God comforts his people

Sermon for Sunday December 10th, 2017, the Second Sunday in Advent

The Lessons: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

The Text: Isaiah 40:1-11

The Topic: God comforts His people

INTRODUCTION

The transition from Isaiah 39 to 40 is, as one scholar has remarked, like passing from the darkness of judgement to the light of salvation. In our Old Testament Lesson today, God calls the prophets to comfort his people. The historical situation is the Babylonian Exile, in which the people of Israel were longing to return from Babylon to their beloved Promised Land. The assurance that their sin is forgiven, and their iniquity pardoned, is a proclamation of restoration as God’s people.

The result of this is that God would make a way for his people to return to their land, but the way of the Lord that is to be made ready represents not just God’s preparation of a highway for the return of his people, but also the way for God to visit his people through the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of St. John the Baptist as Christ’s forerunner was the prophesied preparation for the Lord’s highway.

THE MEANING OF THIS MESSAGE OF COMFORT TODAY

Today God speaks the same message to all his people, the message of comfort. But, by “comfort” we must understand “encourage, put heart and strength into,” since this comfort is not simply a warm feeling, but embraces the grace of God strengthening and encouraging his people to lay aside all that is sinful and wrong and to do always what is right, good and pleasing to him.

A child that runs, falls and grazes his knee can easily cry and scream. But when his wound is washed and covered with a bandaid, he is able to proceed with his play. God deals with his people, calls them to repentance and healing, comforts them, and sends them on their way rejoicing. Spiritually speaking, the rough places will be made smooth and valleys lifted up and mountains flattened, and crooked things made straight. This is what repentance is about, and what St. John the Baptist proclaimed in his preaching. This repentance is a necessary part of the Christian life, for otherwise, how can the Holy Spirit bear to live within us?

In this season of Advent, we do well to look to all those areas of our lives where the crooked things must be made straight, where God requires us to turn from sin, and pursue the way of righteousness. Without forsaking the paths and habits of sin, we cannot receive the divine comfort, the strength of life and character that the Holy Spirit wants to form in us. In this repentance, in this newness of life, the glory of God will be seen. Around us there is much sorrow, even in this season of preparation for the joy of Christmas. There are many who have no homes, many unemployed people, many hungry people in the United States and in many nations of the world. God wants us to be a blessing wherever we are and wherever we go. We must be aware of God’s will that there be an end to the greed of landlords and that everyone should find employment and have a roof over his head.

In the face of all the pride of life, pride in material wealth and possessions, what does God say? What must the prophet cry? The answer is given in Isaiah 40:6-8. All of humanity is as perishable as grass, and as the flowers of the fields. No-one can withstand the power of God’s Spirit: the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever. In view of this, our only hope of enduring forever in God’s fellowship is by doing his will, by believing in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ and by following his way of life. There is no lasting future for the material things of this world, but if we follow the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be among those whom He brings as the sheep of his flock, those whom He comforts and rewards.

From Jerusalem comes the wonderful Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Jerusalem it was first proclaimed on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). It is this Gospel that calls all of Israel, and all the people of the world to behold their God (Isaiah 40:9), and to turn to him to receive strength and grace to do his will all their lives.

YOUR ROLE AS WITNESSES TO THE GOSPEL OF LIFE

God calls us to be bearers of his comfort to all his people, to all who will become his people. As we go about our daily lives, in the course of our contact with colleagues, friends and family, let leach of us look to how best we can share God’s strengthening grace and comfort with everyone who needs it. Let us be alert to opportunities to encourage others, especially the downhearted, and let them know that God loves them and that He calls them to follow him and do his will!

The devout priest was caught in a flood one day, and he climbed onto the roof of his Vicarage and as the water started lapping up over the roof he prayed “Lord, deliver me from this flood”.

The water continued to rise and a policeman in a rowing boat passed: “Can I help you Vicar?” “No thanks, the Lord will deliver me!”

A little while later, the water is even higher, and the Vicar is up to his waist, even standing on his roof. A lifeboat cruises past, and the coxwain shouts out “Can I help you, Vicar?” “No Thanks” was his reply “The Lord will deliver me – I’ve prayed for it”

After another few minutes, the water has risen so much that only the Vicar’s head is peeping out from above the water and a helicopter flies over. The pilot leans out and calls “Can I help you Vicar?” “No thanks, the Lord will deliver me!”

At which point, the water rises over the Vicar’s head and he drowns.

When the Vicar arrives at the gates of heaven and faces St Peter he is furious: “I’ve been a most serious and devout priest all my life, devoted to prayer and good works – why didn’t God answer my prayers. “Oh,” says Peter “That ‘s strange: we sent two boats and a helicopter after you…”

(Simon Rundell: a sermon shared on https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-simon-rundell-humor-examplesoffaith-639?+ref=TextIllustrationDetails in 2001)

Any of us may be like this vicar in refusing deliverance and comfort, or we may be like the means of comfort and rescue to others. Which would we rather be?