Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1329
Dr. Ed Pettus December 10, 2017 Isaiah 40.1-11
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“God’s Word in Advent”
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. It is a season of the church calendar that points us to the coming of God into the world. It’s focus is partly on the birth of Christ and also the future second coming of Christ. But I also added a focus last Sunday that we consider how God has come into our lives today: in His presence, actions, as Father and Potter, and through forgiveness. Today we look to God’s word in Advent. What word or words do we receive particularly related to Advent?
A Word of Comfort
1-2 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 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.
First is a word of comfort. This word came to Israel at the end of their exile. They had so desperately needed a word of comfort. God had driven them out of their homeland because of their sin and rebellion. Now the word is pardon, forgiveness, and comfort in that compassionate forgiveness. In the words, “‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God,” there is a word of hope in the comfort. God has disciplined, even punished Israel, for sins. Now is the time for comfort. Now is the time for redemption. Verse 2 says to “speak tenderly” which is literally “speak to the heart”. Israel’s redemption is to the heart, to the depth of their identity and existence. God has brought their exile to an end in order to bring them back to Himself, forgiven, loved, and comforted.
We too have received this same word of comfort. There is in the advent of Christ this very same forgiveness, love, and comfort because in Jesus Christ our warfare has ended and our iniquity is pardoned. In the same way that Jews were once separated from God, Gentiles were also separated. God called the Jews back into covenant after this exile and God has called Gentiles through His Son Jesus. Advent is a time for our reflection on God’s comfort, God’s speech to the heart which is the gospel itself. This is a time of thanks for all who have come to know God’s forgiveness in Christ and hope for those who have yet to know. May we bring comfort to the hearts of those who need to hear the gospel spoken from the heart, to the heart.
A Word of Preparation
3-5 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 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. 5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Has anyone asked you yet if you are ready for Christmas? We are getting ready. We are preparing. My usual response is that there is plenty of time, even on Christmas Eve I think I have time to get ready. We usually respond with the need for more shopping, or we have yet to put up our Christmas tree, or have yet to decorate the house. There is time for preparation – to decorate, to get those last minute gifts, to send cards, to make party plans. We make plans and preparations in order to open our hearts again to the narrative that ushers in the Savior of the world.
We make preparations, but not just those external plans for gifts and decorations, because we also prepare our hearts for the advent of God. We prepare our inner self – our soul, our spirit. We rid ourselves of anything that would obstruct God’s coming. We know this part of Isaiah mostly because it is also attributed to John the Baptist who came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John also says to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. John’s cry in the wilderness is a cry like that of Isaiah’s – a call to make our lives ready for God. So we prepare out of the desert and wilderness of our lives and hearts.
John’s call to prepare the way is basically to repent and do the right thing! There can be no more joyous way to celebrate the advent of God than through a heart of repentance. There is no better way to see the way made straight than through the eyes of commitment. We can look on this advent season as a time of getting right with God through repentance and doing God’s will to the best of our ability.
A Word That Stands Forever
6-8 6 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. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
Advent brings a word about the word. The word of God is enduring. A voice says, cry! We might take a moment here to notice that all of these verses are speeches, words, crying out. Comfort, says God. A voice in the wilderness. The voice of one saying. It is in the words that we find God revealed to us. It is in the word spoken by God that created all that is. It is through the word that became flesh that we know salvation. Isaiah speaks of grass and flowers and people as temporary, none of us lives this life forever. We are as fragile as the grass, but God’s word, by contrast, goes on and on. It is the word that we can constantly count on. God’s promise is true, God’s covenant is reliable, God’s word gives life, God’s gospel redeems. Advent is a time to affirm the authority of God’s Holy Word. Advent is a time to renew our zeal for God’s Word.
A Word of Advent
9-11 9 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!” 10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 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.
The final word today is one of proclamation. The proclamation is the advent of God. God is coming. God will bring comfort, God will bring preparation, and God will bring His word. This is a word of hope for Israel in Isaiah’s day and the same word for us today. The herald brings good news, glad tidings, that is, gospel. Bring it strong and bring it without fear. The message of good news begins with “Behold”. “Behold your God!” and then behold is repeated. Behold, the Lord comes...there it is, advent. God comes. God has come.
The message tells of how God comes, in two different ways. First, He comes in might with a ruling arm, reward and recompense. It is a vision of the Almighty God who will deliver His people home again. No one will be able to stand against God nor stop this redemption. God will overpower any opposing forces or nations or peoples. He comes with payment rendered in full, exiles are forgiven and given life again.
The second way God comes is in a more intimate way. The Almighty God is now the great shepherd - tending, gathering, carrying, and leading. Notice the contrast between the strong arm of the Mighty God and the nurturing arm of the shepherd. After God has defeated any and all enemies through His might, He then tends to the sheep, gently leading them home, and not just leading, but carrying in His bosom. It is another image of the intimate way God cares for His people. To be at the bosom is to be intimate with God, at His heart. There is another interesting place where this imagery of bosom is used, John 1.18. Some version a weaker, unfortunately, so I want to share it from the New American Standard Version, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” The meaning is clear, that Jesus came to us from the bosom of the Father, from the very heart of God...for God so loved the world! Jesus came from the heart of God to bring us back to the heart of God.
This is the great joy of Advent, that God has come to bring His people home, to His very heart. Come, come Lord Jesus. Amen.