Summary: Joylessness is transformed into joy by the coming of Christ.
“Questions About God: What Can God Say?”
Is. 40:1-11; Mk. 1:1-8
More than two hundred years ago in the industrial ghetto of Liverpool, England, a sophisticated young man climbed the steps of a stone monument called the “market cross”. Leaning against the cross and looking out over the milling masses, his eyes and ears were shocked by the sights and sounds of dirty and bedraggled miners and millers venting the rage of their hopelessness with damning curses and drunken brawls. Breathing a prayer and stretching tall against the cross, the young man began to sing, “O, for a thousand tongues to sing, My great redeemers praise, The glories of my God and King, The triumphs of His grace.” The words came easily from his lips because he had written them to celebrate the first anniversary of his conversion to Jesus Christ. He had no trouble with the music because he sang in the melody of a popular tune which all of the people would recognize. Wafting over the market square those words and his voice brought an abrupt halt to the bickering and brawling masses. Never before had they heard a note of joy in a religious context. To them, the church meant a sober sound reserved for saints and sanctuaries. To them, religion meant a division between the saved and the damned, with little doubt about their eternal position. To them, God was a great watch-maker in the sky who wound up the world and left it running without a whit of care for his own creation. No wonder Charles Wesley got their attention. He sang a song of a God of love who offered free grace for all through His Son Jesus Christ. JOYLESSNESS IS TRANSFORMED INTO JOY BY THE COMING OF JESUS CHRIST. Jesus brings joy to the world.
This is precisely what the prophet Isaiah predicted centuries before Jesus was born. CONSIDER ISRAEL. At the time of Isaiah 40 Israel was in exile. She was a displaced, homeless people whose only hopes were in the promises of God – and at that time those promises seemed pretty remote. She was far from her homeland and with each succeeding generation the thoughts and importance of Jerusalem were becoming fainter. And she felt that there was little she could do about her situation. There was little joy in Israel.
Into this joylessness came the word of the Lord (6): ““A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?”” Even Isaiah the prophet was at a loss for words! What could he say? What could be said that would make any difference? So, in essence, Isaiah cried out to God, “God what do You recommend I say? What do you say? These are your people – what do you want me to say?”
I believe these questions are not foreign to us. CONSIDER OUR SITUATION. I know I ask the same question often – “God – what do you want me to say?” Each week I need to preach the word of the Lord – the greatest privilege there is! But, what to say? Our lives, too, are often joyless. People – young and old - die, and not on our time-table. Friends and family develop cancer, AIDS, or Alzheimers and enter into times of discomfort and suffering. Our sons and daughters are sent into war-torn areas of the world to experience who knows what. We all know families ripped apart by divorce, or where relationships are fragile. Wherever we live, around us are networks of drugs, crime, and poverty. Daily we face or hear of prejudice and hatred. There is bad behavior in our schools, our streets, and our assembly halls – and even at times in our churches. So weekly I find myself saying “God what do recommend I say? What do you say? These are your people – what do you want me to say?”
I have a strong hunch you’ve asked God the same questions – even at this time of the year. Life is a hassle. We’re wearied and rushed with a ceaseless round of activities, overwhelmed with gifts we feel we need to buy – and we seem to be a day late and a few dollars short. The dreams of our youth and early adulthood have quickly faded into the realities of mid-life with its demands and disappointments, and the helpless feeling that we are not in control. Each day is like the day before – it’s the same routine, same job, same hassles, same relationships, same arguments, same bills. Excitement and joy in living has given way to disappointment and disillusion. Our lives appear no different than the lives of those who do not know Jesus. We agree with Isaiah (6-8): “All men are like grass, and all their glory 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…” As a Psychiatrist once said, “The average persons’ back is breaking under an oppressive weight of tedium, drudgery, and boredom induced by constant attention to the trivial and inconsequential.” I believe you, too, have – more than once – asked, “God, what do you say?”