To Convict and to Comfort
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. A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God." Isaiah 40:1-3
Last week, we considered the unpopular and deadly task of the prophets, sent by God to call sinners to repentance. In describing John the Baptist’s work, St. Luke quotes Isaiah 40:3-5 as “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” John was sent as the forerunner of the Messiah and the way that he prepared the people for the coming Christ was by calling them to repentance. John called sinners to repentance, but that is not all that John was sent to proclaim.
In Isaiah 40, the prophet precedes the words that are quoted in the Gospel with hopeful assurance, “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” No one was outside of the need to hear the Law of God. John convicted tax collectors and soldiers, religious leaders and even the king. But John also directs them to where comfort is found in God and His promised messiah. God promises forgiveness of sins to repentant sinners. Yes, John proclaimed the Law in all its severity, but St. Luke makes clear that He also proclaims to them the Good News of salvation (3:18).
Our preaching today is still a message of Law and Gospel, sin and grace, conviction and comfort. Like John the Baptist, our message always seeks to point people to the true Messiah, Jesus, the Christ. While John was a great prophet, the One whose way John prepared was even greater. For Good News is found in Christ alone. John’s task, as prophesied by Isaiah, and lived out there beyond the Jordan was that people would see the salvation of God in the coming Messiah. Whether it is the family gathered around the kitchen table and reading an Advent devotion or the children’s choir singing beloved carols, this season of Advent and the coming celebration of our Lord’s nativity all point to the salvation that is ours in Jesus Christ. It is good for us to be like the crowds beyond the Jordan and be called to repentance, but then hear the words of ultimate comfort in Christ.
Prayer - Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son, that by His coming we may be enabled to serve You with pure minds; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan