Isaiah 40:1-11

So often the Old
Testament is perceived as portraying a wrathful God of vengeance.  But in this
Old Testament passage, we see the compassionate, loving nature of God.  Comfort
is spoken to those who suffered through the Babylonian exile.  These Israelites
saw the destruction of their homeland, Judah, their capital, Jerusalem, and
their sacred temple on Mt. Zion.  They were exiled from their land to live among
the enemy for nearly 50 years.  The prophets described the exile as punishment
for the rebellious, apostate house of Judah.  They saw Babylon as the rod of
God’s anger against his own people.  But, the tables turn in Isaiah 40.  Comfort
is extended because the house of Judah has payed the price for her sin (40:1-2). 
The end of the exile is proclaimed.  The landscape is about to be reversed (40:3-5). 
The life that the Israelites had come to know in Babylon was about to be seriously
altered.  Hope was around the corner.  Restoration was waiting in the wings. 
The Lord was coming to redeem his people and their land, and He was coming in
power and might.  The prophet calls the people to imagine the impossible because
it was coming.

Are we imagining
the impossible?  The exile was a seemingly hopeless situation.  The return to
Judah after the exile made possible the impossible.  How can this speak to us
today?  Are we in exile?  Or, are we living in the realm of possibility? 

The very birth
of our Lord heralds a message of hope.  God is all about redeeming his people. 
Author, Francine Rivers best expresses this character of God in her book, Redeeming
Love
.2 She portrays a Hosea figure who loves a prostitute
like Gomer.  His constant love for her, despite her rebellion and resistance
eventually changes her.  She becomes a redeemed person.  Rivers accurately communicates
God”s redeeming love . . . life-changing love, through her story.

Much like Rivers’
novel, God longs to take the chaos and failure of our lives and completely rework
the landscape.  He is a God who makes the rough places smooth and the crooked
places straight (40:4).  Are there rough places in your life?  In what ways
have you been exiled from the Lord?  Where are you in need of redeeming love? 
Are you in the middle of a troublesome marriage, dealing with family problems,
a difficult job situation, an impossible boss, frustrated with your parents,
your children, your roommate, struggling with baggage from the past, a lack
of commitment, etc. 

My husband is a
pastor and I am a college professor.  Between the two of us, we have had  numerous
opportunities to counsel with people in crisis situations.  We have seen rocky
marriages become smooth, chains fall from those in bondage, and burdens lifted
from those who were heavy-laden.  We have also seen many remain in the midst
of their exile functional in their dysfunction.  It is heartbreaking.  Practically
speaking, much prayer, forgiveness, hard work, and lots of personal change will
heal a marriage and most relationships a whole lot more effectively than expecting
the other person to change first.  We have to be willing to let the Lord take
the plow to our lives, uproot the soil and rework us.

“Comfort, Comfort,
my people,” says your God.  His message of comfort and hope is for
you in the midst of your situation.  We have a God who longs to deliver us from
exile and redeem us back unto himself.  God is offering you comfort and healing
today.  Healing in the present and healing from the past.  Will you receive
it this Christmas season?  “Prepare the way of the Lord” (40:3).  He longs to
invade your life and rework the landscape.  Will you allow him to do that today?

___________________

Sermon
brief provided by: Paula Fontana Qualls, Associate Professor
of Religion at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC

___________________

2. Francine Rivers,
Redeeming Love (Chicago:  Multnomah Publishers, 1997).

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