God Comes - Peace and Comfort
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation is from our Old Testament lesson, especially where YHWH speaks through His prophet Isaiah, Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. 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. A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. … Get you 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!’ Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
It’s that wonderful time of year again, my friends. It’s Advent, that blessed season of the Church Year that anticipates Jesus’ coming -- first in His incarnation when He was born as a baby in Bethlehem, and when He will come again in glory, as Judge and Restorer of all creation. This second weekend in Advent is all about peace -- not in the “peace, man” way seen in the mid- to late-60s, but more in the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, that comfort from God which cannot be understood.
Isaiah certainly is on-board with this idea of peace and comfort. In some of the tenderest words we find in Scripture, we hear YHWH speak through him, Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. These words also represent one of the greatest twists and marked shift in Scripture -- so much so, that some scholars (irreverently, I must say) have suggested that it represents a second author, a second Isaiah, an idea which we know to be unmitigated hogwash. It’s a twist because these incredible, sweet words in our text for today follow on the heels of a rather tense (and less than hopeful) interaction between the prophet and King Hezekiah of Judah; in fact, the chapters preceding our text are quite the roller coaster ride.
In chapter 36, we saw the Rabshakeh (a military officer like a colonel or general), the leader of Assyria’s armies standing outside Jerusalem’s walls, proclaiming to all Jerusalem and especially King Hezekiah that Jerusalem’s destruction is assured, since they were on a mission from the LORD. Chapter 37 saw Hezekiah humble himself, pray for deliverance through Isaiah’s prompting, and the overnight destruction of the entire Assyrian army, as well as mention of the assassination of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib. Then, in chapter 38, Hezekiah caught a disease which Isaiah told him that he would not recover from. Hezekiah again humbled himself before YHWH his God, prayed (no doubt for recovery), and wept bitterly. YHWH heard his prayer, and healed the king of Judah.
Finally, in chapter 39, right before our text, we have, honestly, a rather embarrassing moment. After all that YHWH had done to guard and protect the life of Hezekiah -- indeed, of all Jerusalem, the undoubtedly well-intentioned king commits a grievous faux-pas: Hezekiah entertains envoys from BABYLON, not withholding anything on his tour of all the royal property. Isaiah approaches Hezekiah and asks (probably incredulously) what had transpired. Hezekiah tells him (probably nonchalantly) what happened, not even realizing the floodgates of doom he had opened. Isaiah replies how the days were coming that all his household, all of the wealth of Judah, would be carted off to Babylon, where his offspring would become eunuchs in service to the Babylonian king. And how does this dunce Judahite reply to this horrific prophecy?? The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good, thinking to himself, “Hey, at least it ain’t me! There will be peace and security in my days.” Not exactly words of comfort or peace here -- just a blissfully unaware king who is only concerned with his own comfort and peace.
Here’s where things get interesting. Literally the next sentence in Isaiah’s prophecy is our text for the day, starting with Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. I hope you caught the disconnect. You go from the blissful and damnable ignorance of a Judahite king, whose descendents were destined to be castrated and enslaved in service to a pagan nation … to words which express the peace and comfort that only comes from YHWH of Hosts, the only true God. In this section of his prophecy, Isaiah wrote that YHWH was coming, and in many of the Old Testament prophecies, this would not be a good thing. The Day of YHWH, the Day on which He would come, was usually described as a day of judgment and darkness, of bitterness and destruction and death. It’s usually described as a Day when YHWH would pour out His wrath upon evildoers and wicked nations, and Judah would certainly fall into that category.
Early in his prophetic writings, Isaiah calls Israel (both kingdoms) a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! These are people who long before had abandoned any of the true comfort that came in YHWH’s covenant and promises, and instead chose their own way. They wanted peace and comfort on their own terms. They wanted to have their cake and eat it, too - to hold to the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but live like Canaan, Moab, and Egypt. They wanted the security of YHWH, but the perceived perks of Baal and Moloch. Make no mistake, folks: Judah deserved the punishment YHWH would visit upon them over a century later. Judah deserved exile into Babylon, the land that Hezekiah thought would bring him peace and security and comfort.
Usually, this is how the Prophets speak about YHWH’s advent, His coming, so why … why is this advent message in our Isaiah text good news?? Why is it a comfort, when Isaiah says, Get you 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!’ “’Behold your God’?? Last time we did that, we were carted off to Babylon!” you can imagine the former residents of Jerusalem saying. Why is today’s text a proclamation of Gospel, and not a terrifying condemnation of Law?
Because of the God Who is speaking through Isaiah. It’s not Baal or Moloch, who would accept the human sacrifices of first-born sons. No, Isaiah is speaking for YHWH, the true God Who, in the fullness of time, would send His only-begotten Son to take on human flesh and die, bearing the sins of all people! He’s the same God Who had delivered His people from the bondage of Egypt, the same Lord Who would use the Persian king Cyrus to liberate His people from exile in Babylon. These are words which are coming from the God Who proclaims, 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. He’s the One Isaiah spoke of when he wrote, Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. 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. This is coming from the just God, who rightly punishes sins … but pours His justified wrath upon His innocent, incarnate Son for our sake. This is the God Who came, not to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him, the God of mercy, of love. The same God Who saved us through the waters of holy baptism, Who gave us faith, Who feeds us with His very Body and Blood on a weekly basis! The same God Who is coming again, as Judge and Restorer of creation, the death of death!
Truly, friends, this is a blessed time of year, a time of hope, peace, and comfort, and that comfort comes from the One Who loved us so much, that He did not withhold His Son for our sake. This is why Isaiah, and later John the Baptist, declare, “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.” So, yes, behold your God -- as a newborn Babe in a manger, as your Redeemer hanging upon a cross, and returning as your King. There is peace and comfort in this advent of our God.
+ In His holy and precious Name. + Amen.