Isaiah 40:1-8

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. Isaiah 40:1-8

When you read through the book of Isaiah the change in tone that comes in the 40th chapter is startling. Scholars attribute this to the life context out of which it was written. The first 39 chapters grew out of many years before, and the initial years of, the devastation that came to Israel courtesy of the Babylonian army. The remaining chapters, beginning with chapter 40, come near the end, and after, a 50 year period where the leading voices of Israel lived in exile in Babylon. Today’s reading makes sense given that background.

Israel has suffered deeply. Now, with the Persian conquest of Babylon, the end of their suffering is in sight. As written in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, it was time to return home. To rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. To rebuild the temple. To return to business as usual. Which is, of course, impossible. Suffering leaves scars and scars live on.

Whenever you have the privilege of talking to someone who grew up in the United States during the post-crash years of the Great Depression, you are reminded of the impact of their suffering. I remember how my Great Grandma Madsen saved tin foil, scraped the last piece of margarine off the paper, tended a huge garden. She was the most frugal person I ever knew. She never forgot how hard life had been. She bore the scars.

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God…”

Both of the candidates in our recent presidential election promised to make huge investments in infrastructure. Whether that would mean providing jobs to millions of people or millions of dollars of profits to those securing government projects depends on how you look at it. But the promise remains seductive. Huge public works investments helped us out of the Great Depression, or at least helped many survive through it.

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” This originally meant preparing a way for the return to Jerusalem. But as history would show, rebuilding the city and rebuilding the temple wasn’t the answer that people were really looking for. A nice new city and a sparkling new temple will still be populated by the same fickle people of grass that we have always been. And will always be.

No, we need more than external building projects that we can feel good about. We need the internal building project of the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and minds, to align our will with God’s will. We need to learn that good times come and go, that there is more to life than getting what we can and getting out while we can, surfing along booms and busts. Who can teach us this lesson? The One who bore our scars on a cross. The One who we rejected. The One who will never reject us. There is our comfort and our hope.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we are a fickle people. We forget you in the good times and we reject you in the bad times. Yet you love us all the time. As you brought words of comfort to people who had only known suffering, be with those who suffer today. May the scars of our lives be our teachers. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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One Response to “Isaiah 40:1-8”

  1. Marlys Says:

    Thank you, it was so wonderful to find this inspiring message in my email this morning. How blessed we are to have you! God truly speaks through you.

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