A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Advent 2 – Comfort My People

John the Baptist Preaching to the Messes in the Wilderness by Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Advent 2 Comfort My People
Rev. Doug Floyd
Isaiah 40:1-11

Our message today is comfort. Isaiah 40 says, Comfort, Comfort, my people. And Isaiah is writing this to the exiles returning home. God is comforting his people. But his word is echoing across time to us today, speaking the word of comfort to the people who have known suffering and sorrow. Israel suffers in exile because of idolatry and sin. Yet there was a righteous remnant who also suffered in exile. People like Ezekiel and Daniel suffer right alongside everyone else.

There is a suffering that’s a direct result of our sin, but then there is also suffering that is the result of a world in sin and death. We know both kinds of suffering. We have all suffered in different ways. Today, Isaiah brings a word of comfort. He gives us three voices of comfort that that follow the opening word of comfort from the Father. The beginning of Isaiah 40, “Comfort, comfort my people” literally means comfort and keep comforting. It’s a voice that continues to resound comfort, comfort, comfort, comfort my people.

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” [1]

Her time of warfare has ended, it’s been satisfied. Now, we could read this in one sense that they’re being allowed to come home because they were punished for 70 years. Now the time of punishment is over. I suggest we read this today in light of Isaiah 53, the song of a suffering servant. God Himself has satisfied has made a way for his suffering people. In Christ, those who have known suffering, are being comforted.

Everybody in this room has known some kind of suffering. We’ve known the suffering of our own failures, but we’ve known suffering when family members have died; we’ve known the pain of sickness. Or the difficulty in caring for those around us who are elderly or sickly. We’ve known the disappointments of how things go in life, whether it be in a job situation, a relationship, or even the death of a pet. We’re not always living in the reality of that suffering, and yet it’s very real. And there are times when it’s extremely real.

Here the second week of Advent, we hear the Lord comforting his people. He has revealed his comfort we might say, in and through Christ. Jesus Christ comes as the voice of comfort as the one who has entered into all our suffering. There’s not one thing that he does not know. He’s come to heal us and comfort us.

He often touches us through people. I can remember as a child, I often battled various sicknesses like strep throat every year. My mother would pick me up in her lap and soothe me. It was a tangible physical feeling of being loved. Whether it is an embrace, a handshake or simply a listening ear we might experience comfort in different ways: from a parent, a spouse, a friend, and sometimes even a stranger. We often know God’s comfort often through human beings.

Today He has come to comfort us. There are three voices in our in our passage today: there is a voice crying in the wilderness, there is a voice shouting that people are like grass, but that the word of the Lord endures forever. The third voice goes up to the mountaintop and proclaims, “Behold your God.”

We’re going to meditate on these three voices this morning. The three voices of comfort, as we walk through Advent this year, and we meditate on the comfort of the Lord, the Lord has come to comfort us in our sin and brokenness, in the brokenness that has been caused by our own failures, our own sins, but also the state of our world.

Let’s begin with the voice crying in the wilderness. Isaiah 40:3-5 reads,

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” [2]

The voice cries out to those in the wilderness. One the one hand this is the exiles crossing the wilderness to return home. A way has been prepared to return home. The Lord has prepared the way. The voice also cries to us in our wilderness. Like the exiles, we are headed home from the wildernesses of our lives, and the Lord has prepared the way.

In another sense, the voice of the servant is preparing the way of the Lord. John the Baptist, as we see in our gospel is a voice crying in the wilderness. By the Spirit, his voice prepares the way of the Lord. And what when we see John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of the kingdom, he’s preparing the way of the Lord.

Our text says that, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
he uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”

If you think about it, in the context of the exiles returning home, Isaiah is using this imagery of mountains coming down and valley being raised to suggest that all the difficulties in returning home are being cleared. Every obstacle is being removed by the Lord Himself. Nothing could keep us from the goodness of God. God himself is making a way in Christ.

Whatever has hindered me from knowing the love of God is being removed. God himself crosses the impossible divide. We can come to him. We can know his loving-kindness.

Isaiah says, “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed. And all flesh shall see it together for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Here is this image of God coming to comfort Israel. Yet we, the people outside of Israel, are gathered around this word. What has happened? The glory of the Lord has been revealed and we have seen and heard it. This glory continues to resound from generation to generation and around the world, so that all flesh may see it together.

This is true gospel. It is a thing for rejoicing. In one sense we have already heard the word of the Lord, which has caused us to draw near to Christ and his church. In another sense, the Lord is transforming us, opening our eyes and healing our ears from the wounds of sin and death. Everywhere we turn, we come to see that all creation reverberates with the glory of the Lord. Anywhere we turn we see glimpses of glory, from the mountains on the horizon to beautiful fall sunsets. Our response it to give glory to God. Because we know that he has created this wonder-filled world.

Now the next voice. Isaiah 40:6-8,

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever. [3]

Why is this second voice comforting? It reminds us to put our hope in the Lord and not in human beings. We’ve seen some very famous evangelists exposed for failure, sin and death. It can be discouraging. We can even be disappointed by those closest to us. Isaiah is saying, Don’t trust in humans. We love one another and God reveals Himself through one another. But at the end of the day, it is the word of the Lord that will stand forever. It is the word of the Lord that makes us firmly established. It is the word of the Lord that raises us up.

We make mistakes. Sometimes when we’re trying to do right we make mistakes. It’s not always some kind of sinful thing. Sometimes we fail one another, we hurt one another. Yet the word of the Lord stands forever.

My confidence is in the word is in the faithfulness of God, We have seen God’s faithfulness in Christ. I always look, I have to look to Christ. He is the faithful one, and he is making us faithful. And he’s coming to us in our failures. And he’s even restored people who have fallen away. But my comfort, my comfort ultimately, is in the Lord, the word of the Lord. And the Lord speaks his comfort to us.

Now, let’s think about the last voice of comfort. Isaiah 40:9-11,

Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young. [4]

Thus third voice has gone up a mountain and is shouting that God is near. “Behold your God!” In Scripture, God is coming with his angel armies. He’s coming in power. I’ve heard people say over the years, well, he came as a lamb the first time but the next time he’s coming as a lion. You know, and I get that. You know, the frustration with the wickedness in the world and those who mocked the things of God and sin. When God shows up, he’ll be a lion. But in today’s text, He is coming as a gentle shepherd.

This third voice is shouting because he sees the Lord coming. He’s gently leading the lambs. He’s gathering them in his arms. He’s leading those with young that’s the image of our Christ. We are anticipating the Christ who will gather us to himself and gather his world to Himself. He will heal the broken heart and restore those under the darkness.

Today the word of God’s comfort comes to us in the words of Isaiah. His word comes to us our wilderness, our sorrow, our grief. He prepares a way for us in the middle of our wilderness. He prepares a way to lead us to Himself. He reveals Himself in and through all His creation. He reminds us to rest in His faithful word. Humans may fail us and we even fail ourselves, but the word of the Lord is sure and stands forever. Finally, we hear the voice from the mountaintop, “Behold your God!” When we look see Jesus coming as a gentle shepherd, gathering us to Himself and comforting us in His love.

As Fr. Les challenged us last week, let us look ahead to the coming of the Lord with childlike anticipation. For the Lord is good and greatly to be praised.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 40:2.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 40:3–5.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 40:6–8.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 40:9–11.


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