Sermon for Second Sunday in Advent
December 7, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Isaiah 40:1-11
Sermon Theme: “Speak Tenderly to Jerusalem”
(Sources: Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 25, Part 1, Series B; Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Anderson’s Cycle B Preaching Workbook; Concordia Self-Study Bible Footnotes)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
What’s the most comforting thing you’ve been told when you feel like life is beating down on you, when it seems like people are waiting anxiously for you to trip up?
It probably wasn’t “People are grass.” That’s the last thing you want to hear when you already feel withered. “The grass withers, the flowers fade,” says our sermon text.
Yet, these were comforting words for the people of Judah for two reasons. It’s a needed reminder that there will be an end to Judah’s suffering and exile in Babylon; their enemies will not last forever, for they too are mortal. Secondly, God is faithful, and it serves as a means against which the faithfulness of God can be compared. The faithfulness of God is not like the faithlessness of men, and even the faithful, those who remained obedient up to and through the captivity, those who supported Isaiah’s controversial ministry, are like withering grass and fading flowers next to the faithfulness of God’s promises.
Like flowers and grass, we fade and die. Even so, the Creator raises the flowers and the grass to newness of life. Won’t He do the same for those who turn to Him in hope?
Peter, Paul and Mary sang a hauntingly touching song in the 1960’s: “Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing? Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?” While this song protests the futility of war, it also reminds us of our human mortality and the impermanence of earthly things, just as Isaiah does in the text.
You know, the true role of a prophet is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Prior to the writing of this text, Isaiah had accomplished the second part of that, — he had afflicted the comfortable. In other words, he and other prophets had pointed out the sins of the people, their fickleness, their idolatry, their ingratitude, their failure to keep the Covenant; and God made them pay double for their sin.
Now it’s time to comfort the afflicted, because God is faithful in His love and His loyalty. God comforts us through His presence and through His word, which He speaks through His people as well as through His prophets. Those who comfort the hurting, do so through His name, providing consolation, sympathy, empathy, love and strength.
The Christian comforts others, and is comforted by others; that’s one way God works in our lives, just as He did in the lives of the Jews in exile.
Our sermon text is one of the most uplifting texts in the Bible, and it is also one of the most often quoted prophesies about the coming of the Messiah, which, of course, is what Advent is mainly about. Advent is the time to announce God’s impending intervention into history, to herald the Good Tidings.
A “herald” is someone who proclaims the news, announces special events that are to come, and is usually considered a forerunner of that which is coming. Throughout history, God has used many heralds, such as one of His Holy angels who proclaims the Good News to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” He also has used His prophets, such as Isaiah and John the Baptist as His heralds.
John the Baptist was out in the wilderness calling all people to repent and prepare for the Lord. His work as Herald was a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and His words showed him to be a forerunner of someone greater than himself. The late Dr. Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farms, Georgia, once described John the Baptist as a “bulldozer” as he made way for the coming the Lord. It was an apt description of a fiery preacher who bulldozed people around with his message of repentance. He even bulldozed King Herod, calling him to task for his adultery and other wickedness! It cost John his life, but he did prepare the way of the Lord.
And, of course, there is Isaiah, the herald who wrote our sermon text. God commissioned Isaiah to tell the people that their sins are forgiven. Suffering has refined them, their hearts are prepared, and now they sorely need comfort and hope. “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” God, who is consistent in His actions, will once more release the prisoners, not only from physical bondage, but also from spiritual bondage as well.
And, finally, there is “us,” you and me, the true believers, whom God commissions to serve as His heralds. “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. The “you” which is understood in that command, is plural in Hebrew, — so it refers to angels, prophets . . . and to you and me. God is not commanding one lone angel to bring a word of comfort to earth. No, God is commanding more than one, many, if not all. ‘All of you’ comfort my people; ‘all of you’ bring comfort to them.
All of us have experienced God’s forgiveness in our lives through the suffering, death, and resurrection of His Son; and having received His Holy Spirit, we are equipped to add our voice to the chorus of witnesses who speak of God’s love and compassionate tenderness. Angels surround us as we obey God’s command to be heralds of comfort in this world, as they sing for joy each time one sinner repents.
The way to bring comfort to God’s people is by speaking tenderly to them. This is the language of personal love. The language of a man in love with a woman. The language of God, who is in love with His people. Although His people have strayed from Him and although they have justly suffered His judgment, God continues to seek them out in tender compassion and love. Their response is to pass it on in kind. Instead of indifference, they offer tender compassion and love.
One of my favorite examples of tender compassion and love is Bill, a spry man, who was about 70 years old.
Bill’s favorite pastime was going out each morning and playing nine holes of golf. Bill’s wife of nearly 50 years had an illness very similar to Alzheimer’s Disease. Her situation was such that she lived in the local nursing home.
Every morning, Bill would go to the nursing home and help his wife bathe and dress for the day. Taking a brush, he carefully brushed his wife’s hair. Leading her by the hand, he would guide her to the dining room, where together they would have breakfast. Using her knife and fork, Bill would cut up her food and feed it to her. After breakfast, while the nurses worked with his wife, Bill would play a quick nine holes of golf, but would always be back in time to share lunch with his wife.
After the meal, Bill would often take her for an afternoon drive. He would see to it that they were back in time to take part in the afternoon activities which often included hymn singing. Bill would sit by his wife and hold the hymnal in front of her so that she might see the pages. He would sing as she listened. After the evening meal, Bill would see to it that she was safely tucked in to bed for the night.
What a beautiful act of love for a woman who could not even remember who he was. No doubt this is the steadfast tenderness Isaiah had in mind when he said of the Messiah, “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.”
We are all called to the ministry of comfort. This ministry means entering into the lives of other people. It means to stand with them in their pain and their confusion. Native Americans talked about “wearing somebody else’s moccasins.” You see, the first step in the ministry of comfort is to identify with the person who is hurting. As Ezekiel wrote about his ministry among the Jewish prisoners in Babylon: “I sat where they sat.”
Yes, we are all called to “speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.