Isaiah 40:1-5 (Second Sunday in Advent—Series B)
“Comfort for God’s People”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
December 7, 2014
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is from the Old Testament Lesson recorded in Isaiah 40:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 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. 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 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. 5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
“It hurts too much.”
My mother’s words to me so many times over the past 15 months. Grief, sorrow, and sadness—they hurt too much. Illness, cancer, bodily pain—they hurt so much. Depression, anxiety, loneliness—they hurt too much. It is as if we all live in a type of exile, in bondage to that which simply hurts too much. How often do we hear it said, “There are so many hurting people in this world,” to which sometimes we want to reply, “Yeah, and I’m one of them!”
“It hurts too much.”
In 587 BC the nation of Babylon unleashed against Jerusalem the destruction of the city’s architecture and wiped out the environment. When the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar defeated Judah and drug the people of Israel off into exile it looked as if his gods Marduk and Nebo had triumphed over the God of Israel. Yahweh seemed no match for these foreign gods. Or worse! Maybe Yahweh chose not to defend His people because He had snubbed those who had rejected Him. Or worst of all, maybe Yahweh didn’t even exist? Had Israel’s trust in Him all been in vain? No matter how you slice it, the exiles of Israel saw a future without hope. After the fall of Jerusalem the prophet Jeremiah lamented over and over, “Zion has no comforter. Far from me is a comforter. She has no comforter. I have no comforter.” How much darker can the refrain become? Israel’s hurt was deep.
“It hurts too much.”
Maybe God chose not to defend us or help us in our time of need. Maybe we experience this sickness or mental illness or this rough go in life because God has slighted us because we have rejected Him. Or worst of all, maybe God really doesn’t exist. What if our trust in Him has all been in vain? You and I and those we love sometimes reach that point in our deep hurt when we begin to ask and ponder the very questions ancient Israel pondered and asked. Israel was cast off into human bondage and exile. Our experiences of deep hurt are like that bondage and exile of Israel—time spent in utter misery. “It hurts too much.”
The Babylonian exile of the people of Israel is a picture of that people’s spiritual reality. The physical reality of Israel’s exile and captivity goes deeper. It enables us to peer into their real bondage in which they are subject to the taskmaster sin. And this, in turn, allows us to look into the even deeper hurt that we endure as theological slaves. Israel’s real problem and the cause of their deep hurt is also our problem and the root cause of all that we experience that brings us such deep hurt. Our real problem is that we are in bondage and exile. We are spiritual slaves held in the strong chains of the taskmaster sin. Bound in our sins and trespasses, we have no spiritual freedom to better ourselves. We are tied to our evil inclinations and are under the curse of God’s Law which we are unable to keep. Thus, bound to sin, we are in exile from God.
And that’s why it all hurts so much. Our bodies, like all of creation, are subject to disease and decay and destruction because of sin. Because of sin, we die. Because of sin, which claims those we love in death, we grieve. Because of sin we experience anxiety, depression, sickness, pain, heartache, suffering, and on and on. It all hurts too much. We search and seek God out, but in our sins we cannot find Him. We try to pull ourselves out of the pits of our sorrow and sadness on our own, but we fail. Every day is like a day of warfare against all that hurts and harms us. Sin has brought nothing to us but bondage and misery and there isn’t a thing we can do about it because it simply hurts too much.
But it is precisely at this very moment, when the hurt is deep, that the voice of God breaks through the warfare, the hurt, and the pain—the sin. “Comfort, comfort, my people.” Israel’s hurt, indeed, our hurt, is deep. But Yahweh’s comfort is deeper. We were dead in trespasses and sins, but Yahweh was rich in mercy and, because of His great love, He took the initiative and spoke the comforting Gospel before we ever had a chance to respond. Even before the exile and bondage of Israel happened, God offered the good tidings of comfort to Israel through Isaiah. So as they faced this future of deep hurt because in their sins they had broken the covenant with God, nevertheless, the people were assured that God would be with them. He would not abandon. The ancient promises were not forgotten. They were fulfilled.
