+ In the Name of Jesus +
Christ’s Coming Brings a Call to Prepare
Sermon on Isaiah 40:1-11
for Advent 2 (B)
December 10, 2023
- What does the word “comfort” bring to mind? Maybe a mattress or a reclining chair… that’s the light side of comfort. Sometimes after severe illness, doctors talk about hospice care and “comfort measures”… that’s the more serious side of comfort. Isaiah is not speaking of either of those when he tells us about God’s command to preach “comfort” to his people. “’Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God.” Isaiah lived and preached and wrote before a time of defeat, loss and captivity for people who would be living in the middle of defeat, loss and captivity. The people of Judah had seen the destruction of Solomon’s temple, and likely the loss of their own fields, flocks and homes. Many of the people of Judah were taken as captives to Babylon, over 600 miles away. The comfort Isaiah was writing about was this: “God has not forgotten you. He still counts you as his people. He still has a plan for you. His plan is a plan for healing and restoration.”
- Isaiah was an Old Testament prophet, so he was looking forward to the first coming, the First Advent of the Savior—which he also wrote about. “The virgin will conceive and bear a son and will call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). “To us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). In the last weeks, we heard about the Second Advent, being ready for the second coming of Christ when he will come to judge the living and the dead. But there is yet another advent. The constant, ongoing Advent of our Savior God coming to us with his Word, the fulfillment of the Savior’s promises, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20), and “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). Your Savior, your God, is constantly coming to you. When John the Baptist said, “Repent because the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2) he meant two things. First, the Savior Jesus is almost here. Second, God wants to rule in your hearts now. Prepare for that. Open your hearts for that. Repent. Change heart and life to be in line with Gods plan.
- This “third advent,” the advent of our God to our hearts is what Isaiah wrote about with vivid picture language: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord. In the wasteland make a level highway for our God. Every valley will be raised up, and every mountain and hill will be made low. The rugged ground will become level, and the rough places will become a plain.” Isaiah wasn’t writing about construction projects in the desert—he was writing about drastic changes within the human heart. “Wilderness” and “wasteland” were words used for uninhabited and undeveloped Places were people didn’t live or work, or plant or harvest—here used as a metaphor for the wayward human heart. In your rocky, stony heart, prepare the way for the Lord.
- And Isaiah continues with specifics in the picture: “Every valley will be raised up, and every mountain and hill will be made low.” What are some of the obstacles for God’s rule in the human heart? Valleys are depths of despair—the devil’s temptation that we’re too bad and too far gone for God to be interested in us. God himself fills in the valleys and levels his way with that word of “comfort,” consolation, restoration. God’s message to Isaiah was “[Jerusalem’s] warfare really is over. [Its] guilt is fully paid for. Yes, [they have] received from the Lord’s hand double for all [their] sins.”
- When Judah was in exile, they learned their lesson. They knew their unfaithfulness to God was the reason for their losses. One of the captivity psalms says “Beside the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, and, yes, we wept as we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137). “Boy, did we blow it!” Now God sends a message of comfort, restoration and peace to his people—and he urges preparation. “Get ready! Your Lord is coming to you. Do not despair. God is near you.”
- We also live in a time of despair. There is a great epidemic—not COVID—but a mental health epidemic, and I think it’s also a spiritual epidemic. People are depressed. People are anxious. People are lonely. Sometimes the sadness and worry are based on what we’ve experienced in the past. Sometimes from self-blame. Sometimes for no apparent reason at all. Yes, our sins are real. Our failures are real. Our lousy situation is real, too. And God’s mercy is real. God’s words of comfort, restoration, and the promise of his presence are for our ears, too. Cheer up! God is still interested in you. Prepare your hearts. He is near you. He has something to say to you. “Jesus has already fought the battle for you. Your guilt is fully paid for.”
- And then there is the other obstacle. Not a valley to be filled in, but a mountain that needs to be leveled. Another great obstacle is pride. John the Baptist and Jesus experienced that with people who were proud of being children of Abraham. John preached, “Do not think of saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones.” What makes you important to God? Not your ancestors. Not your nationality. Not your accomplishments. Only this: the tender mercy of God that seeks to speak to the hearts of his people. That’s why God calls to you. Everything in him. His love. His grace. Nothing in you or me. Despair and pride come from our hearts and are the obstacles. His love seeks to overcome all of that—all of our obstacles, our valleys and mountains.
- And what is the result of this boundless mercy from the heart of God? “Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh together will see it. Yes, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” The display of God’s grace is his glory. When the angels announced the birth of Jesus, they all sang, “Glory to God in the highest” because that’s what this display of God’s love in Christ was. In sending his Son to bear our sin and be our Savior, God was demonstrating something just as glorious as his omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience. He was displaying his love for lost sinners. He was displaying his love that even the fall of humanity couldn’t stop. God himself gives the call, “Prepare!” and then what does he do? With the Word of our God that endures forever, with the gospel of his love, he himself prepares us. He works repentance within us—change of heart and life. He works joy within us.
- Isaiah describes that joy. Get up on a high mountain, “O Zion, you herald of good news. Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, you herald of good news. Lift it up! Do not be afraid! Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” “Tidings of comfort and joy” that come from your lips and mine.