December 7, 2011
TEXT: Isaiah 40:1-11
WAITING WITH COMFORT!
Rev. Kenneth Wieting

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 (v. 1-2).


Advent is a time of waiting and preparing for the celebration of the feast of the holy incarnation – the coming of Christ on that first Christmas Day.  The message of John the Baptizer’s voice echoes down through the winding years.  Witness to his voice rings out from the prophet Isaiah from centuries before. 

December 7, 2011
TEXT: Isaiah 40:1-11
WAITING WITH COMFORT!
Rev. Kenneth Wieting


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 (v. 1-2).


Advent is a time of waiting and preparing for the celebration of the feast of the holy incarnation – the coming of Christ on that first Christmas Day.  The message of John the Baptizer’s voice echoes down through the winding years.  Witness to his voice rings out from the prophet Isaiah from centuries before. 


The words of our text tonight also ring out with beautiful comfort from the prophet Isaiah.  Comfort was the order of the day during the lowest point in the national history of Israel.  They were enslaved far from home in Babylon (present-day Iraq).  Not only were Jerusalem and the temple destroyed, but most of the land and surrounding cities had also been laid waste.    The glory of the Lord had departed from the temple as Ezekiel reports.  No temple remained.  No liturgy remained in which the LORD God promised to be present among His people.  The people of Israel wept in a foreign land. They had no hope of rescue within their control.  Their present was painful.  Their future was dark.


In the mired-down mess of life God spoke to and through His prophet Isaiah.  Comfort, comfort my people says your God.  Comfort today can come in many forms!  There is the comfort of a favorite chair in which one relaxes from a day of too much tension.  There is the comfort of a nap under a favorite blanket.  There is the comfort a small child receives in the arms of a mother or father.  There is the comfort of good friends and good conversation.  Increasingly in the 21st century one hears also of “comfort food.” This phrase is thought to be a response to increasingly stressful schedules and living conditions.  Since 1997 the Oxford dictionary has defined it as food that comforts or provides solace; hence any food (frequently with a high sugar or carbohydrate content) that is associated with childhood or home cooking. 


The Hebrew word “comfort” that the Holy Spirit caused Isaiah to use means to cause to breathe deeply and easily!  The repetition is powerful!  Double comfort is the language of the Gospel.  Comfort, comfort – that is put my people totally at ease says your God!  There is to be no shallow breathing of worry or anxiety!  There is to be no breathless fear of what is coming.  Even in the mired-down mess of captivity - Comfort, comfort my people says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem… The Hebrew for “tenderly” means “to speak to her heart.”  Speak in the clearest and deepest and kindest way to the heart of my people that her warfare is ended.  Soon her captivity in Babylon will be over.
 
These soothing words of liberation are not a command to organize a band of freedom fighters to shed blood in Babylon.  Rather, the words deal with the deeper warfare and spiritual captivity of sin and death.  “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” (v. 1-2).  Double gifts from the Lord for all her sins!  This is the Gospel language of forgiveness.  It is always more than we expect or desire, or deserve.


Isaiah goes on to describe the liberation and restoration of Israel with the picture of a king returning home from battle.  Heralds are sent ahead to announce his arrival.  The people are to get busy preparing the road on which the king will arrive travelling through the wilderness.  Valleys raised, mountains made low, rugged places made smooth.  This king is the Lord Himself, returning to Zion.  The glory of the Lord had departed the temple and now Isaiah proclaims the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.  And so it came to pass that Israel returned to her homeland and to Jerusalem after seventy years in captivity.  The temple was rebuilt.  The liturgy was restored.  The liturgy of worship of God’s people was their gathering in His name, where His glory was present - to receive His mercy and His forgiveness for their sins.


As this restoration occurs, a voice says “Cry!”  And Isaiah said “What shall I cry?” In other words, what shall the preacher preach?  And God said, All flesh is like grass, and all its beauty like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades…but the word of our God will stand forever. 


In Lutheran terms, God told Isaiah to preach Law and Gospel!  God told Isaiah to shout it from a high mountain.  (S)ay to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”  Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him…He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs.  The ultimate good tidings of which Isaiah spoke would take place when a virgin would conceive a son and call his name Immanuel (Is 7:14).  He would tend His flock like a Shepherd by laying His life down for the sheep.  Indeed all we like sheep have gone astray and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.


And now there is comfort.  Comfort in a church year that is out of step with the world’s year!  Comfort in the midst of tension for He invites us to cast all our anxieties on Him because He cares for us.  Comfort in tribulation because it is through much tribulation that we must enter the kingdom of God.  Comfort as our flower fades because the Word of our God stands forever.  There is even the most astounding “comfort food” from the hand of this Good shepherd.  It is heavenly food, forgiveness food – so that simple bread and wine are the saving body and blood of Immanuel. 


So, this Advent season we can wait with comfort!  There is always more work to do on hearts, raising the valleys, leveling the mountains, smoothing the rough places.  But the King comes for the very purpose of making straight what we cannot!  In the joyful high points of life - in the mired-down mess of the low points of life – Jesus gives you reason to breathe deeply and easily as you wait for Him to come again.  In His Name, AMEN.



THE PRAYERS
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten son, that by His coming we may be enabled to serve You with pure minds; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  AMEN.


Heavenly Father, grant Your mercy and grace to Your people in their many and various callings.  Give them patience, and strengthen them in their Christian vocation of witness to the world and service to their neighbor in Christ’s name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  AMEN.


Merciful Lord, watch over those afflicted with sickness.  Relieve pain, guard from danger, and restore health according to Your gracious will.  Hear us especially for Irv and Helen and Fran and Linda and Krisi and Sandy and Winnie and all we name in our hearts.  Hear us for those who request our prayers in other need especially Rofael and Zane and his sons.  Bestow your blessed comfort on the family of Marlowe as they mourn his death, that casting all their care on You they may know the consolation of Your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  AMEN.


Gracious God, giver of life, health, safety and strength receive our thanks for blessing Wendy and Janet and Hannah with recovery from surgery and for relieving their pain.  Fill their hearts with daily remembrance of Your goodness that they may serve You with a holy and obedient life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  AMEN. 


Heavenly Father, receive our thanks for Your gift of marriage and families.  Grant that husbands and wives, parents and children may live in ordered harmony according to Your Word.  Hear us also for our community and our country, turning us from every evil and harmful course of action; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN. 


O God, give us times of refreshment and peace in the course of this busy life.  Grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds that we may be opened to the goodness of Your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  AMEN.


O God, from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works, give to us Your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey Your commandments and also that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  AMEN. 

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