Readings: Psalm 126; Isaiah 40:1-11; Romans 8:22-25

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord ha
s spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
    their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    surely the people are grass

The grass withers, the flower fades;
    but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
    O Zion, herald of good tidings;[a]
lift up your voice with strength,
    O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,[b]
    lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”

10 See, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead the mother sheep.

The odd thing: the times when good news is most difficult to believe are the times when we most need to hear it. 

When the pandemic goes on and on, when justice continues to be denied, when divisiveness and ego dominate the political arena making genuine governing all but impossible, when so much of what we cherish about the church seems to be unraveling, it is hard to believe there is good news. All seems bleak and hopeless. Isaiah sounds like a cock-eyed optimist, totally oblivious to the realities of our day. We can’t help but ask, “Can anything good come out of this?”  

It’s hard for us, but it was hard for those who first heard Isaiah’s words as well. They had been forced into exile, living in a foreign land for decades. Their temple, which was essential to their faith, had been destroyed. They lived under the rule of an empire that had conquered them. They must have wondered, “Can anything good come out of this?”

And things seemed just as bad for the people of Jesus’ day. They were subjects of the Roman Empire and a puppet king. Their religious leaders seemed more concerned with protecting their power and privilege than anything having to do with genuine faith. They must have wondered, “Can anything good come out of this?”

But to them and to us the words of Isaiah come. They are words for us despite these times—words we need because of these times. Comfort. Speak tenderly. The rough places shall become a plain. The glory of the Lord will be revealed. He will feed his flock like a shepherd.

Something good can and will come out of this because God is always at work to redeem even the most devastating circumstances. Hope is possible not because all is well with the world, but because God is in the world. Hope is possible because God comforts and redeems. That is good news for difficult times. It is good news for us. It comes in a word made flesh to dwell among us. This is the hope we claim each Advent season and this year is no different!

Offered by Jeff Jones, to light our path to Bethlehem.

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