Reading Isaiah 40:1-11
40 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[a];
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.[b]
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,[c]
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.
There is often talk about the Second Coming and how Jesus will come again at the close of the age to reign in glory over all creation.
Today, I’d like to focus on what we might call his middle coming – that is,
how Jesus comes to us, day by day, in the form of the Holy Spirit. Here’s what he promised his disciples in the Upper Room:
“If you love me, keep my commandments.
I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor, that he may be with you forever—
the Spirit of truth, whom the world can’t receive;
for it doesn’t see him, neither knows him.
You know him, for he lives with you, and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.
Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more;
but you will see me. Because I live, you will live also.”
“What does it mean to say that God comes? …
In the Christian way of living God meets us again and again bringing a fresh gift of life.
As well as having our being in God, we need to be waiting for God. It is not that God has not come; he has. It is not that God does not come; he does. We look forward and live toward the future with expectation.
A person cannot live merely on God’s previous gifts of life. Every day is meant to be a day of advent, with ‘fresh supplies of grace’ richly provided and immediately at hand.”
This on-going nature of Jesus’ coming is expressed by our next song
So, while we believe that Jesus will come again to reign at the close of the age, this morning I’d like us to think about what it means for him to come and reign here and now, in the world we live in.
To get there, let’s go back to the Old Testament and the prophet, Isaiah, who foretold his coming when he said,
“The voice of one who calls out, ‘Prepare the way of Yahweh in the wilderness! Make a level highway in the desert for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain. The glory of Yahweh shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken it.'” (Isaiah 40:3-5)
Isaiah talks about a highway in the desert. He calls it, The Holy Way (35:8). In his day, Jerusalem and the Temple were the epicenter of the Jewish faith. And so, he envisions the day when the people of God will come back to the Holy City. He promises when they do that God will protect them from bandits and jackals and other would-be predators along the way.
Isaiah also talks about a highway leading to Jerusalem, but this highway is not for the people, it’s a highway for God.
The cities of Judah are desolate, the Temple lies in ruins, and the people are in Babylonian exile.
The Good News is, the desolation won’t last forever. God will return. Jerusalem will flourish once more. The temple will be rebuilt. The people of Israel will be restored to their rightful place as God’s chosen people. And so, Isaiah prophecies: “…Make a level highway in the desert for our God.”
This is metaphorical language, but it’s easy to make the connection: A highway fit for a king needs to be as straight as an arrow. What’s the opposite of straight? Crooked. So, if we’re to prepare for the coming of the Lord, we need to straighten out any crookedness in our lives.
Nobody likes a crook. Crooks lie, cheat, steal and take advantage of others. While none of us – hopefully – would qualify as full-blown crooks, we’re not without sin. At our best, we still harbor deception, deceit and dishonesty – if only in small quantities. We rationalize, patronize and homogenize the truth until it’s often hard for others and sometimes ourselves, to know where we stand or what we really believe. Our duplicity stands in the way of God’s coming.
God wants us to be straightforward and honest. Jesus taught his disciples, “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’ Whatever is more than these is of the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37)
We need to choose carefully the things we say and do, remembering Jesus taught his disciples,
“Enter in by the narrow gate;
for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction,
and many are those who enter in by it
How narrow is the gate, and restricted is the way that leads to life!
Few are those who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
Isaiah says the king’s highway should be straight. It should also be level. He says, in Isaiah 40:4
“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain.”
We need to understand he’s not talking about changing the topography of the Middle East; he’s talking about leveling the playing field and rectifying the inequities of life.
When God comes, the pecking order of our comfortable society will be turned on its head.
We know kids have a special knack for creating a level playing field. I remember, growing up in the local neighbourhood, how we used to get together on a road, a school yard or in an open park for a game of cricket, or baseball. We’d begin by choosing sides. Everyone would line up, usually according to height. The two captains would pick their players, starting with the older, bigger kids. The little kids and the weaker players would always go last.
