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1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 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. 3 A voice cries out: “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 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall 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 grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 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!” 10 See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 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.
Over the past 48 hours, I have been drawn to the words in verse 6 from our Isaiah reading. There is a conversation happening here. There a voice – maybe it is the voice of God, or an angel – speaking with the prophet Isaiah.
A voice says, “Cry out!”
Or a better translation is, “Preach!”
And Isaiah said, “What should I preach?”
I can relate with this.
That’s the same conversation I’ve been having with God the past few days.
God says, “Preach!”
And I said, “What should I preach?”
God says, “Preach!”
And I said, “Yeah, I know, but what should I preach?”
And God says, “Preach!”
And I said, “No seriously, it’s Saturday…what should I preach!??”
I’ll just come out with it – this was a hard one folks.
There are strange days. It’s hard to know what to say. Hard to know what to preach. The goal is always good news, but it can be hard to know which direction to turn to find it.
First and foremost, there is simply the state of the nation and this sense that something really important is happening. On NPR on Thursday, there was a debate about whether this time we are living in is just a moment or is it a movement. Is what’s happening just fleeting or will it actually enact some real change? Three congressmen resigned this week. And a little notification popped up on my phone this weekend that said the last time this happened, it was over slavery. Something really important is happening right now.
Maybe I should preach about that?
As Pastor Pam said last week, things are being revealed. Which is both terrifying but also exciting because maybe these are the beginning of the birth pangs. It’s painful, it’s hard, but perhaps it leads to new life.
To put it in the words from Isaiah this morning, perhaps all of this is preparing a way for the Lord to come to us. As we heard in Isaiah, when the Lord comes, every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain will be made low. Which for so long has sounded like a beautiful balancing of the scales. That the lowly would be lifted up out of their valley, and the mighty would be brought down from their mountainous thrones. Surely pointing to the marvelous song we will hear from Mary in just a few weeks.
But there is another understanding I’ve been thinking about – you see when valleys are filled in and mountains are brought down, there is nowhere to hide anymore. When the Lord arrives there is nowhere to hide. Which is both good news and bad news. We all long to be found. We just don’t want to be found out.
Remember in the garden of Eden, one of the first things Adam and Eve do after they eat the fruit from the tree – is they start to hide themselves from each other and from God. And when God comes into the garden, God’s first words are, “Where are you?” This is a question of judgement, it is a question of location. Where are you? When we hide ourselves, our truth, God comes to find us.
I’m not sure how to make sense of what is happening these days but I pray that it will lead to a future that is more honest, more transparent, more loving.
My wife said that one of the most profound things about giving birth is that there comes a moment when you feel like you are dying. Perhaps this movement in time, is the movement of the Spirit finding us as we really are and it is terrifying and in many ways it can feel like things are dying but it just might be the very contractions for life.
God said, “Preach!”
And I said, “What should I preach?”
Do I preach that – about the politics of our time? About how the grass beneath our feet, our very foundation feeling like it is withering and what all of this could mean? I don’t know.
Because at the same time I know that for so many of us, there is simply the day to day stuff that brings plenty of worry for one day. Who needs another liberal rant about politics when you can barely see past your family and your front yard.
Some of us are wondering simply how to be faithful children to our parents as they age. Some of us wonder how to be a good spouse or a good parent. We carry grief that is fresh and grief made of scars and we long to have God speak tenderly to those places of our soul.
Yet we live in a time when our ability and willingness to be publicly vulnerable is so unencouraged, it can lead to silent suffering and isolation. And I think that is really important too.
Maybe I should preach about that.
The Bible has a word for times like these – wilderness. A time when you look around and nothing looks familiar and there are no well-worn paths that lead to a clear way out.
The Israelites in the book of Isaiah knew what it was like to live in the wilderness.
When Isaiah 40 was written down, the Israelites had been taken into exile by the Babylonians. Meaning taken from their homes, from their families with nothing but a burning Jerusalem and a destroyed temple – the place where God could be found – in their rearview mirror. In fact they had everything taken away from them they didn’t even have a song to sing. We hear in Psalm 137 these words, “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and there we wept….we hung up our harps on the willow trees. How could we sing the Lord’s song in this land…this exile…this wilderness?”
Now the Israelites are no strangers to exile. They’ve lived in the wilderness land of loss before – when they were taken into slavery in Egypt. But this time it was different.
This time – they had it coming to them. They had broken the covenant with God. They had mistreated those who were in need. They had turned their backs on the way of God that leads to life. In short, they had just made a mess of everything.
Have you ever made a mess of everything? And caused damage in someone’s life?
They knew that God was faithful to them when exile wasn’t their fault. But would God be faithful to them when it was? Would God rescue them from this wilderness? Or would God desert them in the desert of Babylon?
And then like a thief in the night, God speaks to them. Nothing in the previous 39 chapters prepares these despairing ones for the words that arrive in verse one. “Comfort, comfort my people…tell them they’ve done their time. In the wilderness prepare a way, for I the Lord am coming to them. The mountains will come down, the valleys will come up…nothing will get in the way of me reaching them.”
Can you imagine how those words would’ve sounded to people who had really made a mess of things? To hear that God is faithful. Even when we are not. To hear that God would do what they thought was impossible – that God would come to find them in this place – this place of wilderness.
Whether it’s our fault or not, God makes a way in the wilderness. Not a way for you to come to God. A way for God to come to you. And be with you there. In the very place of your fear and your pain and your despair.
God said to me, “Preach!”
And I said, “What should I preach?”
Do I preach that – about the wildernesses of this life. The places where it feels like the flowers that give color and beauty and aroma to this life fade away, leaving us cold and alone, and what could that mean? I don’t know.
And then I finally saw it. There in verse 8 and 9.
That voice. It finally gets fed up with Isaiah. It gets tired of his late-Saturday night delaying that the voice finally just gives Isaiah the sermon.
It says, “Yes, the grass withers, and the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 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,….(wait for it)…… “Here is your God!”
That’s the sermon. Here is your God.
Here is your God. Here is your God….Just tell them that their God is here.
A God who comes with might – because somethings need to change. Mountains needs to come down; valleys need to come up. But a God who also gathers into Her chest the lambs for whom She has searched.
One of the greatest moments of watching Lauren be a mom is seeing how she so naturally cares for our boys whenever they are hurt or despairing. She just holds them. Close to her chest. Sometimes they bury their face in her out of embarrassment for something they’ve done. And she just holds them. And leans over and whispers in their ear, “I got you. I got you. I got you.”
I don’t know where each of you are on this second Sunday in Advent. I’m not sure what’s happening in your life but this season points to one promise. One thing for all of us to preach – here is your God. Your God is here. It is the fulfillment of God’s deepest need, God’s deepest desire: To be with us. The promise that God would go the farthest distance to find you – God becomes a human being. To be with you. To speak tenderly to you. To hold you close to the chest and say, “I got you. I got you. I got you.”