PFOA: Isaiah 40:1-5
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. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40 :1-5 ESV)
The charismatic movement has impacted the worship service pattern of most churches today, especially in the area of music. In the 1980’s “Scripture in Song” was introduced placing a helpful focus on the centrality of the Bible in worship. This has now given way to the more performance-oriented contemporary Christian music.
Many passages of Scriptures are meant to be sung. God told Moses to write a song and teach the people to sing it (Deut. 32). The Psalms were intended to be sung. The Early Church sang mainly Psalms. Perhaps the most enduring piece of music where the Scriptures are exclusively used for the lyrics is Handel’s Messiah. First performed in 1742, Messiah is traditionally performed during Christmas and Easter in many countries today. Unfortunately, perhaps because of its popularity, the content of this oratorio is frequently overlooked.
During this Advent season, let us reflect together on the message of Messiah as I believe the words of this oratorio presents the full scope of the Gospel, God’s plan to redeem a people for Himself..
The oratorio begins with a symphonic overture that sets a dark and ponderous tone, possibly representing a sense of despair and hopelessness. This is consistent with the prophecy of Isaiah in Chapter 39 that Babylonians will take the people and the treasures of Jerusalem into captivity and exile. Towards the end of the overture the pace quickens as if there’s a gleam of light shining through.
Indeed a light shines forth for in Chapter 40, God speaks, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people saith your God” (v.1 KJV). These were the words Israel was waiting to hear. In the immediate context, Israel was a people in exile, seeking salvation and release from their captivity. These words promised them restoration as a people of God.
These too, are the words the world wants to hear in the midst of today’s turmoil and confusion. You may not be hanging on for dear live in an over-crowded boat crossing the Adriatic Sea, or waiting years on end to be relocated from the refugee camp to some country prepared to host you and your family. News of terrorist attacks and shootings no longer take place somewhere else, but are as close as your neighbourhood. Crime, fraud and corruption occur at all levels of society. Perhaps you do not live in the slums or ghettos, but are ensconced comfortably in a condominium. On a more personal basis, you face job insecurity, broken relationships, sickness or death. There is a continuing sense of unease, a lack of peace, an emptiness. And we all longed to hear these words from God, “Comfort, comfort my people” (v.1 NIV).
Verse 3 is applied to John the Baptist in the Gospels, whose task was to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, the source of all comfort. The arrival of the Messiah is not just for Israel alone, for the whole world will see His glory (v.5). The chorus “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” celebrates this joyful news.
We are living in a comfort-deficit world. We have the message of comfort. In fact we have the Comforter (John 14:16 KJV) with us. He is the Holy Spirit – our Comforter, our Helper (ESV,NAS), and our Advocate (NIV). Let us proclaim this message, speaking it and singing it.
That during this Advent season, we may take time to share the Good News that Jesus Christ has come as the Lord who by His birth, life, death and resurrection can truly comfort those who come to Him by faith.