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Second Sunday of Advent
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, December 10, 2017

Finding Comfort in God’s Faithfulness

Text: Isaiah 40:1–11

I really do love dogs and I love to watch how they react to things. Just like human beings they each have their own personality and preferences but there is a level of commitment to the master that I think may be unique to dogs.

While Teresa and I were on the road we used to love to observe dogs when their master would leave them alone in the truck while they went inside the truck stop to pay the fuel bill, shower, eat, or just hang out for a while. For many of the dogs there seemed to be genuine panic as if they were certain that their master and best friend was never coming back. Regardless of the fact that this driver probably had to leave the truck multiple times every day, the faithful pooch was seriously distressed as if this time was going to be different. We would watch this dog with his paws stationed up on the dashboard of the truck focus with laser intensity on the door that his owner was last seen walking through. We have watched the canine companion howl and tremble or just sometimes stand watch with a rigidity that was impressive.

The best part was when the owner came back out of the door and the dog would see him or her. There was an eruption of joy and celebration and jumping up and down and sometimes it was so intense that the owner had trouble getting back in the truck. He was greeted with doggy kisses and tail wagging as if he had been gone for years. Then usually the dog would just sit or lay down because now everything was right with the world, as far as it was concerned.

As much as we used to enjoy watching this scenario play itself out time and again it always made me wonder why the dogs were so afraid that the master wasn’t coming back. The evidence should have indicated to them that the master always came back and there was nothing to worry about. I don’t think that dogs are inclined to think about the possibilities of what could happen to the master that would prevent them from returning. I don’t think dogs think in terms of accidents, sudden health problems or legal troubles. So what was it that caused the stress? I concluded that it was because the master was everything to the dog, the master was his/her entire world. I don’t think the dog was considering who was going to feed him but who was going to love him like the master did.

There were times that we would try to distract the dogs with encouraging words and assurances, but they would have none of it. Usually they wouldn’t even acknowledge us for fear of breaking eye contact with the door where the owner was last seen. It wasn’t that they just needed someone to be around, it had to be the master, no one else would do. They had been loved and cared for by the master then no one else could take his/her place. We’ll come back to this thought in a few minutes.

Today we continue our celebration of the Advent season. Advent is a celebration of the birth of the Christ child and the anticipation of the second coming of the Messiah to restore all things. The first two weeks we remember the promise of his second coming. We will see that the persuasion that Jesus will come again is most fully understood by the fact that God was faithful in coming the first time. I appreciate Catholic catechism #524,

When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s (John the Baptist) birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’

We are beginning week two of the season of Advent which is a time of waiting in anticipation for the return of Christ to usher in his eternal kingdom here on earth. The church in these last days is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament. They were in exile, waiting for God to move on their behalf, to restore them and send the promised Messiah. Our passages this morning from Isaiah 40 and Psalm 85 are recalling God’s faithfulness in the past and asking him to once again act on their behalf. Let’s look again at Psalm 85:1–6,

Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. 2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. 3 You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger. 4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! 5 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? 6 Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?

Israel looked back and remembered the faithfulness of God in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus and they were asking him to do it again while they were in exile. Last week we spoke of Israel calling out for God to restore them based on the relationship that they had with him as the Potter who had formed them and as the shepherd who watched over them as his sheep. We look back and remember how God was faithful to his people Israel and that encourages us to look forward with anticipation to the coming of Christ. Last week we sung the Advent hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appears. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

While Israel would have sung this song in anticipation of the first coming of the Messiah, the church now sings to remember that the Messiah did come which enables her to anticipate that he will come again. The fact that God kept his word the first time enables us to believe that he will continue to be the God who keeps his word. One of the ways that we can be assured of this is by seeing the evidence from the scriptures of how God kept his promise.

This morning I want to briefly compare the words of comfort in Isaiah 40 with the realization of the promise in our gospel reading from Mark 1:1–7. Let’s first consider the message from Isaiah 40:1–5,

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. 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.

God used the prophet Isaiah to bring the messages of judgment and condemnation and to pronounce covenant curses on Israel and Judah for their blatant and brazen violations of their covenant obligations. The prophet spoke of many different curses that would come, the most serious being destruction and exile. Both Israel and Judah had moved so far away from the ideals of the covenant that they became more evil and decadent than many of the pagan nations around them.

However, throughout God’s word we can see that he always keeps for himself a remnant, those who had not totally turned away, even though they too would pay the price of the disobedience of the two nations. Isaiah 40–66 is directed to those who had not forgotten God but who would have been affected by his coming judgment upon the wickedness of his people Israel. God wanted them to know that he would one day restore all that was lost because he remembered the covenant promise that he had made to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.

This word was also to be a comfort to those in the future who would be paying the price of Israel’s sins, even though they were in exile. God was sending them a message of hope and Isaiah is calling the godly to persevere in seeking the Lord, in trusting in his promise of a kingdom and in the coming of the King. God was encouraging them to be at peace in times of trouble and to respond to the message of the prophet with faith. This section begins with the command of God from the throne of Heaven—Comfort, comfort my people.

