The reading from the prophets for this week is also from Isaiah, from Isaiah 40 and they are words which are picked up by John the Baptist in his ministry.
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:
‘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.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever.
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’
See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
There is a lot of speaking and shouting in this passage. It begins with “speak tenderly” and ends with the image of a God tending for his sheep. Advent is a time when we hold together the tension of the indescribable glory of Almighty God and the delicate, tender love of God for us. Both are fully true even if our minds struggle to hold on to both.
God’s glory will be revealed – that is not in doubt, but we wait. It will be like a massive highway cut through the hills not some hillside pathway. Equally human endeavour is like grass, transient and passing in comparison, but we tend to live with God as the unimportant and our endeavours as all-important.
This Advent – and in the context of restrictions, limitations, weakness, even sadness, let us look to hear the voice of God, and let us strive to know the glory of the Lord for sure – his promises which are sure and certain.
We can look within and acknowledge our weakness, our failings, our struggles, but we should also face up and sense the glory of the majesty of God, the shepherd who holds us and leads us, and we should seek to face outwards so we become people who share this good news, because this passage calls on us to be those who will also speak of God, tenderly but surely, confidently but kindly.
O come, O come Emmanuel
Rev’d Peter Reiss: 6th Dec 2020