The book of Isaiah contains a great deal of familiar reading during advent, providing for many the lyrical vocabulary of the season. At the beginning of the second part of Isaiah in chapter 40, verses 1-11, we find verses that weave a tapestry revealing the full picture of God’s promises in Scripture.
In the context of bringing an end to the Babylonian exile there is at first a message of comfort and forgiveness to Jerusalem (“her penalty is paid,” in v.2), but then there is imagery calling for “all people” to prepare their hearts and minds for the coming of the Lord. In just the first five verses we are assured of God’s complete forgiveness of sin and we are called to straighten our uneven and desolate ways in anticipation of seeing the glory of God (“the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,” v.5). It is a succinct message of grace and spiritual preparation. What more do we need to hear?
Suddenly a voice says to the prophet, or perhaps to the preacher, or even to each of us: “Cry out!” … and the prophet replies, “What shall I cry?” Does the prophet speak on behalf of God for all of us, or are we also called to take on the voice of the prophet? There may be times when we think, “I don’t know what to say,” or, “I don’t know how to pray,” but now we are being challenged to cry out from the insufficiency of our mortal condition (“all people are grass,” v.6) to proclaim the all-sufficient immortal word of God (“the word of our God will stand forever,” v.8).
This adds a new dimension to our advent experience, one that involves our full engagement. What shall I cry? The question is sincere, though maybe a little uncomfortable, but the answer is clear: “Here is your God!” The prophet is to be a “herald of good tidings” that the Lord who comes in might will also lead his sheep, and hold his lambs close to his breast for all time. We are in turn called to proclaim glad tidings of great joy through the coming of Jesus Christ into our lives and throughout the world. Here is your God!
During this season of advent the words of Isaiah in this passage remind us we are not just observers of God’s intricate tapestry; we are completely woven into it.
Thanks be to God!