Expecting Christmas: Reflections from Isaiah 40:1-11

We continue preparing for Christmas by reflecting on passages in Isaiah. This morning we are in chapter 40, beginning with verse 1.

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.

Last week I said that God cares more about our character than our comfort. And that’s true. But he also cares about our comfort, just not in the way we usually do.

When I think of being comfortable I think of being curled up in comfortable chair with a fresh cup of strong coffee in my hand, mellow music playing in the background, I think of the children not fighting and the phone not ringing. But that’s not the kind of comfort God yearns for us.

He cares about us experiencing the comfort of forgiveness over the pain of guilt.

He cares about us experiencing the comfort of peace over the pain of anxiety.

He cares about us experiencing the comfort of living right over the pain of knowing we’re doing wrong.

God yearns for us to be comforted — but not by this world, but by Him.

Verse 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

God is erecting a speedway to himself. Where’s he building it? In the wilderness, in the desert. Why there? It’s the last spot I’d put it! I know where I’d put it. I’d put it on Main Street. I’d put it at the intersection of two major highways. Heck, I’d put it in the Wal-Mart parking lot. I’d put it anywhere lots of people go and nowhere they do not. To get to the wilderness, to get to the desert, you have to go way out of your way, which seems to be the point.

You have to go out of your way.

You have to abandon where you’re at.

You have to seek a different way.

[Confirmation Camp – same songs, same Bible readings, same message]

Verse 4 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.

That which is low shall be high; that which is high shall be low.

That which is uneven shall become even; that which is rough shall be smooth.

That’s reminds me of something someone else once said,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:3-11)

That’s what that reminds me of.

Verse 5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The glory of the Lord shall be revealed. Why? Because God has spoken. It’s a lesson we learnt at the beginning of the Bible.

“God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3)

“God said, “Let there be…and there was.”

If you’ve been noticing the verb tenses as we have been reading, you’ve noticed it’s mostly future tense. “Every valley shall be lifted up.” “The uneven ground shall become level.” “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” The better things are yet to come.

If you would ask anyone in the Old Testament, are better things yet to come, they would say, “Yes!”

If you would ask anyone in the New Testament, “Are better things yet to come?” they would exclaim, “Yes!”

If you would ask anyone in the early church, “Are better things yet to come?” they would scream, “Yes!”

But if you ask anyone in the contemporary church, “Are better things yet to come?” they would complain about ungodly political moves in our country, they would complain about crime rates, they would complain about the pervasiveness of technology, they would complain about young people nowadays, they would complain about declining church attendance, and then they would talk about the good old days when everything was perfect — when no one sinned, when the neighbor’s dog never barked, and when it only rained when you wanted it to.

But the only way to live is in the present, leaning into the future.

While a nostalgic picture of an artificial past is comforting, this life is not the place to focus on being comfortable.

It is the place to learn from the past while anticipating the future God is shaping.

Verse 6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.

If you haven’t heard it in these words, I’m sure you memorized it in English class:

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying:

And this same flower that smiles to-day

To-morrow will be dying.” (Robert Herrick)

Paul Gaugin was an artist, a French painter. He was very anti-church and did not share our Christian faith. One day he painted three questions:

“Where do we come from?

What are we?

Where are we going?”

Because he did not share our faith, he knew his answers to those questions:

Where do we come from? No where.

What are we? Nothing.

Where are we going? No where.

So he decided to commit suicide.

A Christian answers those questions very differently.

Where do we come from? We were created by God with intention, care, and purpose.

What are we? We are the beloved children of our Lord, “the apple of His eye” (Deut. 32:10)

Where we are going? We are going to a place where the trials of this life shall melt away as quickly and completely as the darkness gives way to the light when the sun rises.

Verse 8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

The Bible has been banned.

The Bible has been burnt.

The Bible has been described as obsolete.

The Bible has been dismissed as irrelevant.

The Bible, perhaps worst of all, has simply been ignored.

And yet it is still here.

Yet it is still the best-selling book.

Yet this morning, in small groups and big groups, in places near and far, all over the world there are groups of people gathering to hear the Word of God.

“The grass withers, the flower fades,” nations come and go, people come and go, fashions and technologies and trends come and go, “but the word of our God will stand forever.”

Verse 9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

If there is anything we are good at, it is certainly public witness to our faith. Right? No?

Oh, that it were so. Think of the joy in the heart of God. Like the joy of a parent overhearing their child tell other kids what great parents they have.

Verse 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Future tense again. He will feed, will gather, will carry, will lead — gently, kindly, tenderly.

We are sheep. We will be fed. At the manger.

To get to the manger, we need to pass through the wilderness.

To get to the celebration, we need to pass through the expectation.

I used to describe Advent as the season of waiting, but now I think differently.

Waiting feels like the worst thing in the world:

waiting in a line unsure of when you will be tended to,

waiting for a vehicle repair unsure of the damages,

waiting in a hospital unsure of the outcome —

waiting feels like the worst thing in the world.

Now I use the word ‘expectation.’ The difference between waiting and expecting, is that when you expect, you know something good is coming. Pregnant women are labeled expecting, because a baby is going to be born.

Christians can be labeled as expecting too, because a baby has been born, so

You know the valleys in your life shall be lifted up,

the uneven places shall become level,

the rough places in your life shall be made smooth,

for God is coming for us.