Text: Isaiah 40:1-11
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will 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 like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”
You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
I have never experienced an earthquake, and I hope I never do – but there are millions of people around the world who have gone through the devastating impact of the earth literally moving beneath their feet. An earthquake is no less than a earth-shattering event. It drastically alters everything. In particularly bad earthquakes, buildings are reduced to rubble. Lives are lost. The world is undone.
In today’s text, Isaiah speaks of a world undone. Of mountains being laid low and valleys being raised up. Of the crooked being made straight. He speaks of nothing less than an earth-shattering event. But here, unlike in an earthquake, the reversal of fortune is a good thing.
The people of Israel had known great misfortune throughout their history. They had endured slavery, violence, oppression, captivity. They experienced deep grief, deep lament, and deep anger. Their world had come undone time and again – even as they had willingly deviated from God’s parameters and faced the consequences.
As we’ve moved through the Hebrew Bible over these last few months, we’ve heard the story of God’s people – of promise, of sin, of oppression, of forgetting what it means to worship God. We’ve seen what happens when God’s people go terribly astray.
And yet, all along the way, even as doom and gloom bears down on God’s people, there is always grace. God’s final words are never words of hopelessness, death, or destruction. They are always words of hope. They are always words of new life. They are always words of restoration.
Today, I’m thinking about those who have entered into this season of Advent with deep grief. I’m thinking about those who have lost loved ones and are facing this time of year for the first time without them. I’m thinking about those who have been cut off from their families. I’m thinking about children who are without their parents. I’m thinking about those who are facing violence and upheaval. I’m thinking about all those who have gone through or are going through earth-shattering experiences.
For many, this Advent season, it feels like the earth is moving underneath their feet, and all they know is falling away or being reduced to rubble. We cannot and should not try to skip through these seasons of grief and darkness when they come. But this text reminds us that grief and darkness are not the last word. God gives us a promise that one day, things will be different. One day, the darkness will turn to light. One day, we will, in fact, experience the fullness of the good news.
Jan Richardson, an artist, writer, and United Methodist minister knows what it is to experience grief after losing her husband during Advent in 2013. She writes,
“Comfort, O comfort my people, we hear God cry out in an Advent text from Isaiah (40:1). If, in this life, I cannot do away with grief, then I pray that I will at least enter into it with a heart open to this comfort, this solace that is one of the greatest treasures God offers us in the landscape of this season. This comfort is no mere pablum, no saccharine wish. And though it is deeply personal, it is not merely that; solace does not leave us to our own solitude. True comfort opens our broken heart toward the broken heart of the world and, in that opening, illuminates a doorway, a threshold, a connection. It reveals to us a place where, in the company of heaven and earth, we can begin anew, bearing forth the solace we have found” (This Luminous Darkness: Searching for Solace in Advent and Christmas).
May the words of Isaiah speak comfort and hope to you here and now, especially if you or someone you love are struggling with grief this Advent season.
o What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o Where are you experiencing grief or struggle presently?
o How do you move through and with grief?
Maybe this is a difficult season for you that overwhelms with all of the expectations, all of the people, all of the cultural noise around Christmas. Cultivate space in your life. Make time for silence, for prayer, for working with your hands. Make time for a meal with a loved one. Perhaps seek out a counselor if you need help processing your grief. Disengage from all of the extra noise. You don’t have to buy into it.
Notice those around you who may be having a difficult time. Don’t force cheerful words upon them. Be with them in their struggle. You don’t need the right words. Just be present. Share a meal, write a card, be with them. Allow them to speak to their grief if they need to.
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Man of Sorrows. You know grief and suffering. Walk with me as I struggle. Be with me in the darkness. And even in the darkness, may I experience sparks of your light this Advent season. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.