One of the reasons Isaiah is known as the “Prince of the Prophets” is because he foretold the coming of the Messiah more than any other prophet. His prophecies are even at the heart of the Christmas story in the Gospel according to Matthew.
This being the case, Isaiah clearly had his finger on the pulse of what the coming of the Messiah was all about. We talk about God’s coming during Christmas because this is what the word “advent” means. In fact the 40th chapter of Isaiah is directly related to the Christmas season in that it speaks to the arrival of God in the midst of human affairs. Isaiah is speaking to a people who are desperate for God to come and meet them right where they are in their pain, shame, guilt, and injustice.
The people that lived during the time of Jesus’ birth shared this posture of Isaiah’s audience, as do we today. The majority of them were ashamed of the fact that they, as the specially elect people of the Creator God, were living under the rule of a foreign, pagan nation, the Romans. The light of hope grew dim as many were wondering if they would ever again experience God’s presence amongst them. Would God come to them in their shame? The Christmas story answers that question with a resounding YES.
Christmas is about God, who is motivated by an eternal love, meets people no matter where they are. There is no shame or guilt that can prevent God’s powerful arrival into our lives and circumstances.
This gives us great comfort. This is why Isaiah, in promising that God would come indeed, says, “Comfort, comfort my people” (Is 40:1). These words resonate in the human heart. We are troubled, we are anxious, we are worried, and fearful. In this darkness shines the light of God’s presence that brings deep comfort. Isaiah’s audience is reminded that God has not abandoned them and the dark dissonance of their humanness has not driven him away.
Christmas is a time to find comfort in the fact that God has not abandoned us, nor forgotten his promises.
The prophet goes on to say, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to hear that her warfare is ended, and that her iniquity is pardoned, that she was received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Is 40:2). What is the significance of this? This means that God comes to us with a purpose, and that purpose is to bring peace, justice, and righteousness into each of our lives.
Christmas is a time to remember to rest from the great human struggle as the battle is the Lord’s.
The rest of this chapter in Isaiah speaks to the great power of Israel’s God. Why is this important? We must remember that Isaiah’s audience, as well as first century Palestinian Jews, were plagued with questions about God’s reign because violence, injustice, and human power had run amuck in all the earth. If all these bad things are happening, does that mean that God is not GOD after all? Isaiah spends most of his time in this chapter answering that question: GOD IS STILL GOD.
This is the same message of Jesus’ birth. When Jesus arrives on the scene in the form of a little baby, there are so many questions. How is a virgin birth possible? How will this baby from Nazareth from a family of little consequence turn history on its head? These questions and logic defying features of the story all attests to the fact that regardless of what it seems, God is still God an there is no thwarting his plan to bring about peace on earth and good will to men.