Isaiah 40:1-11

(sermon note: 12-10 sermon note)

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 a man who decided he needed some help from a therapist. After searching high and low for a reasonably competent therapist, the man scheduled his first session. When the man was settled comfortably on the therapist’s couch, the therapist began his session. “I’m not aware of your problem,” the therapist said. “So perhaps, you should start at the very beginning.” “Of course,” replied the man. “In the beginning, I created the heavens and the earth…”

I don’t suppose it took that therapist too long to diagnose at least one of that man’s problems! Clearly, he was deluded about who he was and what he’d done in life, not an unfamiliar delusion for a lot of people. They’re called “delusions of grandeur,” and many people are afflicted by them throughout life which seems a little confusing to me. Why do so many people exaggerate who they are and what they’ve accomplished? Why aren’t they content with who they are and what they’ve done? Who are they trying to impress? Well, I imagine they’re somewhat unimpressed themselves with who they are and what they’ve done. They’re discontented, unhappy people and they think that exaggerations will help them feel content. But we know exaggerations only bring false comfort…short-lived comfort. What they bring most is confusion and further discontentment. Thank goodness we have people like therapists to help us get over our delusions and provide some sense of comfort.

And God is not unlike those helpful therapists. He, too, is eager to correct our delusions and provide comfort for us. In our reading for this morning, we heard God tell the prophet, Isaiah, to “comfort, o comfort my people” which is a decidedly different attitude for God to have. Scholars have broken the book of Isaiah into three major sections: 1st Isaiah, 2nd Isaiah, and 3rd Isaiah. Each section was written at different times and had different purposes. In 1st Isaiah, the prophet was tasked with expressing God’s disappointment with his beloved Israelites. They had yet again fallen away from heeding his commands and were leading displeasing lives. Isaiah spoke of God’s anger and disappointment for many chapters and sure enough, the Babylonian empire came and destroyed their city of Jerusalem and the temple, consequently for their poor behavior. The Israelites were enslaved and sent into exile for many years. In 2nd Isaiah, the start of which is our reading for this morning, we hear God shift his attitude towards his people. Instead of angry threats, God offers words of comfort to an exiled people. God comforts his disheartened, suffering people with words of hope. All through the rest of 2nd Isaiah we hear God continue to comfort his suffering people until finally He encourages them to return to their city and rebuild what was lost. 3rd Isaiah conveys God’s encouragement in the post-exile time.

The theme of 2nd Isaiah is certainly one of comfort. God still loves his people despite their wayward ways. God still loves US despite our wayward ways! I don’t like to believe that God harshly punished the Israelites through the Babylonian conquest and subsequent exile. It’s hard believing in a vengeful, harsh God but there are right and wrong ways of living. There are life-encouraging ways of living and life-destroying ways of living, and our God is a God of life. Our God can be disappointed in us and our destructive ways and, like any good parent, will separate us and punish us for our poor behavior. He’ll send the Israelites into exile for many years so that they’ll reconsider their behavior. And, like any good parent, they’ll eventually comfort their children and invite them back into relationship. God says, “Comfort, O comfort my people.” After all, our God is a loving God and wants to be in loving relationship with us. Sometimes He just needs to correct our “delusions of grandeur,” when we forget who we are and what we can do or ought to do.

I think we can relate to the exiled Israelites. In many ways, we have strayed from God’s commands and created our own “delusions of grandeur.” We need God in our time just as the Israelites needed God in their time. And God hasn’t abandoned us. No, God continues to be with us and bless us and strengthen us and encourage us. We are a faithful and humble community and God is pleased with us. God continues to comfort us even in these dark days of the year. In just a few weeks, we’ll celebrate the coming of his light in our dark world. Jesus will once again lighten our world. What a gracious God! What a comforting God! He comforted us through the darkness of the pandemic and will continue to comfort us through the year ahead.

We are assured of his comfort through verses elsewhere in scripture, verses like Psalm 23:4, “even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.” Or how about Paul’s familiar words of advice from his second letter to the Corinthians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (1:3-4) What great words of encouragement…He comforts us so that we might comfort others! We ought not forget this! Friends, we are to comfort others because God comforts us. He helps us to live without fear. What a great gift!

Let us be mindful of our comforting God and Paul’s words in the weeks ahead. Jesus comes to comfort us. Not all of us but a lot of us. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love for us. Let us give thanks for his love and comfort. Thanks be to God!

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