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This Week's Sermon !

December 6, 2020 - Advent 2!

Isaiah 40: 1-11
Psalm 85
Mark 1: 1-8

Road-building in Pandemic Times

If there is one message we all really, really, really want to hear this year it is the one that says, “It’s over, we can go back to normal; social distancing and mask wearing and frequent hand sanitizing is part of a past we can now forget!

Wouldn’t that be great!

The prophet Isaiah, in words often better known from The Messiah, by George Frideric Handel, than they are from the scriptures themselves, speaks of comfort coming to a people in distress. Destroyed roads will be restored and their world, and their lives, will be great again! What hope those words must have given to a despairing people, in exile after having been invaded by a powerful enemy bent on world domination.

Often, Chritians look to these words of Isaiah and see Jesus of Nazareth. They (maybe we) say, “look he’s talking about Jesus”. But we must remember that they had to wait about 500 years for the babe of Bethlehem! That’s a real marathon!!!! The comfort of which Isaiah spoke was likely much more immediate and closer at hand.

Yet Isaiah proclaims this as Good News! By God’s grace, leaders arise and lead the people from despair to hopefulness, from darkness to light. Isaiah was speaking to a people in exile, and was speaking of a hope that would come to pass far sooner than 500 years in the future!

Just imagine - in 500 years the leader of the World Health Organization announces that COVID is over, herd immunity has been reached and COVID is only a bad memory. Our governments remove all pandemic related restrictions’ oops, it would the governments of our descendants. Our descendants would not have a clue how to live according to the norms we thought, well normal, until this March!

We’ve all heard, and probably used, the expression, “what a difference a day makes!” Things can change in the blink of an eye: someone is killed in a car accident, or dies suddenly, or loses a job, or an unforseen event changes the plans of many.

COVID came upon us fairly quickly. Although I was involved on the periphery of pandemic planning at a long term care facility about 20 years ago, it’s hard to be on “high alert” for that many years! I began to think that the health experts had been wrong; in the 21st century a world-wide pandemic similar to the 1919 Spanish Flu was very un-likely. Then China started to build hospitals - from start to finish in record time! We all know that last year at this time last year experts were beginning to worry that this virus would hop on a plane and circle the globe. AND IT DID! It has affected everything we do outside our home since March.

World-wide, governments were left scrambling. How to contain it? How to treat the number of patients who would contract it? Could a vaccine be developed? Many countries are at the mercy of multinational drug companies whose first ain is profit rather than the public good.

I don’t have to list all the disruptions to our lives that have come about because various, every-day, activities have been deemed unsafe. We know them all too well.

This passage from the book of Isaiah employs the images and activity of road-building to convey the message of the changes that must happen in order for the one who has the good news to come to them.

Tourism is big business in many parts of Canada. People come here for the fishing and other outdoor pursuits and to relax at their cottages. People flock to PEI for the beaches, fresh lobster and the Charlottetown Festival. I There is a joke about the seasons in PEI - it goes something like this: How many seasons are there in PEI. Answer: 2- “Winter and construction”.

I don’t know much about these things here in Saskatchewan, but in PEI it seems that every year, during the height of tourist season, there are slowdowns and lineups on highways and roads everywhere. It seems that just about everyone gets caught in construction - and frequently! The red soil is unique but I would rather see it in a plowed field than stretching ahead of me on what should be an smooth asphalt strip with a yellow line in the middle! You can repair roads in other seasons but its impossible to build one in the spring rains or the cold of winter!

I recall the sewer and water line upgrading project in the town where I used to live. Founded in 1895, this town had water and sewer lines had been there since day 1! One of the first streets to be done was the one that went by my subdivision. There was no other way to get there either, unless you had your own helicopter. The holes they dug in the morning had to be filled in at night - and it took months and months. The next year they moved to another street.

There is a community on a heavily travelled road in PEI that is known for its hills. Finally, they undertook a major project to fill in the valleys and cut down the hills - on the road surface. Some people did not want to love, so now, their houses are high above the road with massive retaining walls preventing them from “slip sliding away!” Kiat cost a few zillion dollars but it makes travelling through the community a much more pleasant experience, especially when its icy!

I gather that such road preparation was common in the ancient world when a some sort of dignitary would be due to come by. Years ago the Roman Catholic Ponitff visited a poor South American village and the government had municipal water installed just before his tour, but only in the places he visited. We want things to “look good” for the people of influence.

But we also want them to more than “look good”; we want them to “be good”. We want them to meet the needs of people and to enable connection and transportation and physical means of communication.

As a people of faith, the COVID pandemic has left us all wondering what church is about, back when we could not gather at all and now when our numbers are limited as well as our activities. You can connect from home where I can’t see you at all, or you can come here and wear masks - and I can’t tell if you are smiling or not and we can’t share a cookie or a cup of coffee - or a hug and visiting in people’s homes is discouraged or off limits. We ask the same question over and over again, “how are we to be Christian Community when we can’t break bread together?”

Some independent churches have rebelled against government restrictions on their activities and have gone as far as opening their doors to anyone who wants to come, in any numbers and without any restrictions. They stage rallies which break all the rules and advocate for freedom of religion. In some cases this has resulted in fines and in others, increased the spread of COVID.

Yet, the churches who are following the rules are still frustrated. Whether they are open or not, all churches have to take a second or third look at everything through the COVID lens. Planning for Christmas Eve has been no exception! How do we proclaim the good news of Jesus in these times!

To all the frustrated church goers, Dr Bonnie Henry, the BC medical officer has said: "Faith is not a building, It is not about Sunday mornings, it is about every day. It's not about rights, it's about community."

The question for us is: do we still believe the Good News that God comes to us with liberation and life? If so how do we convey this safely in this pandemic time.

Over the past year I wondered how our parents and grandparents managed during the various epidemics when they had no internet, no telephones, and even no electricity to facilitate the communications and kinds of connection we take for granted. And vaccines were not invented yet!

I know the Pastoral Care Committee is hard at work (and looking for more help) connecting with people (mostly by phone), expressing caring, building virtual roads over which to communicate the good news. I am assured that knowing you aren’t forgotten is a tremendous lift for many people.

We are a people of Good News. The people in Exile in Babylon were asked to look toward a brighter future in which they would be able to celebrate their relationship with their God in safety and in freedom. They were to look for the ways in which roads were being built. They were to look to the messengers who were speaking good news and pointing out to the people signs of God’s presence.

Comfort. Comfort my people. God will always come and be present.


1995- 2020 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

For some good stuff go to:
journeywithjesus.net-a weekly webzine for the global church

The United Church has a great online bookstore and here is the link. If you live in Canada they will even send you a book display for your event and people who dont get to see that many books at once can have a ball!

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