A woman reports that her husband, being unhappy with her mood swings, bought her a mood ring so he would be able to monitor her moods.
She said, “We discovered that when I’m in a good mood, it turns green. When I’m in a bad mood, it leaves a big red mark on his forehead.”
The Danish philosopher and theologian, Søren Kierkegaard, is reported to have told the following story: One night, a group of thieves broke into a jewelry store. But rather than stealing anything, they simply switched all the price tags. The next day no one could tell what was valuable and what was cheap. The expensive jewels had suddenly become cheap, and the costume jewelry, which had been virtually worthless before, was suddenly of great value. Customers who thought they were purchasing valuable gems were getting fakes. Those who couldn’t afford the higher priced items were leaving the store with treasures.
Within the Book of Isaiah there are three distinctive sections and the verses we heard today are the beginning of the second part. In part one (we’ve been reading this during Morning Prayer) God has had it with the people’s disobedience and he keeps telling them he’s going to blow them up if they don’t straighten themselves out. In the final chapters of part one, we read about King Hezekiah, who is actually one of the few good kings, but he is not without his faults. The fatal error that he made occurred when he showed the Babylonian emissaries all the gold and fineries of Israel, which means that he showed them the Holiest of Holies, the Ark of the Covenant. God did not appreciate being paraded around in front of foreigners, so Isaiah says, Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. It is about 100 years later, but this prophecy comes to pass with the Babylonian captivity that lasted 70 years.
Then, in chapter 40, all the apocalyptic talk ends. We read:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
What is so fascinating about this passage is that these are words only recorded by the prophet. The conversation itself is between the members of the Holy Trinity. Years before Isaiah, the Prophet Jeremiah had lamented over Jerusalem and speaking the words of God said, “Alas! Lonely sits the city once great with people! … Zion spreads out her hands, she has no one to comfort her” (Lamentations 1:1, 17) Today, God is speaking to God and saying, “Comfort, comfort my people.” Tell them that their punishment—and chasing this one down is a sermon-and-a-half, so we won’t do that today, but—tell them that their punishment has been the equivalent to a blood sacrifice… say, for example, the sacrifice of a lamb on the altar. God says to God, “Speak tenderly to them.” Speak to them in the way that a lover speaks to his beloved. Tell them their sins are forgiven. Tell them that they have received a double pardon for their sins, which is another way of saying, “Tell them that they have received grace.” And let them know that they have received all of this from “the Lord’s hand,” meaning that everything that takes place in their renewal is by divine intervention. God speaking to God. The Father says to the Son. The the Son says to us, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I will give you rest. I will give you comfort. Love. Grace. Sacrificial lamb. Divine intervention. Jesus. It is the entirety of the Gospel message in two verses.
The Israelites did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, yet God showed grace in the person of His son Jesus. However, before the Israelites could receive that grace, there was a great price that had to be paid. You and I, we have paid no price, but we are also the recipients of this same comfort, love, and grace. However, even though we haven’t paid a price, God’s intervention is still of great value… value beyond priceless and is worth our every effort. Remember the parable that Jesus told: “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” We do all we can to gain this pearl of great value, but… somebody came in and switched the price tags, and we end up working for a piece of costume jewelry instead of the pearl of great worth. Whether intentional or unintentional or neglect, through our own sin, what cost much we can treat as trinket and what is a trinket we can treat as the greatest worth. Hence, the message of Isaiah and John the Baptist, a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We must realign ourselves to God and not be deceived.
The Season of Advent is often blurred with the joy of Christmas, but Advent is more closely related to Lent than it is to Christmas. Advent is a time of reflection, repentance and preparation. Reflection on our lives to make sure we are rightly oriented toward God, repentance in the event that we have strayed, and preparation for God’s coming, because when the prophet says,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,
he is talking about us. We are the ones that are making a pathway for our God to come to us. We are the ones that are clearing the mountains and the rubble, so that when he arrives, he will find a mansion prepared for himself… a heart, mind, and soul anxiously awaiting his coming.
No, I’m not trying to take the “merry” out of Christmas. Instead, I’m encouraging you, in the midst of preparing for Christmas, to take a little time in preparing for the coming of the King of Glory.
Let us pray: God of power and mercy, open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy, so that we may share his wisdom and become one with him when he comes in glory, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.