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.


This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about three tortoises named Rodney, Roger, and Gary who decided to go on a picnic one day. Rodney packed the picnic basket with some bottles of Coke and sandwiches. The trouble was that the picnic site was 10 miles away. So, it took them 10 days to get there traveling only 1 mile a day. When they got there, Rodney unpacked the food and Cokes. “Ok, Gary, give me the bottle opener.” “I didn’t bring it,” said Gary. “I thought you packed it!” Rodney got worried and turned to Roger, “Did you bring the bottle opener, Roger?” Naturally, Roger hadn’t brought it. So there they were, stuck 10 miles from home without a bottle opener. Rodney and Roger begged Gary to go back for it. But Gary refused because he thought they would eat all the sandwiches. After two hours, and after Rodney and Roger swore on their tortoise lives that they would not eat the sandwiches, Gary finally agreed to go back for the bottle opener. So Gary set off down the road at a steady pace.

20 days passed and he still wasn’t back and Rodney and Roger were starving, but a promise is a promise. Another 5 days and Gary still wasn’t back, but a promise is a promise. Finally, Rodney and Roger couldn’t take it any longer so they each took a sandwich out, and just as they were about to take a bite, Gary popped up from behind a rock and shouted, “I KNEW IT! I’M NOT BLOODY GOING!”

I don’t know which is funnier: the thought of Gary patiently proving his friends to be liars or the absurd pace at which those tortoises went about their lives. I mean, come on…traveling 10 days to have a picnic among friends?! Waiting (and starving!) through 25 days for the sake of a promise to a friend?! What an absurd understanding of time! I suppose if you’re a tortoise then you’re used to going about your life according to such an understanding. Life moves pretty slowly for a tortoise. And it would have to with a possible life expectancy of 300 years! You don’t get to be that old barreling through life at a breakneck speed! Perhaps what’s funniest about that joke is the idea that Gary has nothing better to do than wait out his friends’ promises and yet values his time enough not to waste it going to get a silly bottle opener…

Ah, the wisdom that can be gleaned from the lives of tortoises, equally precious as the wisdom that can be gleaned from the prophet Isaiah. Nestled in the heart of our passage for today is profound wisdom: “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.” It certainly echoes the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3 which speaks of there being a time for everything…”a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,” and so on. It’s true, a person’s life is so short and full of momentary cycles. Life is fleeting…here today, gone tomorrow. The older we get, the more painfully obvious this truth becomes. Life does escape us, whether we like it or not. We give it away day by day, month by month, year by year. The progression of time slowly presses on, for some slower than others. If only we all could know the slowness of time as a tortoise! “Okay, guess it’s time to walk for 10 days for a picnic…” Time marches on and eventually everything dies off. Everything, that is, except the Word of God. “But the word of God will stand forever,” proclaims the prophet. 

What a powerful truth to remind the Israelites of so long ago. Isaiah, like all prophets, was called to speak on behalf of God to a very specific people during a very specific time. He was called to speak words of both condemnation and consolation. Recall that the book of Isaiah can be broken down into 3 major sections: the time before the Israelites were sent into exile, the time during which the Israelites were in exile, and the time after the Israelites returned from exile. In the time before exile, the Israelites had fallen away from their devotion and faithfulness to God. They had lived idolatrous, unfaithful lives that had greatly displeased God. The Baylonians came in, destroyed the Israelites’ temple, and enslaved them in greater Babylon. The prophet Isaiah had warned them in the first section to change their ways lest God’s wrath would come upon them and sure enough it came in the form of the Baylonian empire. The Israelites were thrown into a 70-year exile, an entire generation completely cut off from their homeland. 

But God hadn’t forgotten them. No, during that time of exile God had Isaiah change gears and speak words of comfort and consolation. As we heard in our reading, “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.” And how does Isaiah speak words of comfort? By reminding them of the steadfastness of God’s word! By reminding them that everything in this world comes to an end, even times of exile. Cling to the words of God! Cling to the hope of God! God’s word is always a reliable source of hope and promise! And unlike Rodney and Roger, God never goes back on his promises. God comforts and saves those who are lost with his Word. We know this, we have faith in this! We know God’s love for us is steadfast and true. We know Jesus’ words are true when he says, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35) Or when the Proverbs tell us, “every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” (30:15) We sing with David in his 119th psalm, “the sum of your word is truth; and every one of your righteous ordinances endures forever.” (vs. 160) 

God hasn’t forgotten us either. For many of us, these last few years have been a time of exile. We’ve felt lost and uncertain of what lay ahead. We need to hear these words of comfort just as much as the people that Isaiah initially spoke them to. We can seek comfort in the wisdom and truth of scripture. There is great hope, great love, to be found in it. God loves us and continues to love us and for that we give thanks. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.