Today we hear from the prophet Isaiah who speaks a message of comfort and hope for the people, people who’ll live in exile from the promised land. God through the prophet says “comfort, comfort now my people.” These words become comfort and hope during the exile. The Israelites recalled the words delivered by Isaiah that they will build a royal highway for God.
As highway builders, they and we are preparing the way for the Lord. Isaiah is beautiful, powerful and memorable so it is no wonder that his prophesy would be quoted by Mark as he introduces the John, fellow highway builder, way preparer and Baptizer.
And while John is a fascinating guy, I’m drawn to the prophet and God’s word for us through Isaiah. You see it’s about roads, no not the controversial magic busway between New Britain and Hartford, or proposals by politicians to put tolls back on Connecticut highways… or is it? You see the context for Isaiah’s highway building is that during ancient times oppressed and conquered peoples would be forced to build highways for the victors.
Not much different than the local politician who calls in a favor to get road improvements, a new bridge, or highway expansion from the higher level politician he or she helped get elected. The world we live in is not all that much different than the one Isaiah prophesy’s in. If you’re represented by the majority party, If you’re connected to the influential or powerful, you get all the perks, connections and life on easy street. If not, you live in a world riddled with pot-holes and detours of injustice.
So just as the Governor will be one of the first to take a ride on the magic bus, so did victors use the highways built by those conquered to take their own “victory lap.” The road these royal public relations and ego rides were taken on became known as the king’s highway, an image that the Israelites dreamed of and Isaiah speaks of as the promised king leads the people back to their homeland, their promised land.
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The dream of the exiled is our dream as this Advent we too prepare the royal highway for Jesus, listen to the prophet…
3Someone is shouting: “Clear a path in the desert! Make a straight road for the LORD our God. 4Fill in the valleys; flatten every hill and mountain. Level the rough and rugged ground. 5Then the glory of the LORD will appear for all to see. The LORD has promised this!”
So we are called to be road engineers preparing the way, excavators clearing the way and making way. But what shall we say about the coming of Jesus, listen to the prophet…
6Someone told me to shout, and I asked, “What should I shout?” We humans are merely grass, and we last no longer than wild flowers. 7At the LORD’s command, flowers and grass disappear, and so do we.
We are reminded of this as the fall mums wither and die and the grass turns brown. We wake to frost covering our landscape and we are reminded that winter comes into all of our lives. Much of creation goes fallow, hibernates, or dies to give room for God to do something new, for sins to be erased, for forgiveness to sprout, for new life to come from our God of continuous comfort and everlasting love, listen to the prophet…
8Flowers and grass fade away, but what our God has said will never change.
God who calls us to prepare, promises to save us and lead us home. God will gather us no matter what our exile experience. Whether we are ostracized by family or friends, whether someone we love breaks our heart, whether we are exiled to the unemployment line, punished for something we are wrongly accused of, or exiled by our lack of trust in God to lives of fear and scarcity, unable to see, feel, and experience the ways that God comforts and loves us, even, no, especially in times we are exiled. Our God is hear, listen to the prophet…
9There is good news for the city of Zion. Shout it as loud as you can from the highest mountain. Don’t be afraid to shout to the towns of Judah, “Your God is here!” 10Look! The powerful LORD God is coming to rule with his mighty arm. He brings with him what he has taken in war, and he rewards his people.
God is powerful and promises to rule with might, but not the might or in the manner we might expect. Isaiah introduces us to a Lord like no other, the Prince of Peace, our Good Shepherd, listen to the prophet…
11The LORD cares for his nation, just as shepherds care for their flocks. He carries the lambs in his arms, while gently leading the mother sheep.
God who loves us more than we can know, comes to us, meets us, and joins us along the way each and every day. From the back roads, the by-ways, and the highways of our lives, to the very street each of us lives on.
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But before all this, and in the midst of all this, and at the end of all our preparing and constructing, God calls us to bring comfort, that is to be God, who is love, who is comfort for the people, God’s people, you and me, our families, friends, neighbors, and… well you know, those people. People we walk by, ignore, pretend don’t need our help, our love, our—no God’s comfort.
This time of year there are plenty of opportunities to be charitable in the name of comfort. We can serve our neighbor through buying a gift for the needy, giving food to the pantry, tossing spare change in a Salvation Army kettle, or other end of the year tax deductible donation. And while these charitable acts are good, they purchase us comfort for the guilt from the injustices in the world.
Our Christian conscience and calling is to bring comfort, to do justice with our hands, hearts, and heads. Comfort through works of justice is the advent of hope listen to the prophet one last time…
1Our God has said: “Encourage my people! Give them comfort. 2Speak kindly to Jerusalem and announce: Your slavery is past; your punishment is over. I, the LORD, made you pay double for your sins.”
Isaiah boldly tells the people that their exile, their punishment was caused by their sins. But Isaiah also boldly tells the people that their past, everything that they have done to separate them from God, all of their sins is now forgiven. And while the people will fall again, and God will get angry again, we know that the Hebrew Scripture we listen to through the prophets, is not the end of the story.
The story, the good news, the most important thing… is that while our world is always changing, temperamental, and unpredictable, God’s word, God’s promise, God’s presence is always solid, stable, sure.
- The story this Advent is unchanging, permanent and predictable
- The one we wait for is Jesus, the Word, the bringer of comfort and love
- The brightening days of Advent call us to wait and to listen
In the words of the Tanzanian song:
Listen, listen, God is calling, through the Word inviting, offering forgiveness, comfort and joy.