Comment (7th December 2008)
When we were living in Uganda the President paid a visit to our area. The roads were not made of tarmac, and were rough and pot-holed; so before he came there was great activity making the roads beautifully smooth and everything looking nice. (It didn’t last long.)
Isaiah’s message was that God was coming! Not to visit, but to rule. Isaiah 39 ended with the prophecy that Jerusalem would be captured and her people exiled; chapter 40 looks beyond that to deliverance and a return to the promised land. But Isaiah sees the return as much more than simply exiles being allowed home; he sees a new age of perfect peace and happiness, the fulfilment of earlier prophecies (e.g. in chapters 9 and 11). The people need to get ready!
In verses 1-8 we are taken into a heavenly court scene, with God telling those around him to comfort his people and their capital, Jerusalem. The time of strife and struggle was coming to an end, the time when their sin separated them from God was over, and God himself was on his way. When he comes everyone will see it, for he will come in all the glory of his deity. Verses 6-8 emphasize that this is a promise which will come true, regardless of human frailty and transience, and therefore it is to be announced with all boldness (v.9).
The last couple of verses tell us what God is coming to do. He will rule with irresistible power, and will give to his people the rewards of his victory. But there will be no harshness; he is coming to be the shepherd of his people, caring for them with love and tenderness, treating them according to their individual needs.
What does this mean for us?
It seems clear that his promise was not completely fulfilled by the coming of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist certainly expected it to be, and we are told that he himself fulfilled the word about a voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.’ What John did not know was that the coming of God to his people was not going to be a sudden, once and for all event when the glory of the Lord was revealed to all. The Son of God came relatively incognito to do his work of deliverance and to inaugurate the new age through his life and death and resurrection. But the fulfilment – the new created order, the perfect peace, the full revelation of the glory of God for all to see together – all that is yet to come, when Jesus returns to earth.
The call to prepare the way for the Lord is still relevant. Our Lord is coming in all his glory, and he wants to find a people ready and expectant, who have done all they can to make life as good as possible before he comes, and who have brought the message of comfort to those around them. We can prepare people to meet a God who has himself removed the barrier their sins and frailties place between them, a God who in Jesus died for them, a God who cares for them as their good shepherd.
Advent is a time for good news! How can we help people preparing for Christmas to hear it?
1) What next step can we take to bring a little more of God’s good news to people this advent?
2) How can we be better prepared for the coming of Christ in glory?