Sermon, Advent 2A. Sunday December 8, 2013. Divine Interruption: “Letting Life In”: God makes life in barren places      Advent -Christmas Title Pic 2013

Romans 15:4-13          

15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
15:5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,
15:6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
15:7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
15:8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,
15:9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”;
15:10 and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
15:11 and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”;
15:12 and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“God is making life out of the barren places”

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Isaiah 11:1

God, I’m watching the news and sometimes I wonder if you have left us to our own devices.

God, it’s not the arguing I can’t stand any more its the silence.

God is making life out of the barren places.

God, my children look at me like I am an idiot.

God is making life out of the barren places.

God, my parents don’t have a clue who I really am.

God is making life out of the barren places.

God I am getting older and more unwell

God, I am aimless and unsure of what I am meant to be doing

God is making life out of the barren places.

God, isn’t Christmas supposed to bring us together?

God is making life out of the barren places.

Is he? Is he for you? Is he in your circle of people? Is he in your life journey?


Elizabeth: a woman of age without children. In her day called a cutting, dead word, “barren”. A barren person: In a time when a woman’s worth was measured in how many children she had, in a time when, if you had many children it was seen as God being happy with you. If you had no children, it was because God was angry at you…that you were sinful…that you were being punished for something….”barren”.

 A barren job. In a time unlike any other when men and women are defined by their job – by what they do – the first question people ask you at parties – “What do you do?”…Barren.

A barren marriage, a barren bank account, a barren purpose to my life….- “barren”. It just sits there like a oversized wet weather jacket on you – just hanging off you and weighing you down…”Barren”

A “barren” woman who wanted children; A woman who needed children in her society and yet, never given the desire of her heart.

God, I am barren and I did not ask for this and I have prayed that you would “un-barren” me….but I am still barren…

God is making life out of the barren places

Is he? Can he? Will he…for me?

That is the Advent question for you and me as we sense our barren places and feel the weight of that – Will God bring life in me, my family, my future, my whole life….?


And then there is the longing; Longing for newness; longing for a break in the weather, a change of fortune, a word of hope, a new relationship of fun and friendship, a new person to recognise me, want to ask me how I am going, a word of super-encouragement from someone….please!

Elizabeth: What was it like for her? What is it like to have to constantly deal with being disappointed and feel incomplete – longing for something you just can’t seem to find or are never given?

Imagine longing for a thing and being quite certain now that after years of that hoping and dreaming for this thing, then eventually admitting that it will never come to be – saying you are OK with that now; you have dealt with that now….only to be rudely interrupted by divine intervention late in the game! The barrenness and the longing just cease – in one instant; by one word from The One!


The impossible thing longed for but acknowledged as being out of reach is received.

Now that is a Divine interruption! And that would take some readjustment!

That would mean letting go of anger about never being given the gift you longed for. That would mean letting the constant disappointment and feelings of frustration go, lest you not enjoy this great thing that has been given to you.

So, what are you barren in? And, what are you longing for? What have you relegated to the “too hard” “impossible basket but if it ever were to be given, all the disappointment and anger and regret would just vanish in the cloud of thankfulness and joy?

  • New faith for the kids?
  • New faith and life in the grace of God for you?
  • New job away from what has been for the last 2 or 3 decades or 2 or 3 weeks?
  • New involvement in some very needy and worthwhile cause that you know would fill your heart with pride and thanks because you were now not just “working for the weekend” – but truly working for the world – for people, for making a difference?


Friend, the Gift is here. The new man, the new word, the new power, the new love, the new growth from what seemed barren and out of reach is here.

A great gift is given to you now in these weeks – new belief in God’s presence in this troubling world, and your needy life. New hope that what you thought was certain – your guilt, your self-pride, your never ending pain, your being a victim of others behaviour is now at an end. 

God says there is life in that pain. There is an end to sorrow, an end to your weaknesses. There are signs of new hope and life and you are it. You are the sign for those around you. You are the light. You are the salt that preserves the new life growing out of what was barren.

There is an end to your lack of understanding, and end to the hurt you have experienced, and end to that ill-health, an end to the mountain of a challenge you are trying to climb at the moment and he is not only the end of it but with you moving toward the end of it. That’s the miracle of God becoming one of us.

But will you see this and trust him?

