Summary: Adapted from a Timothy Quill Advent series.
I began a sermon series last week by saying that no one likes waiting—especially not at the emergency room of a hospital. But another place we don’t like having to wait is at the airport. If you’re travelling alone and your flight has been delayed, it’s no fun having to wait with other disgruntled passengers all desperate to get home. However, if you’re a frequent flyer, you can at least wait in comfort. Just head to the airline’s club lounge and you’ll be sure to find a quiet environment, free food, and a place to relax while you wait.
Is there a church club lounge we can go to while we wait for Jesus—a place that helps us escape the chaos and heartache of this world? No. We Christians face difficulties like everyone else. But while we may not be able to wait for Jesus in comfort, we can wait for him with comfort. That was the message God gave to the Old Testament church through the prophet Isaiah, and it’s a message that we’ll take a closer look at this morning as we continue our Advent sermon series “Waiting with the Old Testament Church.”
Our sermon text again is from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. You may remember from last week’s sermon how Isaiah was a prophet who lived in Jerusalem about 700 years before Jesus’ birth. Isaiah lived at a time when Judah was under assault from the Assyrians and matters would only get worse when the Babylonians came along. They would succeed where the Assyrians had failed: destroy Jerusalem and take most of the Israelites captive. Although Isaiah didn’t live to see that day, God had him warn his people about it with the first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah.
But when the Israelites ended up in Babylon as captives, God didn’t want them to think that he had abandoned them. And so like a mother who packs a note in her child’s lunch to be read later in the day, God packed a note of encouragement in the prophecies of Isaiah for future Israelites, as well as for all believers. This is how our sermon text begins: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 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” (Isaiah 40:1-3).
We like how this note starts don’t we? “Comfort, comfort!” cries God. It’s not enough for him to say it once. He says it twice so the people would know that he wasn’t kidding. The Israelites would find comfort because God would bring them back from captivity and would help them rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. That’s what God meant when he said that he would give Israel “double” for all her sins—not double the trouble, but a double portion of blessings, just as Job had received after God brought him through all his heartache.
But then what are we to make of this exchange between a heavenly voice and the prophet Isaiah? “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. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever’” (Isaiah 40:6-8). That doesn’t seem to be a very comforting message does it to be reminded that no matter who you are, no matter what you have achieved in life, you’re like the grass of the field or at best a flower. How long do flowers last? The ones that grow in our gardens will last a season before the cold and snow gets to them. Cut flowers last much shorter – a week or two maybe? That’s why ancient Jews would never have tried to cheer a sick person with a bouquet of flowers. It would only have reminded them of their mortality!
But perhaps we, the people of the 21st century, need to be reminded of our mortality more often. I say this because we seem to be under the illusion that science and technology will find a way to overcome any difficulty in our lives. And so it’s in Google we trust, or at least turn to as if in prayer whenever there’s something wrong in our lives. But neither science nor technology has succeeded or will ever succeed in finding a cure for death. But that’s not the impression we’re given. Instead we’re led to believe that if we just exercise and eat right, if we just take the right cocktail of vitamins, and entrust ourselves to our doctors we can find and enjoy the fountain of youth! Not so says God in our text. “Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall…” (Isaiah 40:7b, 8). Maybe we should get into the habit of buying flowers, putting our names on them and watching them droop and die in spite of our best efforts to keep them alive because that’s what’s happening to our bodies no matter how young and healthy we are, or how rich and successful.