Second Sunday of Advent

Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

Opening Hymn

Readings

Isaiah 40:1-11 (NLT)

40 “Comfort, comfort my people,”
    says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
    and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over
    for all her sins.”

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness
    for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
    for our God!
Fill in the valleys,
    and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves,
    and smooth out the rough places.
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
    The Lord has spoken!”

A voice said, “Shout!”
    I asked, “What should I shout?”

“Shout that people are like the grass.
    Their beauty fades as quickly
    as the flowers in a field.
The grass withers and the flowers fade
    beneath the breath of the Lord.
    And so it is with people.
The grass withers and the flowers fade,
    but the word of our God stands forever.”

O Zion, messenger of good news,
    shout from the mountaintops!
Shout it louder, O Jerusalem.
    Shout, and do not be afraid.
Tell the towns of Judah,
    “Your God is coming!”
10 Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
    He will rule with a powerful arm.
    See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
    He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
    He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.

Sermon

Isaiah 40:1-11

Isaiah 40 is one of the great passages of scripture, often read at this time of year, a prophetic poem crying out from God; “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God, speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her”… But as with all scripture, if we are going to understand what it was saying then, and what it might be saying now we need to delve a little bit deeper; Why was God comforting his people? How does this fit with the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures? Why do we read it now, in Advent?

First as always with studying the bible we need to understand the context. In the Hebrew scriptures the book of Isaiah follows the book of Kings. At the end of Kings there is the announcement of exile, as the nation of Israel was overrun by the mighty Babylonian empire, and the Israelites were carried off into slavery. You might remember the desperation recorded in psalm 137:1:

‘By the rivers of Babylon—
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion.’

The first part of the book of Isaiah, chapters 1-39 its thought was by Isaiah son of Amoz and recalls the judgement of exile. This second part starting at Isaiah chapter 40 was written about 150 years later, in a similar style but clearly not because of the time gap by the original Isaiah, indeed its thought that there could be three distinct Isaiahs, or maybe even more, contributing in a sort of school of Isaiah – a bit like the great painters taught those who followed on after them to develop a similar style. 

This second part of Isaiah deals with a very distinct part of history. Here after all the anguish of exile there is light at the end of the tunnel. The rise of King Cyrus of Persia meant the Babylonian empire of King Nebuchadnezzar was coming to an end. The horror of slavery under the Babylonians and the destruction of Jerusalem is coming to an end, and hope is on the horizon. The end of chapter 39 and this part of the beginning of chapter 40 tell of the loss of that and period and moves towards the hope of restoration. It’s in the book of Isaiah that the theme of the God of Israel as one God, the creator of the universe begins to emerge, here is God almighty, who oversees the destruction of the god’s of Babylon, who promises hope and a future – it’s here that the writer begins to use the term glad tidings, good news – the same word as is used for the gospels of the new testament.

And of course these were the holy Scriptures for those first Jewish Christian believers, and as they looked back to the themes of faith familiar to them, maybe they too started to see the prophesy of Isaiah as not just about the ending of the Babylonian empire and the beginning of God doing a new thing for the Israelites then, maybe they too started to understand Isaiah’s words in the context of the ending of the Roman occupation of Jerusalem of their own time, and the beginning of God doing a new thing through Jesus.

The themes of lament and hope that speak through this passage, the cry to God to step in are of course things that all of us can recognise, especially in this year of sadness, frustration and the exile of isolation. There is now too a longing for this time to end and for a time of new hope. And of course advent is a time of looking forward, of preparation, a time of longing, a time of repentance and a time when we anticipate the incarnation of God on earth, Jesus – God come to live as a tiny human baby, God humbled and vulnerable, God who identifies with and walks with us in all the struggles we now face, just as God walked with the Israelites in their time of exile long ago.

As we look to the future and long for a rescue from this time, lets hear Isaiah’s words of encouragement spoken in the darkness once more, and lets remember that God is with us, God cares and weeps as we do too:

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God, speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her”…

Prayers

In joyful expectation of his coming
we pray to Jesus, saying,
Maranatha.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to your Church as Lord and Judge.
We pray for all who seek to follow Jesus
and share his gospel of love and hope.
Help us to live in the light of your coming
and give us a longing for your kingdom.
Maranatha.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to your world as King of the nations.
We pray for all nations stricken by war, famine and climate change.
We pray for all nations with the means to make a difference.
We pray for all nations where coronavirus is causing such suffering.
Before you rulers will stand in silence.
Maranatha.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to your people with a message of victory and peace.
We pray for all beaten down by injustice, poverty and cruelty.
Give us the victory over death, temptation and evil.
Maranatha.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to us as Saviour and Comforter.
We pray for all unwell in mind, body or spirit.
We pray for all who grieve.
Break into our lives,
where we struggle with sickness and distress,
and set us free to serve you for ever.
Maranatha.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to us from heaven, Lord Jesus,
with power and great glory.
Lift us up to meet you,
with all your saints and angels,
to live with you for ever.
Maranatha.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Closing Hymn

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s