Excerpted from A Season of Hope. An Advent Guide for Lectionary Year B from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.[b] Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will 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 like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever. You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
Isaiah 40 is our alarm clock after the rhythm of Ordinary Time; it helps us wake up. Maybe it is more of a jolt awakening—a middle of the night crash that makes you to sit up in bed and look around. This type of brutal rousing might scare us a little, maybe make us gasp, but definitely makes us notice our surroundings. Advent entices all of our senses because the Spirit is moving and preparing the way of the Lord.
In Isaiah 40, we read about the Israelites in Babylonian exile. The people of Judah desperately need the hope of a joyful return to their homeland. These exiled people are distressed until suddenly God comforts the people. Amidst their burnout and fatigue, they hear God.
This passage is for all that feel suffering and pain is abundant. Before the poet shared his consolation from God, the Israelites were about to give up and live as Babylonians. They didn’t realize how close hope was.
I wonder if the Israelites felt shocked, suddenly to hear hope, while in desperate exile. Abruptly, the wait is over. Hope seems so much more tangible.
I find it no coincidence that Advent follows a busy season for many of us: the start of a new school year, election season, Thanksgiving, fall sports, and time commitments. We haven’t been wandering around aimlessly during Ordinary Time, but now that we are walloped awake, we look around and see our surroundings and have the opportunity to hear God.
I gladly welcome this year’s crash in the middle of the night, abrupt wake-up call. In a year of resistance, perseverance, burnout, I cling to God’s comfort in Isaiah 40. The Spirit is preparing the way of the Lord . . . Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level” (vs.3–4).
There are sacred and powerful reminders of God’s comfort around us—we need to lean in and watch. Hope is closer than it seems to be.
God is here, hope has come. Christ is coming! Christ is near. Christ is with us. We are snapped out of our patterns of fear because a voice cries out! Prepare the way of the Lord!
Prayer: Thank you God for always being with us— In our exile and fear, you see and hold us. Help us see your presence so that we feel less alone. Chaos and injustice are leveled out with your love and mercy. Thank you for the Hope that your love brings. Amen.