ‘Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant’ (Matthew 20.26).

Who wants to be a servant? Not I, not in myself—it’s not something I would ever have thought up for myself. As a child, when I wondered about what I’d do when I was grown up, ‘servant’ was not at the top of the list. I can understand where that man was coming from, the one who hated the motto of the Prince Charles Hospital, We serve. And yet now I am a minister—and ‘minister’ simply means ‘servant’. A ‘minister of the Word’ is a servant of Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh.

Yet it’s not just me. That call to serve is extended to all Christians. To each and every one. Our very baptism is a sign of our being ‘in Christ’, in the one whose life and death was characterised and stamped by service to others and to God. Jesus Christ was the servant of God. We follow the Servant.

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