ESV Isaiah 40:1 aComfort, comfort my people, says your God.
2 aSpeak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that bher warfare1 is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
3 aA voice cries:1 b”In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; cmake straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 aEvery 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.
5 aAnd the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, bfor the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry!” And I said,1 “What shall I cry?” aAll flesh is grass, and all its beauty2 is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass.
8 aThe grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
9 Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, aherald of good news;1 lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news;2 lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
10 aBehold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; bbehold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
11 aHe will tend his flock like a shepherd; bhe will gather the lambs in his arms; che will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isa 40:1-11 ESV)
Jeremy Cowart is a professional photographer in Los Angeles. He photographs many celebrities. If you were to look at his portfolio, you would see people this world wants you to know. Stars like Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, and the Kardashians. One of his most beautiful and intriguing photographs, however, involves people you don’t know. It was taken when Cowart was in Kiev, Ukraine. He photographed two people standing outside St. Michael’s Church and Monastery. When you look at the photo, you can’t help but be surprised. http://jeremycowart.com/new-blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/043_Ukraine_Friends.jpg #cowart
At the bottom of the photo, there are two people, young, preoccupied. One carries a bag over her shoulder and looks straight in your direction. The other is wearing a suit and a tie. His head is slightly tilted, as he looks off into the distance. Both have the appearance of anyone you could meet on any street.
Behind them, however, is the wall of the monastery. It rises up above them and is covered with angels. There are so many angels that you can’t see all of their faces. The ones closest to them are life size. Behind these two ordinary people is a world of gold, filled with angels and wings and rays of light.
If these two people would just turn around, you think, they would be amazed at the world that surrounds them. Their ordinary life is filled with the presence of angels. God is inviting them into an overwhelming experience of his personal love.
Unfortunately, what we see in this photograph often happens in our lives. We are so preoccupied with work that we never truly see the wonder of God’s ways.
For this reason, our text from Isaiah is a blessing this morning. Isaiah offers us an overwhelming vision of angels. He calls us today to stop and to listen. If you do that, you will discover a beautiful thing. Today, Isaiah offers you a vision of God’s love. Through the words of Isaiah,
God Proclaims to Us His Overwhelming Mission
of Personal Love.
It’s an overwhelming mission. At first glance, you will notice that there are no angels explicitly mentioned in our Old Testament Reading. We are not given a vision of heaven with God seated on a throne, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of angels. In fact, Isaiah only gives us a voice, the voice of God that he hears.
Earlier, though, when Isaiah first received his call, he received a glimpse of the heavenly council. He went into the temple only to discover that somehow it had become the throne room of God. He saw God “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (6:1). So great was this God that the mere hem of his robe filled the entire temple, and Isaiah was amazed. This God called Isaiah to speak, and he gave him the words to say. Words of judgment upon Israel.
Now, however, Isaiah receives another commission from the same throne. But when this one happens, Isaiah doesn’t turn your attention to the throne room of God, to the thousands upon thousands of angels, covering their faces and hovering in the air. Instead, he wants you to hear what this God is saying. Why? Because what God says is even more wonderful and glorious than the angels he speaks to. This time, God is bringing comfort to his people.
Hear the overwhelming mercy of God: “Comfort, comfort my people,” says God. God issues his command. Not once but twice. God is emphatic about the work that he is about to do. Also, notice that the command is spoken in the plural. This is captured in that familiar hymn “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People.” “Comfort ye.” God is not commanding one lone angel to bring a word of comfort to earth. No, God is commanding more than one, many, if not all of them. “All of you, comfort my people,” God is saying. “All of you, bring comfort to them.” God is so desirous of bringing comfort to his people that he sends a whole host of messengers.
They are to speak to his people, to proclaim that their exile is over, their sin is pardoned, and they have peace with their God.
This overwhelming mission, given to God’s messengers, continues to happen in our midst today. Advent reminds us of God’s overwhelming mission. John the Baptist was out in the wilderness calling all people to repent and prepare for the Lord. His work was a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and his words revealed one greater than him. One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is that one, sent from his Father to die for our sins. He rose and ascended to his Father to be seated on the heavenly throne. Jesus rules, and as long as this world endures, his mission continues. He sends his Spirit to equip us, his people, to join in his overwhelming mission of mercy to the ends of the earth.
It’s an overwhelming mission Of personal love.
Not only is this an overwhelming mission, but it is also a mission of personal love.
Notice how the first way to bring comfort to God’s people is by speaking tenderly to them. Literally, they are to “speak upon the heart.” This is the language of personal love. The language of a man in love with a woman. The language of God, who is in love with his people. Though his people have strayed from him and though they have justly suffered his judgment, God continues to seek them out. In this text, we get a glimpse of God, sending out messengers to speak to his people of a personal love.
This text, however, is only a foretaste of a far more personal love of God. Advent is preparing us for Christmas, when God revealed the most amazing act of personal love. You will remember that angels filled the heavens to announce this event. God the Father sent his Son, Jesus, to take on human flesh, to suffer the wrath of God for all sin, and to bring all people back into a relationship with their heavenly Father. This is the message God communicates today, a message of personal love, spoken in his Word and also spoken personally by a preacher he has sent, today, to you.
Have you ever noticed how talk of religion can often become divisive? The ways of God are different from the ways of our world, and religious speech is often heard as an attack on others rather than as an invitation to participate in a new way of life.
Today, however, God invites you to take part in his overwhelming mission of personal love. Having experienced his forgiveness in your life, having received his Holy Spirit, you are equipped to join your voice to the chorus of witnesses who speak of his love. Angels surround you as you serve God in the world, and they look forward to singing a song of joy over one sinner who repents (Lk 15:10).
When you look at Jeremy Cowart’s photograph, it is interesting to see how near the angels are to our world. In fact, it almost looks like one of the angels is entering our world.
One angel stands there, behind the man in the suit and tie. In one hand, the angel carries a lily. In the other hand, the angel holds a staff, and his forefinger is extended. It reaches out from the mural to point to the young man in front of him, standing there, staring off into the distance.
In Renaissance art, one angel often carries a lily. Gabriel. The angel God sent to Mary to announce that she would bear God’s Son. How beautiful that this angel, so close to the incarnation, is also so close to this young man.
God sent his Son into this world for individual people, like this young man. Though they may not be attending to God in the world, God is attending to them. Sending his Son to forgive their sins and then sending his angels, sending his prophets, sending his pastors, sending his people to join in this mission of love.
God’s overwhelming mission, so personal in Jesus, remains personal today as God sends you to be a messenger, bearing his word of good news to others. Amen.