Promises for the Advent season

Undated handout photo of the Rev David Clarke, elected Wednesday February 8th 2006 as the new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rev Clarke, who has been minister of Terrace Row Church in Coleraine, Co Londonderry for over 20 years, is the son of a butcher, and his brother played professional football for Sunderland. See PA story ULSTER Church. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo credit should read: PA
Undated handout photo of the Rev David Clarke, elected Wednesday February 8th 2006 as the new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rev Clarke, who has been minister of Terrace Row Church in Coleraine, Co Londonderry for over 20 years, is the son of a butcher, and his brother played professional football for Sunderland. See PA story ULSTER Church. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo credit should read: PA

The carefree philosophy of ‘It’ll be alright on the night’ may have its applications in some aspects of life, but not, surely, when it comes to Christmas.

It Christmas is to be enjoyed preparations need to be made.

Cards need to be bought and posted days, if not weeks, in advance; presents need to be selected and wrapped; cakes need to be baked and iced if the wonder of Christmas is to be experienced.

God made his preparations for the first Christmas.

Actually, the birth of Christ was the only Christmas; all the others have merely been anniversaries. He purged his people through the bitter experience of exile in Babylon, but it was to those exiles that Isaiah spoke in words that open Handel’s great seasonal oratorio, ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God’. (Isaiah 40;1).

Four great promises shine through that wonderful chapter.

There is the promise of pardon (vs2 ‘speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her sin has been paid for’.

The need for forgiveness is common to us all.

The psychologist Jung contended that half of the psychiatric beds in the world would be empty if people could only be assured that they had been forgiven. The Christmas message is of one who came to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1;21).

A second promise is of God’s continuing presence. T

he Jews had experienced exile under a tyrannical regime. But such regimes do not last forever, neither Hitler’s, Stalin’s, Castro’s or Mugabe’s, because ‘all men are like grass’ (vs 6). On the other hand, ‘the word of our God stands for ever’ (vs 8).

When the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV of France died, the funeral oration began with the thrice-repeated phrase, ‘Only God is great’. In a world menaced by war and uncertainty, remember that God remains trustworthy.

Isaiah adds a third promise.

The Sovereign Lord who delivers his people, also ‘tends his flock like a Shepherd’ (vs 10,11). God is infinitely tender with the needy.

Sir Walter Scott was speaking from personal experience when he said that God had wrapped his wounds in the softest of bandages.

Those are promises to rejoice in this Advent season.

* Rev Clarke is a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church.