Anticipation (Isaiah 40:1-11)

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
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. 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.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

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.
The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
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. 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.
Isaiah 40: 1-11

May the words of my mouth
And the meditations of all of our hearts Be acceptable in thine sight
O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

The key to understanding this morning’s Old Testament lesson is contradiction. It comes from a time of despair–and yet it is a message of hope. It comes from a time experienced as judgment–and yet it is a message of deliverance. It comes from a time of betrayal–and yet it is a message of promise. In short, what the prophet proclaims to the people is in direct contradiction to what the people are actually experiencing.

Indeed, the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed. The bulk of the professional class is in exile in Babylon. The streets of Jerusalem are clogged with rubble–and widows wander the alleyways seeking scraps of food to feed their starving children. There is no hope in sight.

“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!'”

It’s startling. There is something almost cruel in the demand that the broken ones themselves proclaim the presence of God in the midst of a world that could hardly be experienced as other than abandoned, orphaned–forsaken. And yet, this it would seem is the meaning of the message. This it would seem is the key to the kingdom.

Consider your own life. It’s easy to praise God when everything is going well. It’s easy to give thanks when we are comfortable. But how are we to be witnesses to the light–when we walk in darkness?

“Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings” the prophet says, “say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!'”.

But where is our God? That is the question. And how are we to proclaim his coming and his healing presence–when we look and nothing has changed? When we sing our hymns of joy and praise–and still everything seems broken?

And yet–somehow–in this demand–it would seem–we find the true meaning of the Gospel– and indeed, a lasting sign of the true miracle of Advent and Christmas. Again, it is the prophet Isaiah, in another passage, who puts it succinctly: “the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light”.

The truth of the matter is that the message of Advent and Christmas is itself contradictory to everyday experience. And perhaps that is a key to it’s deepest truth. Although we make much of Christmas cheer and the joy of the season–I think the first lesson to learn about Christmas is that even though it reveals God’s love and constancy–even though it proclaims that God has not abandoned his creation–but rather has sent a savior to gather us home–even though it proclaims salvation–it also reveals and calls attention to the reality of our present experience–our present experience which is all too often contradictory to the experience proclaimed in Christmas.

God’s plan is not yet complete. Christmas is a down-payment on the future–it is not a denial of the present–the present in which creation remains incomplete–the present in which the light shines only in darkness–the present in which limits and brokenness and suffering remain.

The point to be made is that God is not yet finished. The danger is to mistake Christmas for an end as opposed to a beginning. Indeed, this is why during the season of Advent we remember that Jesus promised to return: There is so much more to come.

Friends, Advent and Christmas amount to a divinely inspired refusal to accept that what is presently seen is all we can and should expect from God. Indeed, the world would have us believe that it, itself, is ultimate–that the ways of the world are the only ways–that brokenness and injustice are all that can be hoped for.

We are called to the wisdom of knowing better–loving better–but more importantly–we are called to live our lives in this knowledge, this love–called to anticipate the glorious future in our present lives–called to look beyond the present to a future that belongs not to more of the same–but to the God who has decreed something new–a new heaven and earth–a new way of being–a new reality–a new creation–the fulfillment of Christmas on earth.

Hear the Good News: Wherever there is hope–there the Christ is being born. May we bear witness in the mangers of our own lives. May we bear witness when it is hard. Amen.