Isaiah 40, 1-5, 9-11 + Psalm 85 – 2 Peter 3, 8-14 + Mark 1, 1-8
Still at the center of Advent readings stands a prophet. This prophet receives a command strongly delivered and repeated twice emphatically. As I was sitting with this text in study, just as I was two weeks ago, a song came into my head. Handel’s treatment of this text in the “Messiah.” Artist that he was, Handel was certainly free to interpret the word as he might for its effect in the whole work, but that tiny little tenor voice that quietly sings “Comfort Ye, Comfort Ye” is not the best way to get the point. If Handel really wanted to interpret this text, this piece might have started with the entire chorus shouting in unison: DO SOMETHING with a big drum roll.
This is a command. It is not a wish. It is a command from God telling the prophet what must be done in order to find freedom from oppression, peace, and lasting joy. It is a command that provides instructions about how to restore what had been lost by the Babylonian conquest and enslavement of many Israelites. They know why it happened. Because they had ceased to care for one another, because they had ceased to observe the covenant, because they had cared for themselves before they cared for God and God’s little ones they lost everything. Earlier prophets in the same book list again and again the grievances and the conditions that resulted in the present misery. There was no justice. There was idolatry. They offered sacrifices in the Temple while “ignoring the orphan’s plea and the widow. (Isaiah 1, 16)”.
So, after a long silence, God speaks up. God gives a command to the prophet about how to restore what has been lost. That is true “comfort”, because real comfort is not just patting someone’s hand saying simply “Now, now, don’t feel too badly, things will get better.” The only real way to comfort someone in distress is to restore what has been lost. Whenever we need comfort it is because something or someone has been lost: a job, a loved one, a treasure of some kind. Real comfort only comes with restoration or the return of what or who was lost.
With the command given to the prophet comes also the plan for restoration and real comfort. Tenderness and forgiveness, a straightening of crooked ways, and a filling in of valleys. Poetic language here that insists that kindness is essential, and forgiveness to be received must be given. It is always about giving. The word itself says it all. Give it! When things are crooked and twisted, uneven and unfair, fix it. Straighten it out. Make it easier to care for one another, to be kind and forgive. Where there is inequality and a twisted convoluted access to justice it must fixed. This is only way to find comfort and the only way back to what God has promised.
My friends, we cannot listen to this text as spectators nor study it as though it was a document in the “Rare book” section of a library. This is the living Word of God, and proclaimed in this assembly it is even more alive and more emphatic than ever. We are the prophets. We are the ones called by God and the ones to whom God reveals God’s commands and will.
When God says: “Go up a high mountain and cry at the top of your voice” God is speaking to us. When God says: “Do not be afraid to cry out” we are the ones God is addressing. That straight and level way is how God will break through and restore with us the intimacy, peace, and joy God intended at the beginning. This is not something someone else must do. Our faith itself is the acknowledgment of our call. Our faith is not about what we get, but about what we shall be and what we shall do to become what we shall be. You see, it is always about comfort, about restoring. It is about restoring the innocence, the holiness, the respect, the peace, and ultimately the relationship human kind had with God before sin and the spoiling of paradise.
God wills us to have it back. God wants us to come home, to walk in the garden of life with God again. If we hear this call and command and do nothing, we have no one to blame for the condition of this world than ourselves. Blame is easy, but it is foolish. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed a snake. It got them nowhere but further from the truth.
The second week of Advent is call to listen. While this season is often considered a time of “waiting”, it is also a season that informs us about what to do while we wait. Do something! Comfort my people, says God. Kindness, forgiveness, and attention to those around us; Justice and faithfulness to God is the stuff of real comfort that beings an end to sadness. We have nothing to fear except the consequences of our own inaction, passivity, and blame. We are on the mountain. From here what we do and what we say can be seen by all. We must pray today that what is seen in us is the promise and glory of God.