Advent: Born to Set the People Free

Isaiah 40:1-11

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 has 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 for ever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
   O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
   O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
   lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
   ‘Here is your God!’
See, the Lord God comes with might,
   and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
   and his recompense before him.
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.

When I was ten years old, I went on a camping trip with my best friend and her family.  After supper on the second day, a tiny rabbit ran across our campsite and I decided to follow it into the woods.  After chasing the rabbit for a few minutes, I lost track of it.  I looked around and could not see the campsite anywhere.  I couldn’t hear the voices of my friend’s family.  I realized that I was lost.  Rather than continue walking, I decided to sit on a fallen log and wait.  As I waited, it began to get dark.  I felt scared, alone, and lost.  I worried that I would never get home again or see my parents. 

 After what seemed like an hour, I could hear a faint voice in the distance.  Then the voice gradually got louder.  I could hear the voice saying, “Karen, listen to my voice. Stay calm. I am coming to find you.”  After a few moments, I heard these words, “Follow my voice and walk toward me.” Hearing the voice gave me comfort that I would be found, and it gave me courage to follow it.  I began walking in the direction of the voice, and eventually I saw my friend’s dad and I ran into his arms.  He took me by the hand and led me back to safety at the campsite. 

 Isaiah’s words were written for the Israelites who were in exile.  In 586 BCE Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonian Empire. The leaders and a significant part of the population were marched off to Babylon.  The Jerusalem prophets made it quite clear that the destruction of the city and the exile in Babylon were not due to Babylonian strength; they were a well-deserved punishment from God.  The Israelites were far from their home in Jerusalem.  They felt lost, frightened, and worried about whether or not they would see their home or families again.  And they felt far from God.  

After sixty years of being lost in a foreign land, the prophet’s voice cries out to the people, “Be comforted.  Stay calm.  The Lord is coming to find you.”  The prophet’s words announce that the Exile is almost over and that the coming of the Lord is at hand.  The prophet’s words give comfort to God’s people, and remind them that God will restore God’s relationship with Israel.  The season of God’s hiddenness has ended, and God will help the people find their way home again. 

Have there been times in your life when you have felt lost or alone? Who were the voices that helped give you comfort and direction, that helped you find your way again?  

In this season of Advent, when we are waiting, longing, and hoping in the midst of the world’s darkness, may we live in the confidence that once again the Messiah will come — the One who will always find us and help us find our way.

Karen Massey

Dr. Karen Massey is the associate Dean for Masters Degree programs at McAfee. She is also an associate professor of Christian education and faith development and holds the Watkins Christian Foundation Endowed Chair. Before her arrival at McAfee, she served as the associate pastor of Northside Drive Baptist Church in Atlanta. At McAfee, Dr. Massey teaches in the area of practical ministry, with her major areas of interest being faith development and worship.