Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: “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. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:1–11, ESV)
From a Series by Dr. Reed Lessing, "Savior of the Nations Come"
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
You know it happens, you fail, you fall, you stop dead in your tracks unable to move forward. "dead as a doornail" "lost cause" "throw in the towel" "mighty Casey has struck out."
Israel was there. They were in exile from their loved land. They rejected God. He sent the Babylonian army to conquer them and drag them into captivity. They had no temple. They had no capital city, Jerusalem. They had no king to rule. The had no hope. "dead as a doornail" "lost cause" "throw in the towel" "mighty Casey has struck out." Isaiah speaks to them.
To those who had thrown in the towel he writes "Comfort, Comfort" He doubles up the word to show how strong the comfort will be. "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." The words explode with comfort from God's promises. As he said when he brought them out of slavery in Egypt, "I will be your God, you will be my people!" (Ex 6:7). "Speak tenderly," he continues. Literally "upon the heart" to bring the comfort right where it is needed most. This text has comfort at the beginning and comfort at the end. Like bookends. Spoken in the beginning and in-fleshed in the Shepherd at the end. Just like the beloved Psalm "The Lord is my shepherd" the image brings the comfort of God's compassion and tenderness that were needed by the exiles. The people, like sheep, had gone astray. God their Shepherd, would fold them in his arms and take them home again.
Now sheep are not very intimidating creatures. In the NFL there are teams called the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions, the Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons. But there isn't, and I dare say, there will never be a team called the Los Angeles Lambs or the San Antonio Sheep.
Sheep are not intimidating creatures. The truth is they are dumb. They graze on the same hills until they turn it to a waste land. They get too close to the water when they drink and the water wicks up into their wool and they fall in, and drown. We aren't like that... are we?
Sheep are dirty. Their wool is a magnet for every foul thing on the ground, dirt, mud, manure, and maggots. Sheep absorb every particle of filth in the atmosphere. We aren't like that... are we?
Sheep are defenseless. They turn over on their back to rest. Then they can't get up. Wild dogs, coyotes and cougars all know that a cast sheep is a sitting duck. But we aren't like that... are we?
Israel had been just like that. They were lost, defenseless. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar set upon them. The towel was thrown in 586 because they were like sheep.
Israel had been dumb. Isaiah 1:3 — “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”
God’s people were dirty. Isaiah 64:6 — “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”
Israel had been defenseless. Isaiah 1:6 — “From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness; only wounds and welts and open sores.” We're not like that…are we?
Hear the word of the LORD: Isaiah 53:6 — “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” And the result? “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remember Zion.” You and I are living testimonies of lost causes. We are exiled. We are so far from the Father's will and ways…so far from bearing each other's pain and burdens…so far from spouses, children, sisters and brothers. Mighty Casey has struck out!
So what's the Shepherd to do? He only has one option; to become a Lamb. But not any ordinary lamb. “A virgin will conceive and bear a Son and you will call his name Immanuel” (Is 7:14). “His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6).
This was no ordinary baby. Angels sang over him. Shepherds marveled at him. Simeon worshipped him. Mary pondered over these things and stored them up in her heart. Herod plotted to kill him.
But where he failed others would succeed. “He was led like a Lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Is 53:7).
There were no green pastures. Rather spit and blood are caked to his cheeks. Neither were there quiet waters, in fact, no water at all. His lips are cracked and swollen and his throat is parched from the hot Palestinian sun. He's passing through the valley of the shadow of death as pain twangs her morbid melody. There's no rod or staff for comfort. The cup overflows all right…he drinks from the cup of the fury of wrath of God Almighty. Surely goodness and mercy have been twisted and perverted in the most inhumane way. Mary’s little Lamb is crucified, dead and buried.
Isaiah says, though, "The Word of our God stands forever!" The word stands when God burst the people free from exile in Babylon. The word stands when the Babe bursts from Bethlehem. And the word stands when Jesus bursts from three days dead in the tomb.
"Comfort, comfort my people!" That what the shepherd does. When I'm lost and exiled he leaves the 99 and runs after me. When I'm confused by voices of demons and devils he calls me by name and I know that voice. When I'm dirty and full of filth he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. There is a Shepherd who gathers me in his arms until I’m better, holds me until I can live with the hurt, and carries me close to his heart forever!
Dumb, dirty and defenseless. We are like that…aren't we? There is one more word to describe us, though, this Christmas Day. We are delivered! Jesus delivers comfort, like bookends: in the beginning all the way through to the comfort at the end of life…until we dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.