Advent 2 • Isaiah 40:1–11 • December 4, 2011

by David Wollenburg

The Old Testament lesson for today does more than simply serve as the first lesson for this day; it summarizes the theme of Advent 2. Indeed, it summarizes the message of this entire season of the church year, and then it moves us to respond. It can be said that this remarkable passage is so complete that it summarizes the entire message of the Scriptures and of the Christian church. Surely that is why it is so well loved and so well known.

Isaiah, as God’s messenger called and commissioned by the Lord, knows those to whom he must speak. We, along with the people of Israel, are sinful human beings living in a sinful world. The deadly malignancy of sin has infected and affected everything and everyone: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty (or “consistency”) is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass” (vv. 6–7).

The prophet knows who God is. He is a God of power and might who is offended by sin: “‘Behold your God!’ Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him” (vv. 9–10). This is the God of law who expects obedience but also knows our human condition.

But Isaiah also knows that the creator of the ends of the earth and of the myriads of luminaries in the sky, the eternal and almighty God, is the God who “will tend his flock like a shepherd; will gather the lambs in his arms; . . . carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” This is the God of love, the God of gospel.

This God forgives sins and builds up his people: “Comfort, comfort my people says your God . . . and cry to Jerusalem that her warfare (or time of service to sin) is ended . . . her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (vv. 1–3).

And now this God, our God, the one who comes, puts his church into action: “In the wilderness (of this world of sin) prepare the way of the Lord; make straight . . . a highway for our God” (v. 3). St. Peter, in today’s epistle, reminds us of our job when he says, “What sort of people ought you be . . . waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God . . . be diligent to be found by him without spot of blemish, and at peace” (2 Pt 3:11, 12, 14). We respond to that challenge because the Christ, whom John the Baptist proclaims in today’s gospel lesson, has baptized us with the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:1-8), who puts us into action.

Our text is an eschatological message of the restoration of the people of God. It is the promise of divine deliverance. In the chapters leading up to our text, Isaiah predicts the Babylonian captivity for Judah, seventy-five years before the days of Babylonian supremacy. The prophecy of exile, which concludes chapter 39 (vv. 6–7), provides the transition point to this chapter’s announcement of salvation in the return from captivity.

Horace Hummel writes: “The historical return to Jerusalem after the Edict of Cyrus (538) is not only depicted in eschatological and cosmological colors, but the two are totally fused: the historical event is a type, “sacrament,” anticipation and proleptic realization of the ‘restoration of all things.’ ” [1]

In our day we celebrate the eschaton—the now and not yet of the kingdom of God—where our Savior, who has come, comes to us daily and will come again. To a world filled with trial, trouble, and sorrow, the church is called to speak a word of comfort. Just as Joseph comforted his brothers and said to them, “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gn 45:5), even so today we tell the world how God sent Jesus to preserve our lives—that’s the message of Advent 2. God intends our good—our warfare is ended.

Endnote

1 Horace Hummel, The Word Becoming Flesh (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1970), 215.

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