Isaiah evokes a God of comfort against the rugged landscape of mountains, valleys and deserts. He concludes with the comforting image of a shepherd. John the Baptist, on the other hand, brings not tidings of comfort and joy, but of reform. Matthew and Luke recount his stern upbraiding of those who came to seek baptism from him. Comfort and conversion are the two sides of the religion coin. In his epistle, Peter preaches a fire-and-brimstone sermon with the world turned upside down, presaging a “new heavens and new earth . . . where the justice of God will reside.” Such is the theme of “Canticle of the Turning,” our offertory hymn, which is patterned after the Magnificat, next week’s psalm response. Justice is very much the Advent theme this year, personified in John the Baptist and in Mary.
We enter and leave worship with John’s mantra, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” in James Moore’s setting, with verses from today’s Isaiah passage. The same thought is echoed in “Days of Elijah,” our 10:00 offertory, which cites some of the prophets we will hear about on our way to Christmas. Psalm 85 recalls Pope Paul VI’s dictum: “If you want peace, work for justice.” Our communion song “Like A Shepherd,” is also drawn from Isaiah.