Elizabeth expresses two things about God’s gift of new life in barren places

  1. people didn’t see the miracle
  2. this is just too much of a gift to be real

Why didn’t they see? Maybe because they were not looking. Maybe because they had given up on God ever being involved, understanding them, actually doing anything in the situation….., not expecting anything from God anyway.

Why couldn’t they receive the gift of new hope and life? Maybe because life’s experiences can make you cynical. “There are no free lunches” in this life. “Nothing good ever happens”. “You can’t trust others, you can only trust yourself”…..

God chooses to simply interrupt hardened people, confused people, non-expectant and untrusting people – not to chastise them but to bring new life and hope to people.

Hear St Paul praying that prayer calling for God’s hope to fill you joy because he knows both – God’s amazing ability to bring good things out of hopelessness and everyday people bound together in God’s holy community needing God’s creative hope.

Paul prays that the Lord would fill people with joy in the hope we have in God’s ability to make new things come from old dead things, make light things come from dark things, make joyful things come from sorrowful things.

Paul is confident in this ability of God. Are you?

Will you let the light of the coming of the Saviour into a dark, old, and troubled world take you by surprise? Will you let God’s new life in? Will you let his hope change your view of that hopeless thing, that hopeless person, that seemingly hopeless situation and trust him more than you trust your own ability to make your own hope?

Elizabeth the now fertile and fulfilled one knew this:

  1. He has not forgotten you.
  2. He will never leave you alone to fend for yourself.

So did Paul.

So do we, his baptised and loved people.

Whatever you are facing, whatever you are longing for and whatever is dying or even dead in your relationships, vocation and faith, there is life in it. There is his life in you. There is life and where there is life there is hope and that hope is the Light of the Lord – Jesus.

God, I’m watching the news and I am trusting that you have not left us and you are actually making new life in even these barren looking placers

God is making life out of the barren places.

God, my children look at me like I am an idiot and I responding with calm and quiet persistence trusting that the winds will change in time because you are involved.

God is making life out of the barren places.

God, my parents don’t have a clue who I really am but I am trusting that you do and that as I give them room, treat them as human beings and get on with you calling in my life you will get us through this.

God is making life out of the barren places.

God I am getting older and more unwell, but I am aware that you are with me and calling me to keep engaged in other people’s lives for their good, making the most of every opportunity to share Jesus in a humble way until you take me home.

God is making life out of the barren places.

God, I am aimless and unsure of what I am meant to be doing, but I commit myself to you and your Word and ask you to give me a hunger and new focus on your Word and your people, trusting that you will guide me into clarity and confidence in my callings in life.

God is making life out of the barren places.

God, isn’t Christmas supposed to bring us together? God, make us the ones who are your living signs – the ones who bring people together and speak of your presence, light and life this Christmas.

God is making life out of the barren places.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13


Share a high and a low for your week…

We talked about Elizabeth and her experience of being a “barren” woman in her time when it meant that she was considered less than legitimate, not fruitful, not “normal”, even cursed by God for her inability to bear a child. Do you have some experience of this in the group, either in the story of those present their families and friends?

Share you stories for a while about being “barren”.

We talked about longing for a thing or an event or a time or place and then admitting that this thing would never happen, only then to discover that the very thing you had relegated to the “too hard for God” basket actually happens! Elizabeth certainly had to adjust to God’s interruption in her life. Have you ever had to adjust to God’s interruption of something you longed for, wrote off as impossible and then received when it happened?

Share your stories.

Paul shows his unwavering trust in God’s ability to respond to our longing for life and our feeling of being barren or dead or incapable to bring the thing longed for into being in this text in Romans.

Read the test through slowly, even pausing now and again so tat people can jot down a note or word that sticks out to them – especially the words that reveal great trust in the Lord.

Share your jottings/thoughts with the group…

Matthew tells us about the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of God to bring new life out of barren places in the person of John the baptist, then Jesus.

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,‘Prepare the way for the Lord,  make straight paths for him.’”

John is the announcer of the promise now to be renewed in full in the person, teaching, suffering and death of Jesus. John was the witness. We are too. We are the witness to God’s ongoing promise to bring new life out of any barren/lifeless place. How do you think we can do this among our family and friends this Christmas?

Share your thoughts….

PRAY: O come, O come Immanuel and ransom us captive people so tat we rejoice, rejoice this Advent!


Choose a partner and speak God’s word of blessing to that person (each in turn for each other)  to end…

(Person’s name), Child of God, the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13