Summary: Comfort is something that we all need from time to time. But where do you look for comfort> Is it to the living God who ave us his word to reassure us that he has all things in his hand and who sends us his Holy Spirit to strengthen and renew us?
“Comfort, Comfort, my People, says your God.” Do you sometimes feel the need for comfort. Cadbury’s and Lindt make a lot of money out of that feeling don’t they? But when you hear a passage like this does it speak to an inner longing? That sense that you need someone else to support and care for you? It’s a word that’s addressed to the people of Israel who were in great need of comfort. The prophet Isaiah speaks to them and says: “Here is what God says to you: ‘Be comforted.’” The repetition of the verb is meant to add emotional intensity to the call. It’s as though God is pleading with his people to take comfort in his words. He says “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” Literally, “speak to her heart.” The way lovers woo each other, speaking sweet nothings to one another, wooing, persuading, inviting a response of love. But then “cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.”
Sometimes we have trouble hearing when God speaks to us, but here the prophet is told to speak with quiet words of love and a loud shout of proclamation. Whatever it takes they’re to hear this message: ‘Comfort, Comfort!’ and believe that it’s true.
If you’ve been here for the last few weeks you’ll know that the city of Jerusalem has been under attack and in fact it’s now been destroyed and its people have been taken off to captivity in Babylon, where they’ve found that they can’t sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land. They’re cut off from their land, and from their God. So this word of Isaiah is truly a word of comfort. Notice how he addresses them: “Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God.” He reminds them that even though they’re in captivity, in exile, even though they feel like God has abandoned them, or they’ve failed him, God is still their God. They are still God’s people.
So it’s a message of subjective comfort. They can feel relieved that God hasn’t forgotten them. But at the same time it’s a message of comfort based on the objective historical reality of what God’s doing. God is about to rescue them, to bring them out of captivity and return them to Jerusalem. He says, “Cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.” This doesn’t mean they’ve suffered more than they deserved, and now God’s realised it and so is bringing them back. No, what he means is that God is giving her double in exchange for all her sins. As we discover when we come to chs 52 & 53, the Servant of the Lord’s sacrifice has paid for their sins. And now in God’s grace he’s about to restore them despite their unworthiness.
And so we read “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” Notice, it isn’t: “prepare a way for the Jews in exile.” No: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” If you were a nomad out in the desert tending your flock of scrawny goats or sheep, and you looked up as this exodus went by, all you’d see would be a great horde of Jews trudging along, looking tired and thirsty. But the eyes of the prophet sees the LORD God coming, - and as he comes he brings with him his people.
As you look around this church today, what do you see? Do you see a fairly motley group of Christians, or do you see God at work? It takes the eye of a prophet, or the eye of a believer, to see God at work sometimes. The Jews in exile needed to be reminded that God was still at work. That even if they felt like they couldn’t sing the Lord’s song, that he was still at work, working for and with them. Can you see that God is at work in our midst? That’s the only basis on which we can feel true comfort in the midst of the struggle and hard work of being God’s people here in Burwood.
And notice how when God acts, seemingly impossible hurdles are overcome. Mountain ranges are made low, valleys are lifted up, uneven ground made level. When we think about the obstacles to our work of outreach here, we could very easily get depressed couldn’t we? We’re still only a small congregation. The number of young families has dropped off in the past few years as our children have grown up and we’re struggling to replace them. Most of the people around us have little or no connection with Church. On top of all that, we’re about to embark on a multi-million dollar building project that will probably stretch us financially. You could almost say it’s an impossible task.