New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” 8 Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices; together they shout for joy, for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. 9 Break forth; shout together for joy, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
The group of boys were trudging along, feet dragging and heads down. They were out of water. Their throats were parched, and they were sure they would never survive if they didn’t find water soon. Even when one of them suggested taking a side path to look at whatever might be there, they shook their heads. We can’t do anything else until we find water. Suddenly, one of the group who had gone ahead to look for water came running back.
“I’ve found it! I found water!”
At the news, their feet moved faster, and their heads tilted up so they could see ahead. Finally, they got to the place their friend had found – the water bottle filling station! Until they were able to get water, they were unable to enjoy the rest of their journey. It was the news that water was just up ahead that brightened their spirits and helped their feet to move forward.
We hear good news in many ways. The father runs into the waiting room to the family saying, “It’s a girl!” Although they haven’t seen her yet, the message of her arrival brings joy. The signs of snow like the microscopic flakes I saw this morning, the highway sign that cautioned drivers to be careful driving in wintery conditions because there would be snow in northwest NJ (it was interesting that the signs continued to warn of the wintery conditions even as I drove to church in northeast NJ), and the salt trucks poised to start spreading. The message that snow might be coming that was exciting to me. Christmas morning when the little girl comes to the top of the stairs and looks down at the brightly lit tree with the gifts underneath and says to herself, “I know Santa has come.” She doesn’t know what is in any of those presents yet, but it is the scene below her that brings her joy.
We could all come up with examples of good news, of messages delivered, that bring us expectations of joy. Messengers bringing good news are always welcomed.
The sentries on the ramparts of the walls of Jerusalem were waiting for news from the battlefield. They were anxious – would the news be good or would it be bad. They strained their eyes looking for the runner who would bring the news. Usually, the runner would come quickly if the news was good and not so much if the news was bad.
Then in the distance they saw him, running as fast as he could. They rejoiced knowing that the messenger was bringing good news. Upon hearing the message of victory, they sung the news out loud so all could hear.
Reading the song in Isaiah, we see a few surprises that were part of the message. Not only have they won the war, but God himself is coming to Jerusalem in triumph. God is coming to redeem all the nations and all the earth. “God is coming! Rejoice and be glad! Your God reigns!” the runner says. The victory is God’s alone.
We are looking at the scene, not of the victory itself, but at the very moment the good news is delivered. When the joyous celebration starts at the delivery of the beautiful message of the victory.
The message itself is beautiful. The feet represent the one who brings the good news. The celebration begins when those feet, the messenger shares the news. The king is not yet in view, but the celebration of his arrival starts even before he comes.
We know the king is coming. We know it in our hearts as we hear the message. This is the message of Advent. The king is coming. The promises of God spoken of by the prophets will be fulfilled. Even as we celebrate his first coming at his birth, we look forward to his return. We celebrate because we have heard the message of his arrival and his future return.
We hear that message in the Christmas story. The angel, the messenger from God, that tells Mary she will have God’s Son. The message that Mary sings about as she understands its meaning. The angel that comes to Joseph is his dream with the message that God has great plans and telling him to marry Mary and who the son she will bear would be. The multitude of angels who appear to the shepherds with “Good news of great joy. The savior has been born in Bethlehem.” What do the shepherds do? They celebrate the message. They leave the sheep and run to Bethlehem. The message brought them joy and spurred them to action.
The message that we hear throughout Advent and at Christmas is that the king, the savior has come, but he is still coming. Christ is coming back. We won’t be left in this place of wondering what will be next. Christ has come. Christ is coming again.
This message leaves us in a bit of a quandary. If Christ has already come and we have no idea when he will return, how are we to live today? The gospel of Mark tells us that, with Jesus’ arrival, the kingdom is at hand. We know that the kingdom has come, and that the kingdom is coming, so where do we fit in?
We are living in the kingdom now, in the way of Christ even though that is not our everyday experience. We will live in the glorious kingdom that is to come. That time when the earth is made new, and the heavens and earth become one. The time when we will be in God’s presence for eternity. The joy we have is in the message that we get to live in God’s kingdom today and will experience fully that kingdom in the future.
Let’s pause for a moment. Do we really think that the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, his victory over evil, mean that rulers today are deprived of their power or that the ultimate victory has already been won? The world is still the world. Jesus has conquered evil in his death, but the darkness still lives.
The world we live in is hurting. Sin still reigns. Our day-to-day view brings sadness and grief. The poor are still the poor. The rich are still the rich. Rarely do these two meet, the rich helping the poor. Justice is denied to many. The lonely are ignored and the dying die alone. Families abandon members who are difficult to deal with or are too needy to manage. If Christ has come, why isn’t the world different than it is?
A really good question. It is the question we are asked to ponder in Advent. Why is it we are living here in this messy world, this kingdom today, when the kingdom we really want to live in is the one that is coming? This is where the foundation of hope enters into the picture. The foundation that can never be shaken. The foundation of God’s hope that has been strengthened by Christ’s coming as the baby born in Bethlehem. Jesus’ life and example of how to live in these days – caring for people, offering compassion, teaching others about him, and sharing the good news, the good news that “Our God reigns!” We are to be those messengers with the beautiful feet bringing that wonderful message to the people.
Will the message always be heard and take root in a person’s life? Not always. But the seeds are planted in what we say and do. As we know, we have little to do with making those seeds grow. We can water, fertilize, weed, and deadhead the flowers, but only God can make the seeds grow. The seeds in people grow as the Spirit works within them.
Living in the world today, we build on the foundation of hope. The one that gives the message that there is more possible and more to come than we see. We are challenged to lift our eyes up to the mountain and to scan the horizon for that messenger who is coming. To be the sentinels on the ramparts who joyfully share the message we hear with others. We know the king who has come and the king who is coming so we can sing and celebrate the good news.
Mary’s words in the Magnificat that we read are words of joy. She is rejoicing at what God has already done. The wondrous acts and the way God has fulfilled his promises. The way that God has treated her. And in and amongst the words are subtle hints of what God is going to do.
God is still at work friends. God hasn’t given up hope for us and never will. God continues to offer peace and love and joy.
We live in a time of balance. We are always balancing hope and hopelessness. Walking that fine line between the two trying to bring the hope to bear on the hopeless. We live in a world between grime and glory. If we focus on the grime, we might miss the glory of what God is doing in the moment. God is always at work in the moment.
We live in that place of already and not yet. Christ has already come, and Christ is still to come. As we know from the scriptures, we are those who are called to live expecting that he could arrive at any moment.
The joy we experience in this Advent season. We have received the message, a message of expectation. Like the child waiting to hear the reindeer hooves and jingle bells on the rooftop. And like the view from the top of the stairs of the glistening Christmas tree with the presents underneath.
The message we have already received is that the king is returning. We have heard the message of “Good news of great joy!” Christ has come and Christ will return.