Delivered on Sunday 30 November 2008 in Stockton Parish Church
Isaiah 40.1-11 - 'Comfort... God is coming back!'
Well, the Christmas lights are on, and the enormous tree has been planted on the High Street; 'the season to be jolly' is almost here.
But Christmas is more than an excuse for a posh meal. There's more to Christmas than pretty lights, presents and Slade singing, 'So here it is, Merry Christmas!'
Jesus is Coming
Christmas is the time of year when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. But the four weeks leading up to Christmas are also important to Christians, when we look forward to Jesus' return, his second coming. This is the season we call 'advent', which simply means, 'coming'.
This is what the prophet Isaiah was predicting when he wrote the words we read just now. The first time Jesus came, he was born in a village to a simple peasant family. But, Isaiah says in v5, when Jesus comes back, the whole world will see him. No-one will be able to ignore him the second time. The mountains are going to be levelled, the valleys filled in! No-one can miss an event like that!
The first time Jesus came, he came in humility and poverty. Next time he comes, says v10, he will come in glory, strength and might.
But if it's going to be so obvious when he returns, why does the herald should about it? In v9 Isaiah says: [read verse 9]. Surely this is a bit like going on a ferry, looking over the side, and saying, 'Hey, we're surrounded by water!' Why does this herald shout about something everyone can see?
The clue is in v9: the herald is the herald of good news. Jesus' return is so fantastic for God's people, they can't help but shout about it! It's as though the herald on the ferry is so excited about the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, he can't hold it in! At last, Jesus is returning to be with his people! At last, God is coming to right every wrong. At last, the battle will be ended, and there will be peace.
This is one reason why we are worshipping this morning in this freezing cold market. We want to announce to everyone here in Stockton that Jesus is coming back! The signs are there for everyone to see, as the church building is restored, as we grow together as a church family. Jesus is coming back!
Mighty and Tender
Isaiah talks about this return in two very different ways. First, the return of the mighty and powerful God of glory, who flattens the earth to make a road for his armies.
But second, God is tender: 'Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.' Shortly before he died, Jesus said, 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem... how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.' (Luke 13.34) This may sound a bit twee, but in v11 Isaiah describes God as like a shepherd, gathering his lambs together, holding them close.
(These are not two different gods, one mighty and one tender, but different aspects of the one God.)
Elsewhere, God promises that he will wipe away every tear, that there will be no pain, sickness or death, that there will be no more suffering.
Would you like to live that life? Would you like to live with God forever, in a world without pain, sickness or death? Would you like to live with God forever?
Have your sins been paid for?
When Jesus returns it will be good news for his people, but not for everyone else.
When the Sovereign Lord rules on earth, what do you think will happen to those who oppose him? When the God of justice returns, what do you think will happen to those who have exploited others for selfish gain? What will happen to all who have turned away from God?
Isaiah is under no illusions. In v6-8 he asks: [read verses 6-8]. We know it well, don't we? Tomorrow, this market will be closed. My wife and I were given some flowers—they're in a vase, once beautiful, but now withered & dry.
The only thing that stands forever, Isaiah says, is the Word of God. And God's Word promises that his people will be comforted and live with him forever. Their sins have been paid for, it says in v2, so they are able to enjoy his new life, free of their sin.
The question is this: have your sins been paid for? In Isaiah, God's people are only comforted, they only get their new life, once their sins have been paid for.
How do we do that? It's quite simple for us, because Jesus has done the hard work. He took the punishment for our sins when he died and rose again. He paid the price for our sin. What we have to do, is say sorry to God for those sins, ask him to forgive us, and begin to live for him. God promises he will forgive anyone who asks him.
More than that.. the new life that God promises doesn't begin when Jesus returns, it begins when we turn back to God and begin to live his way, not our own way. When that happens, our lives begin to cry out, 'Jesus is coming!' As we look for Jesus' return, the invitation God gives to all of us is to live his life now.
That's what we're doing at SPC, as we renew our building and our community. Will you join God's family, live his new life, today? Will you turn back to God, today?
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