Comfort, Comfort Ye My People
Topic: Biblical Verse: Isaiah 40:1–40:2
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
“Comfort, Comfort Ye My People”
The prisoner was amazed at what he’d just heard. They’d had to repeat it to make sure that he understood what was going on. He’d lost everything: his home, his career, his friends – his future. But that had been so long ago. Now, he found it hard to recall just what some of those faces and places looked like. He’d given up hope. What’s the point of remembering the past, when it only brought to mind the pain of knowing that he’d never again see that which had been taken from him? No – that which he’d given up. The prisoner bore the weight of his crime. Justice, he recognized, was being done. The guilt of what he’d done weighed on him more heavily than the hard labor that he had to work every day of his life sentence. He was a deserter. He had abandoned his post and fled from his duty, only to be captured by the enemy. And life as a prisoner is all he’d known since then. But all that was going to change. He was going to be released. Someone had come and bought his pardon, and soon he’d be going home. As he sat there, astonished, the thing he hard the hardest time processing was just who it was that had come to buy his freedom: his dad and his brother, the family that he’d walked out on so long ago. They hadn’t forgotten him. He didn’t know what to say; he found it difficult even to get any words out. And so he sat there, dumbstruck, and felt a strange feeling, one that he’d long since forgotten: hope.
Tonight, we hear God speak to His people Judah, who had long been exiles and captives in a strange land. They deserted God, turning their collective back on Him to go their own way. As a result of their hard-heartedness, they had lost everything: Jerusalem, the great city, was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar – even the Temple where the people had once worshiped the Lord, Yahweh. But that had been so long ago, and the people now lived as prisoners of war. What reason did they have for hope? While they might have forgotten Yahweh, He had not forgotten them. In these weeks of Advent, we’ll be focusing on the beginning of God’s message of hope and comfort to His people in the early verses of Isaiah 40. Here in verses 1-2, we see the main point of this message to a people in exile: God is for His people. The prophet bears witness to what’s going on in the heavenly court around God’s throne. The Lord commands His messengers continually to proclaim comfort to the exiles, to encourage them with His word. (He even repeats it to make sure they understand what’s going on!) He will set them free, not because they have worked off their crimes in captivity, but because He is for His people. Their war is over, and God will end their exile. Their guilt will be carried off, their debt of their desertion paid. Here, God sends the message that He is taking the initiative, sending comfort into the midst of Judah’s pain, speaking “upon the heart” (as the Hebrew reads) of the people and promising a restoration, a double blessing that far exceeds the burdens that had been put upon them. God’s speech breaks into the silence of the people’s despair, bringing hope that they had long forgotten.
Tonight, we heard God speak to us. The promise of pardon is God’s promise to you, one that is yours in Jesus the Messiah. We have deserted God. We have each gone our own way. Forgetting God, our sin threatens to overwhelm us and drive us into despair. But God has not forgotten you. Jesus took the initiative to bring freedom to us in our exile, sending comfort into our world of pain by paying our debt himself. He carries off our guilt. Now, we can look ahead to the amazing blessing that is life with our Lord, restored in a relationship with Him – not because of what we have done, but because God is for His people. Because of Him, we can hope.
As we sing the hymns of Advent in the weeks ahead, listen to the message of promise that they bear. That message is for you. As God’s people in this time and place, our cries of sorrow can turn to songs of joy. Tonight, we sing His word as we call out, “Comfort, comfort my people.” Comfort is here. Comfort is yours. Comfort is now!
Stir up your power, O Lord, and comfort, comfort your people. When life threatens to overtake us, and when our sin threatens to overwhelm us, come to us with the tender mercies of your love and forgiveness. For you, O Christ, live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.