Second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 40:1-11 – “Comfort! Comfort!”

Mark Wheeler
Advent 2, December 7, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Isaiah 40:1-11
“Comfort! Comfort!”

We are seeking inner-strength, dear God. Fill us with courage and steadiness. Conquer our fears and hurts. Comfort us with Your Holy Spirit, that we might recognize Your strength in our weakness. Amen.

Today is the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Our theme for this season, as followers of Jesus Christ, is recognizing that in the Christmas event we celebrate that Jesus was born, God was made incarnate, for us and for our salvation!
From the time I was very young, I have always looked forward to the days leading up to Christmas – to be honest, what I looked forward to was Christmas morning – but the days leading up to it helped build the suspense and anticipation. When I was a teenager I was introduced to George Frederic Handel’s “The Messiah”, and every time I hear it I wait for the Christmas portion of the oratorio and the sweet tenor voice singing from Isaiah 40: “Comfort ye. Comfort ye my people.”
What I really love is how the music brings Scripture to life and helps us understand that the promises of God, fulfilled in Jesus, ultimately change everything about our world.
Next week’s sing-along Christmas Cantata that our choir is leading will do that for us all!
I think we need to be reminded again and again of God’s unshakable commitments to claim this squirrely, fallen world and, ultimately make it right in ways we can’t possibly anticipate. On the surface, our Spokanite lives in 2014 are vastly different from the Jewish exiles who first heard these words. Contemporary North Americans are the first people in the history of the world to be surprised that we might have to suffer. We think we should be able to make things happen. We get antsy when we have to wait for anything. We want clear plans, quick fixes, and assurances that “somebody” in charge knows what they’re doing.
And yet, when we’re honest, we know that we are as terrified of the future as any generation before us. We are contemporary exiles in our own land—living lives impacted as much by the culture that surrounds us as our counterparts 25 centuries ago. And so, these words find resonance deep within our souls. We too need comfort. We too need assurance that God will make all things right in His time and in His way.

Paul Detterman, a Presbyterian Pastor on the team leading the charge for a movement called The Fellowship Community (Fellowship of Presbyterians) – a movement of Presbyterians who claim the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God, that faith in Jesus as God’s only begotten Son is our only means to salvation, and that our lives and lifestyle choices should reflect that belief (this is a man I deeply respect and admire) – has written how these words from Isaiah 40 remind him of a memorable scene in The Horse and His Boy, one of the books from the Chronicles of Narnia. C. S. Lewis is telling the story of Shasta, a boy who is experiencing his own form of exile. He finds himself all alone, crying in a dark and terrifying place. He is obsessing about everything that has gone wrong in his world when, suddenly, he realizes he is not alone—some “Thing” is right beside him in the darkness (spoiler alert…):
It was pitch dark and [Shasta] could see nothing. And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.
Shasta discovers that the “Thing” beside him knows his story—everything that was causing him terror and grief. Shasta discovers that the “Thing” had been with him all along—orchestrating all the positive outcomes he had thought were simply his own dumb luck.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God…
As the scene reaches its climax, the great “Thing” turns out to be Aslan the lion (the representation of Christ in The Chronicles). The scene closes with these words:
The High King above all kings stooped towards [Shasta]. Its mane, and some strange and
solemn perfume that hung about the mane, was all around him. It touched his forehead
with its tongue. He lifted his face and their eyes met. Then instantly the pale brightness
of the mist and the fiery brightness of the Lion rolled themselves together into a swirling
glory and gathered themselves up and disappeared. [Shasta] was alone with his horse on
a grassy hillside under a blue sky. And there were birds singing.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God…and the glory of the LORD will be revealed.

We take great comfort in the truth that God did, and does, show up. Jesus did come. For us and for our salvation. This truth changes everything.

Hear the Word of God from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, 40:1-11 …. —-
1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem
lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

Modern English is not always helpful. When contemporary North American people hear the word “comfort” it usually means what we hope to get when we pay good money for a great pair of shoes or a better mattress or a recliner chair. Comfort can mean the compassion of another person—the consolation of empathy and presence we receive when life is really not going well. But God is promising so much more than a passing “there, there…” or a better night’s sleep. And the enormous cost of this promised hope and comfort is not ours but His.
Comfort can also mean the promise of strength. “You can do this,” God is saying. “I understand your frustration and fear. I know your weaknesses and failings. In fact, everything that is broken within your being has been double-fortified.”
“Look around you,” God continues, “the world you see right now is about to change—you won’t even recognize the landscape. Prepare for God’s arrival! Everyone is going to see the bright glory of God!”

These words were spoken into the bleak reality of political and religious exile. Nothing was the way it was “supposed” to be. Into the dismay of that new normal came the reminder that God was not finished yet. Does that not sound like our world – and what we need to hear from God again? He is not finished yet! And He is coming … again!

Take a moment and think about your personal circumstances. Maybe jot down a word or two on your Sermon Notes page:
Where is your life darkest or most uncertain? Where are you feeling most vulnerable, least secure?

God is walking beside you, and has been for a very long time. Have you felt the “breath” of God around you?

John Calvin once said that the whole Gospel can be seen in this brief text from Isaiah. In a sense that is true, but God expects a response to the Gospel. The reality of God’s comfort (both His caring and His strength) and God’s promise of all that is yet to come is very good news. It can arouse us to live differently in our current circumstances. Where would such a change be most important in your life?

Paul the Apostle reminds us, “9 But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Cor. 2)

Let’s take just a few minutes of quiet, listen to George Handel’s “Comfort Ye”, and ask for Christ to enter in where you most need is comfort – strength and understanding. Amen.

Resources:
Detterman, Paul; “Comfort, Comfort”; For Us and For Our Salvation: An Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Experience; Fellowship Community; 2014.
Lewis, C.S.; The Chronicles of Narnia: Book 5: The Horse and His Boy; Bles Publishers; London; 1954.

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