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Published by Ted H Sandberg

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Published by: Ted H Sandberg on Jan 04, 2012
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December 4, 2011
Mark 1:1-8 Isaiah 40:1-11 ³Comfort My People´Dr. Ted H. Sandberg³How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she thatwas great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. Sheweeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comforther; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Judah has goneinto exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.´ So begins the book of Lamentations as the writer grieves over the defeat of Israel, the destruction of Jerusalem, and thedeportation of the majority of her social, economic and political elite to the pagan Babylon. ³Theroads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have goneaway, captives before the foe.´Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 BCE by Babylonia (modern day Iraq) under Nebuchadnezzar II, thegreatest ruler Babylon ever had, far greater than Sadaam Husein. The prophets had been warningIsrael for generations that the Lord God would punish them if they didn¶t uphold the covenant they¶dmade with God, but the people, and in particular the rulers, thought they knew best. So, rather thanrelying upon God for protection, the kings (with priestly support) made political alliances with other nations, Egypt in particular, and they went about living pretty much as they pleased, ignoring prophetslike Amos. The result was that the alliances fell through, Egypt was unable and unwilling to come toIsrael¶s aid, and Nebuchadnezzar essentially destroyed Israel and marched Jerusalem¶s leading citizensinto exile.What made this all the worse for the exiles was that they understood their bleak condition to be a signof neglect by God, and eventually, many came to believe that their exile was a sign that their God, theGod of Abraham and Moses, was
as powerful as they had believed. Especially after 20 or 30years in exile, many began to believe that Marduk, the Babylonian god, was more powerful than theGod of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their hope of rescue faltered with their faith.Interestingly, to a very large degree, the exiles in Babylon were a lot better off than their fellowcitizens of Judah who remained in the home country. The exiles in Babylon did have some freedom.They could pretty much worship as they wished, though they couldn¶t offer sacrifices. They also wereallowed to enter into the economic life of the country, and many of the exiles did very well financially.Those who weren¶t marched into exile faced a ruined economy, a ruined Temple, and a ruined political system. Yet the exiles in Babylon suffered greatly as the writer of Lamentations expresses sowell for us, because even though they were doing ok economically, they were suffering politically and psychologically because they¶d lost their freedom, and they were suffering religiously, because they¶dcome to believe their God had either deserted them, or was not as powerful as the gods of other nations.It¶s to a people who were experiencing these kinds of hopeless feelings that the prophet Isaiah spoke.After nearly 50 years of exile, God said to this prophet and to the angels around the heavenly thrown,³Comfort, 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.´ The time of punishment is nearly finished. The era of warfare under which Israel hassuffered incalculable loss and shame has come to an end. God will once again show the world that theGod of Abraham is the one true God, God the most powerful.That the exiles will gain their freedom and be able to return to their homes is not attributed to luck or chance or even to the fact that Cyrus, ruler of Persia, will soon defeat Babylon. Instead, Isaiah givesthe captives¶ release a specific theological grounding: peace has returned as a result of the restorationof a proper relation between Israel and her God ± ³her penalty is paid,´ her sins have been forgiven.The command is given by God, ³In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in thedesert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be madelow; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORDshall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.´What wondrous news that Isaiah proclaimed to the people! Not only will they be freed from the handsof the Babylonians, but much, much more, they¶ll be freed from the burden of their sins. God, their God, forgives them, and in forgiving them, God¶s glory will be revealed for all people to see.It¶s this same message of forgiveness that¶s proclaimed in
Advent season, and yes, even a better message of forgiveness. So many today live in exile, separated from God by their sin, separated fromfamily by violence and hate, separated from inner peace by greed and pride. Who could argue that wetoday don¶t also live in a wilderness? Oh, we like to pretend that everything is fine, that we¶re verycivilized, that we¶re at peace, that we have security. But a few minutes spent listening to the eveningnews erases those pretensions. Homeless fill our streets. Drugs and gangs bring violence to our neighborhoods. Intolerance threatens anyone who is different. And even on a personal level, who of us hasn¶t experienced the wilderness of heart ache, the wilderness of death, the wilderness of loss, andthe suffering that loss brings?We all live in a wilderness exile. So it is that the words of John the Baptist, ³See, I am sending mymessenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:µPrepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,¶´ these words bring comfort to all who listen.The Israelites were exiled because of their sin, and God forgave that sin and returned them to their homeland of Judah. But they sinned again and again, just as we sin again and again, and so God sentHis only Son to earth, to show us how God wants us to live, and to offer us grace and forgivenesswhen we fail to live as Jesus teaches. The words of the prophet Isaiah, ³Comfort, comfort my people,´words that were spoken to proclaim the good news that the exiles were going to return to their homeland, these same words have taken on a new and better meaning. We¶re comforted not byreturning to a place, but we¶re comforted by receiving the gift of Jesus Christ, comforted by the gift of God¶s Holy Spirit.This is the Good News that Christians are to proclaim in this Advent season, but also throughout theyear. We¶re to proclaim the comfort that comes only through Christ Jesus. We¶re to proclaim theforgiveness of sin that¶s offered not by what we do, not by what we say, not by magic crystals or chanting some mantra, but offered to us by the grace of Jesus Christ alone. We¶re to proclaim comfortto a wilderness world, comfort to a grieving people, comfort to those who are lost and alone andfrightened.

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