Sermon: Hope-Filled Waiting!

October 11th, 2011

Isaiah 40:1-11

The passage for consideration is a favorite for this season of the Christian year. Isaiah 40 is a powerful passage, marking the beginning authorship of Second Isaiah. Authored during the exilic period of Hebrew history, Isaiah prophesies the imminent return of God’s people to the promised land. The Hebrews have been exiled in Babylon for almost fifty years. Isaiah speaks confidently about God leading the people back to their homeland. Using poetic images Isaiah depicts God turning a merciful eye towards the Jewish people. God restores blessing and promise.

Advent begins the Christian year with a message of hopeful waiting. Isaiah sets the tone for Advent as it identifies the theme of expectant hope rooted and grounded God’s love for God’s people. The bold prophet of God’s redemption reads as if the events have already occurred. After the exile God’s people are ready for new hope from God. As God’s people today we struggle to sense God’s presence of our own exile. Living each day in the shadow of terrorism, staggering violence, possible threats all around us, our uneasiness with poverty, racism, materialism, we too seem to be faking our faithful response to God’s mystery.

In such circumstances the last word we want to hear about is waiting. Like the exiled Jews, we want a definitive word from God. The prophet sensed such uneasiness. Isaiah begins his message with the words of comfort and reassurance. Feeling lost and cutoff the Jews hear God’s words of promised comfort. Isaiah proclaims the people’s waiting in a foreign land is over. Isaiah declares that God builds a highway across the wilderness. God’s breath is breathing new life over the decaying grass and withering flowers. God is at work regardless of how things may appear to them. These lucid images stir God’s people to a reborn hope.

This prophetic message is one we need to hear. We are so easily enticed to believe in the latest trend—the freshest story. We are inundated each moment with more news than we can ever hope to assimilate. Choices overwhelm us each day as to what we will do, where we will go, what we will buy, and what we are to believe. Although the Hebrews’ exile was more related to place than ours, we too find ourselves in exile. We too need to hear a new song in this foreign land of too much stuff, too much information, and too many choices. In the midst of such despair Isaiah proclaims not only that God is present, but that God is preparing to restore God’s people. God has forgiven our sin and will abide with us. God helps us find our way. We wait in expectation that God will be faithful to these promises.

When my son was born my wife and I waited for sixteen hours as she labored to deliver. It was not, however, a dull kind of waiting. Following the instructions of those who lead us, we prepared for what was to come. We acted before the event came—faithful that it would happen in its time. It was an expectant, intense, deliberate waiting. Such is the waiting Isaiah calls God’s people to do. The result of such waiting is the fulfillment of the promise. For us it was the birth of our son; for the Hebrews it was going home.

Wherever people are in Advent, they long for a God who can lead them. Isaiah reminds the Hebrews and us that such a place exists. The prophet dares to offer us a vision of what God will do in a place called Bethlehem. Isaiah dangles before us God’s promise of love. Today we proclaim a word of hope to a people who so desperately need it. We too begin our journey home to the place God has for each of us.

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