So we read from Mark 1, “John came on the scene, the one baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the Judean area and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem proceeded to go out to him and to be baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel hair and with a leather belt around his loins, and he was eating grasshoppers and wild honey. And he would proclaim, saying, ‘The one stronger than I is coming after me, whose sandal thong I am not able to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’” (Voelz)
It is John the Baptist who brings to fulfillment the voice of Isaiah 40. His call in the wilderness to make clear the way of Yahweh is the beginning of the preaching of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God! For the deeper comfort to overcome the deep hurt and exile of sin had come on the scene in the person of Jesus, the One coming after John, the One who proclaimed, “The reign and rule of God has drawn near (and is now at hand). Repent and believe in the Gospel—now!” In other words, when John and then Jesus announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God (the rule and reign of God), they are saying, “The exile of all sinners is ending. The time of warfare is ended. Iniquity is paid off.”
It was our sins, our iniquities, which kept us from God in a state of exile and bondage. Now, with the advent of Jesus Christ, God made flesh and dwelling among us, the time for blessing and deliverance has come. The glory of Yahweh is revealed, which all flesh shall see together! But it is a glory that can only be seen in a cross. “Any idea of Yahweh’s glory needs to adjust to Jesus’ willingness to humble himself to death, even death on a cross, for the salvation of all mankind. True glory is displayed at the cross where God the Son paid for the sins of all flesh, marking our sins ‘paid in full.’” (Lessing) Jesus Christ alone purchased forgiveness of sins for everyone on Good Friday. He redeemed the world from the deep hurt of sin and exile from God, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, so that you and I might be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom!
It is in God’s wondrous forgiveness of sins and His plan of redemption through Jesus Christ that we find the basis and reason for the message of comfort that Isaiah proclaims today in God’s Word. To burdened sinners, to those who hurt too much, there is no more comforting declaration than that the time of burden is ended. The once-for-all sacrifice for sin has been offered, and the sacrifice offered is acceptable. Jesus, true God and true Man, suffered, died, and was buried. In proof that on the cross Jesus completed the work of salvation, He rose from the dead on the third day. God the Father accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for the sins of the world. For all who believe—Jew and Gentile alike—the sentence of exile is now over!
It is the deeper comfort of God’s unmerited love and mercy and grace to us in His Son Jesus Christ that overcomes the deep hurts of this life. We are in the time between advents. We have the comfort of sins forgiven. Jesus’ saving work is finished. And yet, we are not yet with the Lord forever. We do not yet experience the nearer presence of Yahweh, our Triune God. So we wait for the Lord Jesus, our King, to come again. We wait in a world that is full of hurting people, including ourselves. But our hurt is not so deep that the deeper comfort of the Gospel of our Savior Jesus cannot overcome it and bring us refreshment and encouragement. As St. Paul, who knew deep hurt all too well, wrote by the power of the Holy Spirit, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:31-32 ESV) And Paul’s conclusion? “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39 ESV)
When you hurt with sorrow or grief, with sickness or pain, with sin and guilt, there is comfort for you in Jesus. Your sins are forgiven. Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us, God with you! in the midst of your sickness and pain. Jesus is the resurrected, living King of heaven and earth. He has forever defeated death so that you do not grieve as those who have no hope. For those who have died in Christ will live again with Christ, and you with them in the resurrection at the Last Day! Yes, all flesh will see it together because the mouth of Yahweh has spoken: “Comfort, comfort my people. Your warfare is ended. Your sin is paid off through the suffering and death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.”
During the holiday season, when hurt seems to run especially deep as you remember loved ones who have died or relationships and families that have broken apart, as you go through the holiday time with illness or pain, remember that the Good News of great joy is for you. Unto you in the city of David was born the Savior, Christ the Lord. His perfect life, death on a cross, and His triumphant resurrection has won your comfort in the forgiveness of sins and the guarantee of His presence with you every day through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. Look continually to His Word as God Himself in that Word speaks kindly upon your heart the divine words of His comfort in Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven. You are my child. I am with you always. I love you. Don’t be afraid.” Amen.