There is some disagreement as to who God is addressing. Some have suggested that he is addressing the court of Heaven and the angelic messengers while others suggest that he is addressing a group of prophets. Or it may be that the ambiguity is intentional, so that all who hear the command might take up the call to proclaim comfort to God’s people. In the scriptures whenever God’s issues a plural command it reveals the intensity of his desire, in this case for his message of comfort to be delivered. The message was initially directed by Isaiah to those of Israel living in Jerusalem and it was foretelling that because of their sins they would be sent into in exile in Babylon even though the prophecy was given between 100–150 years before they were sent into Babylon as a conquered people. They would not listen and repent but continued to live in rebellion to God and his commands. These words would later have been read by those who were living in captivity, their beloved Jerusalem had been destroyed and the temple was nothing but rubble. They no longer had their own king and God seemed to have forgotten them. The words of Isaiah 40 were meant to break through that despair and provide them with the comfort that their king was coming.

The promise of comfort was that the battle with their enemies and with God would be over, the price for their sin was considered paid for because an atonement had been made. They weren’t released from the price of their sins because they had somehow made atonement, but God had found another way. Another voice would cry out, perhaps a heavenly messenger speaking a word of comfort from the throne of God that a way would be made, a road was to be cleared out and all obstacles removed so the exiles could return across the desert from Babylon back to their beloved Jerusalem.

How would this happen? God was promising to make a way for them to return without difficulty or trials because a supernatural event was going to take place. When this did happen (see Ezra and Nehemiah) in 539 BC it was in fulfillment of this prophecy made long before, And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. It was God who moved on behalf of his people by changing the hearts of pagan kings and having them give favor to Israel. It is an amazing story of God’s mercy and sovereign will moving to accomplish all that he had purposed on behalf of his children.

The prophecy that the exiles saw fulfilled was only a foreshadowing of what God was pointing to. Even though Israel returned to Jerusalem in the time of Ezra, Nehemiah and Zerubbabel and the temple was re-built, the greatest part of the promise made in Isaiah 40 was yet to be fulfilled—the coming of the King.

In our gospel reading this morning we see the fulfillment of what Isaiah spoke about 650 years earlier. Let’s read again Mark 1:1–4,

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet] “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark did not waste any time in declaring the identity of Jesus Christ. He begins by declaring that this word was the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Why was this such good news? Because Jesus was the fulfillment prophesied in Isaiah 40, the one foretold by Isaiah and now through a new prophet, John the Baptist. The road that was made straight was in preparation for the coming of the Son of God. God did exactly what he said he would and there was the proof in Jesus Christ. The faithful remnant had been promised that their sins would be atoned for and this would be how that would come about. The glory of God had been revealed through the circumstances surrounding Israel being released from captivity and returning to Jerusalem but that was as nothing in comparison to what God would do through the coming of the Son of God. This was the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:5, The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken, but even this event did not fully fulfill the promise made through Isaiah but was only a partial fulfilling.

The fact that Jesus came in fulfillment of the promise made through Isaiah should give us confidence that God remembers his promises, but it’s the last part of the promise that gives us the assurance that he will come back again. Let’s read Isaiah 40:9–11,

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.

Again, the herald is told to cry out the good news that God will release the captive from exile. When Isaiah prophesied this word from the Lord he most likely assumed that it spoke of Israel being restored to the promised land and the temple in Jerusalem and it did in part. However, God in his sovereign plan was pointing to an even greater release from exile. The King who was coming to restore all things was first going to remove all obstacles and make a straight path for the faithful to return to God, not merely in Jerusalem but in the coming of the New Jerusalem. It wasn’t just a promise to the nation of Israel but that all flesh would see the glory of God revealed. The Lord God, the promised King, would come with might because he is the warrior King. His glory would manifest itself when he powerfully subdues his enemies and tenderly delivers his people. He will gather them like a shepherd gathers his flock. He will carry them in his arms and gather them to his bosom. In other words, he will love them like only the master can.

The Psalmist declares these same hopes in Psalm 85:6–11,

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? 7 Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. 8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. 9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. 10 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. 11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.

This is what blissful harmony of life in covenant with God looks like: love, friendship, faithfulness, righteousness and peace. The future relationship with God would join God’s blessings from heaven with the faithfulness of his people on earth. That’s what we are looking for with anticipation. In the meantime, we are to keep the command of God spoken from the throne of God and revealed through Isaiah the prophet, Comfort, Comfort my people. The king is coming, and we are to be the heralds proclaiming that he has made a straight path and a highway to peace with God and an atonement for sins. He has told us to be the ones to spread the good news that people no longer need to be in exile and bondage because he wants to set them free.

Are you longing for him to return? Are you focused and listening for the sound of his voice? Are you longing for his loving embrace? The one thing that the dogs didn’t seem to understand is that the master wanted to come back because he loved them enough to care for them. They didn’t need to worry because they were there because the master had placed them there in his loving care. They did understand one thing though. Things will not be right again until the master returns. Jesus is coming again, and he is looking for those who have surrendered to him as Master and Lord. Have you surrendered your life to the Lord Jesus? Are you waiting with laser focus for his return? Well, in the meantime let us be found faithful in proclaiming the comfort of the gospel message. He will come back, no need to worry, he wants to be with those whom he loves and cares for. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Let’s pray.

©2017 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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