My initial thoughts on the text this week. The Narrative Lectionary points us to Isaiah 40:1-11 and Gospel text Mark 1:1-4 this week. I’m using the theme of “Christmas Rush” and what we need to embrace in order to find Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love in this season before Christmas Day. So my sermon this week will be Look For Love in God’s Comfort. Note, don’t dive too far into the Mark text, you’ll be revisiting it on the 29th of this month.
Isaiah prophesied to Judah for about 40 years. Like the other prophets there are scary pronouncements of doom for God’s people primarily because they continued to worship idols and mistreat the needy around them. Isaiah was a contemporary with Amos, Hosea and Micah for at least part of his ministry.
The first word of this text is “Comfort” and since we are 40 chapters in, it comes at a good time. In chapter 39 Isaiah has informed King Hezekiah that the days are coming when everything in your palace and all that your fathers have stored up until today will be carried off to Babylon; nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. ‘Some of your descendants—who come from you, whom you father—will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’” (Isaiah 39:6-7) Judah was running quickly into captivity and there was no stopping it.
Sometimes people bemoan the world around us and take note that the condition of the world is deteriorating. I agree. I also think there’s no stopping it. We can’t elect a President good enough, or have a revival powerful enough, nor make the church strong enough to head off the catastrophe ahead. Maybe I’m being a naysayer, but as I read the Bible it appears to me that there isn’t a golden age ahead on this side of the parousia. Babylon doesn’t have a turnaround in her future.
But that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost, and that there is nothing for us to hang onto. Quite the contrary. There is comfort. That’s the first word in our text this week.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.Isaiah 40:1-2, CSB
It is the time for comfort because the punishment that they have endured because of their sins is now passed. It is time to look forward to blessings from God if they will serve Him. Isaiah sees a time when God would come into the lives of His people in a new way.
A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. 4 Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain.5 And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.Isaiah 40:3-5; See also Mark 1:1-3
We recognize the ministry of John the Baptizer as someone who prepared the way for the Lord Jesus to begin his ministry. I think we should see this text as saying that there are no challenges that can keep God from coming to be with His people, whether it is a desert, a valley, a mountain, uneven ground – nothing can stop the glory of the Lord.
We might look around our world and wonder how the glory of the Lord could ever be seen amidst the war, terror, pain, suffering, and godlessness around us. But none of these things are too big for God to overcome. We live in the ‘in-between’ time and when Christ comes again there will be no stopping Him, and every eye will see … every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord! This is the comfort we receive from the Lord as we wait.
There are two messages we shout out through our ministry and lives. The first one is that “Life is Short!”
6 A voice was saying, “Cry out!” Another said, “What should I cry out?” “All humanity is grass,and all its goodness is like the flower of the field.7 The grass withers, the flowers fade when the breath of the Lord blows on them; indeed, the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever.”Isaiah 40:6-8
Peter quotes this passage and follows it with “And this word is the gospel that was proclaimed to you.” (1 Peter 1:25). It doesn’t sound like a happy thought … a Gospel thought – that life is short. But if one is in exile or suffering or struggling with things that can’t be changed, then a life after death that is rewarded by God is not the saddest thing in the world. We can find security in the truth that the Word of God remains forever … He isn’t going to change his mind or decide to take a different approach.
The second thing that the herald of good news is to shout is that God is here!
9 Zion, herald of good news, go up on a high mountain. Jerusalem, herald of good news, raise your voice loudly. Raise it, do not be afraid! Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Lord God comes with strength, and his power establishes his rule. His wages are with him, and his reward accompanies him. 11 He protects his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them in the fold of his garment. He gently leads those that are nursing.Isaiah 40:9-11, CSB
The coming of God signals several things:
He is coming with Strength and power and rule. The downward cycle of the world is interrupted by the power and strength of God. For those who are struggling, that struggle is going to come to an end in the presence of God.
He is coming with reward. There is hope and comfort in this message being shouted because He has seen your suffering and noticed it and plans to reward your faithfulness.
He is coming with comfort. We return to the first word of the chapter with a beautiful picture of a shepherd who carries his sheep and treats them with care and comfort and gentleness.
Advent is a time of waiting … but not just waiting. Waiting in uncomfortable silence, wondering if God really sees what we are going through. The text this week reminds us that in a previous time God did see, he did come with strength and power and reward and with comfort. As we await His second coming we do so with expectation of his strength, his reward, and his comfort. Things are different for us than they were the hearers in Isaiah’s day. Christ has come. His Spirit is within us. And as we walk through the dangers of this life we have with us the strength, reward, and comfort of Christ each day. That’s really good news as we try to serve God in a world that is running away from Him so rapidly.
You are invited to join in the resources and discussion of the weekly texts in my Facebook group Narrative Lectionarians.