December 13, 2023

You, Who Bring Good Tidings, Lift Up Your Voice!

Prayer for Understanding

God of grace, still our busy minds as we listen for Your Word speaking through the Scripture. By Your Spirit, create a space within us to receive Your wisdom, Your mercy, and Your invitation to live for You. Amen.

Last month, I met a woman whose daughter was in the ICU. She wanted to distract her mind from the anxiousness. So for more than an hour, she talked about her life and work with me and I just listened to her story. Two days later, her daughter died. I had no words to comfort her.

A young man whose property burned down on Tuesday texted me and shared his frustrating situation because the house had no insurance. He was in shock. I listened but had no words to comfort him.

An acquaintance of mine had been abused verbally, mentally, and spiritually by her spouse and was divorced. Her two sons do not want to talk to her because of all the misunderstandings created by her husband. She survived breast cancer twice and is trying to recover fully but now she doesn’t even have a house. I had no words to comfort her.

A close friend of my husband has a son who’s on the severe end of the Autism spectrum. The life the couple has to endure is indescribable and he sometimes thinks of killing himself and his son.

He comes to our house once in a while to escape from his helpless situation. We just dine with him and listen to him. We have no words to comfort him.

A friend from Toronto visited and stayed with us last week. She is in her 70s, and after her mother passed away last year, she’s living alone. She is estranged from her younger sister and some of her close church friends over disagreements. She is lonely, getting less mobile, and doesn’t know what to do. Our words were not enough to comfort her.

You or the people around you may go through a challenging time in this season of Advent. Not only individually, but also as a church, community, town, city, nation, or the whole world, we have been in pain and grief together due to wildfire, earthquakes, floods, gun violence, war, and the pandemic.

And sometimes we feel speechless. We don’t know what to say to the grieving family who lost their beloved in an unforeseen disaster or to the refugee family who escaped horrible violence.

In today’s text, we meet Israel who is suffering greatly, enslaved, and exiled. This text is a word of tenderness after a very long and dark night of judgment. Actually, it is the message from God to Israel who would be exiled in the Babylonian Empire.

The Book of Isaiah is largely divided into two: Chapters 1 through 39, which warn of God’s coming judgment upon His people and all nations if the people place their trust in rulers and military strength rather than in God. Even still, Isaiah proclaims rich and comforting promises of God’s grace and the future arrival of the Messiah. Chapters 40 to 66 deal with the promises of redemption and hope.

In 587 BC Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonian Empire. The leaders and a large sum of the people were marched off helplessly to Babylon.

It happened because the people of Jerusalem yielded to wickedness, oppression, lies, and social injustice, refusing to heed the prophets’ calls to repent and be reconciled to God

The kingdom was gone. The temple, the very house of God, was in ruins. Enslaved and exiled – Israel was under the power of slavery they could never hope to defeat, just like their ancestors who were under the bondage of Egypt for 400 years. They were wounded and broken.

You may never understand the hopelessness the exiles felt. You may never understand the pain and sorrow of losing one’s country, language, name, or freedom. I do not understand fully, but I can relate a little bit because Korea was once invaded by Japan.

We couldn’t use our national flag, our proud language, our beautiful names. Countless men and women were taken as soldiers and comfort women. For 35 years Korea was under Japanese rule - half the years of Israel under the Babylonians.

God sent them a message of comfort and hope to Israel when all hope seemed lost. To these people of misery, God proclaimed the Good News, v1 “Comfort, O comfort my people,” says your God.” What is the good news?

The first point of comfort was that God called them, “my people”. God continued to identify Himself as the God of Israel, and they were children of God. It was what the wounded and broken people needed to hear most.

God did not overlook or ignore their sin, but they needed to know that God had not abandoned them. “I am Your God, You are my people. I never leave you nor forsake you.”

And then God comforted them by announcing the forgiveness of sins. V2 - “Proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for.”

Yes, it is foretelling that their forced labor as slaves would end, but it also foretells the forgiveness of the sins of the world by the coming of the Messiah - the Savior of the world - who would pay the penalty instead.

In V 3, Isaiah writes about a person in the desert who prepares the way for the Lord. This prophecy foreshadowed the life of John the Baptist, who played an important role in preparing the groundwork for the ministry of Jesus Christ.

However, there are hills and valleys. These hills and valleys are metaphors for the obstacles that have stood in the way between God and the exiles. It is these obstacles of sin and lack of faith that must be removed so that the Lord can return to take His place among them once again.

Despite our sins, He’s never stopped loving us and nothing can separate us from the love of God. He lifted every valley and lowered every mountain and hill to come to us. So God sent His Son to pay the penalty and to finish our term as slaves to sin and death.

V6 says, “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.” V8 continues “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

Like grass and flowers people are frail and temporary. Even the beauty of a young woman and the strength of a young man is fleeting and passes as quickly as spring wildflowers. We are limited and weak but God is limitless and will accomplish all He has promised.

Everything He says is true and will come to pass. Especially, the promise of the coming of the Messiah. As it was promised, baby Jesus was born to us 2000 years ago in a manger. As it has been promised, Jesus Christ, our Lord will come again in His glory.

Isaiah, therefore, tells them that they must spread the good tidings of great joy and peace as widely as possible. From on top of the high mountain, the messenger should proclaim this great message of salvation to as many people as possible.

It is a message that should be shouted out, so the messenger is told, “Lift up your voice with strength, and do not fear.”

And we, an Advent people, are called to herald the coming of the One who will bring comfort and salvation. When Jesus returns, He will come as the victorious and conquering King. He will also come for His people – for whom He’s a good and gentle Shepherd.

Here is a God who comes to feed the flock, to scoop up the little lambs into his arms, to lead the mother sheep. His coming is our hope both for our salvation and our eternal comfort. As we wait for His coming, we should take heart, knowing that His coming is sure.

The “comfort, comfort” of which Isaiah speaks is straight out of the harshest realities of life in this world. It seems like we find no peace in our broken world and fractured society.

Images on CNN, CTV, or CBC are not reminiscent of shalom. News headlines - the riots, gun violence in Las Vegas, the wars, soaring inflation, climbing interest rates, and all the things happening around us threaten our peace.

In this season of Advent, it is not easy to speak, ‘Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love’. However, because of all the daunting and gloomy situations around us, we have to light the candle of Peace and shout out ‘Comfort, comfort’ all the more.

Advent is here because our reality is so often so very far away from all that is pretty and peaceful. There is only One who leads to that restoration of Shalom. Our hope is that one day the King will arrive, and on that day we all will see His glory. This should encourage us to be hopeful and faithful.

Friends, we have the treasure of wonderful peace buried deep in the heart of our soul. It is the gift from the Father above, and nothing, absolutely nothing can take away the peace. You are the messenger of the Peace. When the shadows grow dark lift up your voice, and speak, “Shalom” to people around you.

However, if you face a situation where no words can bring comfort, shine the light of peace with your presence for you carry the light of the Peace in you. Friends, behold, Here is your God. Immanuel.

Let us pray.

O God of Peace, Fill our hearts with Your peace, and our lives with Your love, that these may flow from our lives and into our world. We ask this through Christ, our Savior, and our peace. Amen.