The culture is declining.
Religious belief and practice are waning.
Families are being fractured.
Borders are not safe.
There is no economic stability.
It’s not safe in the streets.
It’s hard to find hope anywhere.
Problems after problems after problems.
No, I’m not talking about our present times. Not yet.
These were all the negative circumstances among God’s people in what we call the Old Testament, about 755 years before Christ was born.
These people were God’s chosen people. They had a great heritage going back to Father Abraham. However, at that time their nation had been split by the capture of its northern territory (Israel), and the southern territory (Judah) was being threatened by its eventual capture.
The people were in strife and danger. Perhaps the situation in Ukraine might give us some insight into these ancient people’s circumstances and dangerous reality.
Into this reality God sent His prophet Isaiah to be His spokesman both to the rulers and to the people. God’s message to His people through Isaiah was two-fold.
First, God spoke His word of judgment to His people. Isaiah spoke God’s truth that the lives and actions of the rulers and the people had turned against God and His ways. Isaiah declared that the fallen sinful living of the people had caused not only their separation from God, but had also been the reason God was allowing, and even using, the invaders to bring punishment upon His people. That was a harsh word, indeed.
Second, however, into this chaos, this down-spiraling unfolding of history, God had Isaiah speak His gracious and promising word of hope. Isaiah assured the people that even in their world of despair, God would redeem and save His people and restore their prosperity and security.
In Isaiah 40:1 we read what God told Isaiah to tell the people. “Comfort, comfort my people.” The people were in virtual mourning for all they had lost and for all that had been taken from them. But God said, “Be comforted.” As if to say, “Be at peace. Take heart. Be encouraged. Be lifted up. Even now be joyful because this is not how things will end.”
Verse 5 continues, “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.”
Many of you will recognize these words of Holy Scripture as used by Handel in one section of his epic and majestic “The Messiah.”
And so it was that many years unfolded throughout the history of Israel until God not only kept His promise, but actually delivered even beyond and better than what the people might have expected.
However, as is usually the case with God’s timing, all this did not happen just when the people would have liked, but it did indeed happen.
What happened is in part what we just have recently been celebrating and remembering with such joy at Christmas. What happened is that God sent His own Son Jesus to be the Babe of Bethlehem.
But Jesus was so much more than that. He became the holy and perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of all sin when He died on the cross. And He opened the way of everlasting life when He rose again on what we celebrate as Easter.
Jesus is God’s perfect fulfillment of every promise He ever made.
Isaiah spoke God’s Truth 755 years before the birth of Christ. He didn’t fully understand exactly how God was going to keep His promise, but he was convinced that God would provide fully, and that God would provide hope and comfort despite any frightening circumstances that may have surrounded them.
So what about now? What about our lives? The opening litany of problems and bad circumstances I listed above certainly could be spoken about our current times and even our current lives. Not every one of them applies to every one of us, but our culture, our nation, our families, and our very lives seem to be under attack from within and without.
I hope you don’t watch the news, but even without all those problems coming into our living rooms, we see and know they exist. And we certainly know the problems and adversities we face in raising children and keeping our families and our churches going God’s way.
So, where is the good word? Where is the hope?
Our hope, our true hope, is most certainly in those same ancient and sacred words declared by Isaiah directly from the heart of God now to us. “Comfort, comfort my people.”
Even if we are in a time of virtual mourning for all we have lost and for all that has been taken from us, God says to us, “Be comforted.” The Lord God Almighty says to us and promises us, “Be at peace. Take heart. Be encouraged. Be lifted up. Even now be joyful because this is not how things will end.”
God’s promise to us was fully accomplished in Jesus Christ. Only in Him do we have true hope and true peace. Only in Him do we have our hearts lifted. Only in Him do we have true and reliable encouragement. Only in Him can we be truly joyful because in Him we know that whatever our problems and adversities, this is not how it will end for us.
Only in Christ can it be declared, “The glory of the Lord has been and shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
My prayer for you is that in this time of year that is sometimes a “let-down time” with all of the goodness and excitement of Christmas now behind us, and the problems and adversities of our lives stick out a little more, that in this time you will “be comforted, be at peace, be lifted up, be encouraged, and be full of true joy and hope” because you know what makes all this possible, the Lord God Almighty through His Son Jesus Christ.
“The mouth of the Lord God has spoken it.”
And all God’s people say, “Amen!”
[Dr. Justin Kollmeyer, a thirty-seven year resident of Fayette County, is a retired Lutheran pastor. He offers his preaching and teaching pastoral ministry to any group seeking or needing a Christ centered, Biblically based, and traditionally grounded sermon or teaching. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.]