Stroll through Scripture for Sunday, December 10, 2023

Reading from Isaiah 40:1-11

Isaiah 40 begins what is often referred to by biblical scholars as second Isaiah.  Chapter 39 tells of Jerusalem’s “welcoming” the Babylonians, which will be followed by the destruction of the Temple, the sacking of Jerusalem, and the people being exiled to Babylon.  All of this is portrayed by the prophets “as the penalty for their many sins, including trusting foreign powers, worshipping idols, and neglecting the needs of the poor.” (Lutheran Study Bible, pg. 1157).  

Chapter 40 takes place at some point while the Israelites are in exile in Babylon.  And it is a declaration that the exile is over – not in terms of it happening at that moment, but in terms of the judgement against Israel being over.  It is now a foregone conclusion that the exile is ending – God has declared it so.  It’s only a matter of time for the world to catch up to what God has declared.  

Second Isaiah starts with the word “Comfort” and this will be the overriding theme of several chapters that follow.  All of this is related to God’s actions.  What else could there be?  Since the people are exiled, they can’t rely on their own efforts.  They can’t rely on their strength or might.  They can’t rely on their wisdom.  They can’t rely on a king.  They can’t rely on the Temple.  They can’t rely on the myth of being invincible.  All of that is stripped away completely.  There is nothing within their power that can change their circumstances – nothing at all.  And this is where faith steps in.  When all of our efforts are stripped away and shown to be worthless and we have nothing else to go with, it is them that we can finally see clearly that it was never about us and what we were doing.  We can’t save ourselves.  We have no power to be in control.  Oh how scary that is for human beings.  Oh how we will rebel against this very notion.  Yet, this is exactly what the Good News is all about – you are not in control, God is.  God is your salvation.  You contribute nothing towards it.  Stop trying to fool yourself.  That is Isaiah’s message to Israel because it is only in God that we have hope and a future.  And it is a future far better than anything that we could imagine or try to create on our own.  

In this second Sunday of Advent, our theme is preparation.  In Isaiah’s passage we hear about God preparing a way in the wilderness – a path for Israel to leave Babylon back to the Promised Land.  The exile is over (almost).  It’s time to look forward to what will be, as God has envisioned it.  God is preparing a way forward for the Israelites to follow.

Questions for reflection:

  • What sense of control do we hold on to and why is this so important to us?  What is that sense of control costing us?
  • How is God preparing a way in the wilderness for us, our families, our communities, our church, and the world?  
  • What vision is God preparing us to see and participate in?  And how radically different is it? 

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