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.