When one of the better players was at the wicket or plate, the ball would be thrown hard in order to get the batter out. But when one of the smaller kids came to bat, the bowler or pitcher would back off, even lobbing the ball, if necessary, to give the smallest kid a chance to get a hit. And if he hit the ball, the fielders would take their time before returning the throw. And if one of the bigger kids hit the ball to one of the little kids, he’d take his time running in order to give the little kid a chance to field the ball and make the play.
The purpose of the game was to win, but to also have fun. And if the score became overly lopsided, we’d line up and reselect sides and start again.
What happens to this innate sense of fairness as we grow older? Why can’t we play the game of life with as much exuberance and concern which gives everyone a chance to get a ‘hit’ every once in a while?
I know this: When we treat the weak with the same dignity and respect as we treat those who are strong, we get a glimpse of the kingdom of God. As Isaiah put it,
“Make a level highway in the desert for our God…The glory of Yahweh shall be revealed.”
In the 1970s a battle cry among theologians in Latin America arose. It went like this: “Sin no justícia, no hay paz.”
Where there is no justice, there can be no peace.
The two go hand in hand, and you don’t have to travel to Latin America to see it. For example, what do you think would happen if, on Christmas morning, parents gave one of their children a lot of expensive gifts and the others little or nothing? There’d be trouble in the home!
Thoughtful parents have to work hard to see that each child is treated fairly and given the special attention he/she needs without slighting the others in the process. It’s not easy, but it’s essential if you’re going to maintain peace and harmony in the family.
The same is true of larger families like the church, the community, the nation and the world. We have to respect the varying needs and abilities of each member of the ‘family’ and make the necessary adjustments to ensure that everyone’s needs are met. Our outreaching to the local community seeks to meet a partial need by providing low cost meals, fellowship, guidance and encouragement as necessary and as requested. Lasting peace on earth will come, not by force, but by overcoming our inequities, sharing our resources and making a place for the least, the lost and the last.
The world exists beyond ourselves, when you ignore the vulnerable you ignore Jesus.
Relating a story from Texas, USA.
In 1971, I was asked to be a groomsman in a big, formal wedding in South Texas. On the night of the wedding, everything went as planned: The prelude began, the acolytes lit the candles, the mothers were seated, the place was packed. But just before the bridesmaids entered, one of the ushers hurried down the aisle and whispered to the mother of the groom.
“There’s a man in the back,” he said, “a Negro man,” he emphasized, “who says he was invited. Do you want us to seat him?”
Now, remember, this was 1971, and the air of racial tension was still pretty thick, especially in Edinburgh, USA, where news of the Emancipation Proclamation was yet to be announced. There had never been a black person admitted to that church.
The groom’s mother looked up in astonishment.
“Alfred? Alfred!” She turned to her husband and said, “Honey, Alfred’s here!”
Now, Alfred was the family’s longtime grounds keeper, butler, dishwasher and friend. He’d worked for the family since their sons were born.
The couple to be married had sent him an invitation out of courtesy, never expecting him to make the long trip down to the Valley. But come, he did! He’d ridden a bus all through the night before and most of that day just to get there. He was not about to miss seeing one of “his boys” get married.
The usher waited patiently for his instructions. The groom’s mother, hardly able to contain her excitement, said, “Why, of course, you shall seat him. He’ll sit here with us where he belongs, as family.”
The usher escorted this kindly old man to the front and, as he did, the congregation of that church and all of us who were there for the wedding, caught a glimpse of the kingdom of God.
In this time of Advent, prepare in the desert of your heart a highway for the Lord. Make it straight with no blind spots or sharp curves. And make it level, because, as the peaks of privilege and the valleys of deprivation are evened out, is when you’re most likely to experience the New Creation of Jesus Christ.
We are called by God through His creation, through His Word, by His promise, through His Son Jesus to hear His call of HOPE, PEACE, JOY & LOVE and to hold to the Faith of His eternal Promise. Have you done all you can to help prepare others for eternity, while we faithfully and confidently wait for the Messiah's triumphant return.
24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Saviour be all glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, now and forevermore!
Thank you for sharing with us.