December 10, 2008

Homily for Advent 2B

    The life of a prophet is not an easy one.  Not only were they called by God to offer tough words of repentance to their own people, but often they were called to live out those words.  Hosea married a prostitute as a symbol of the way Israel had cheated on YHWH with other gods.  Isaiah walked around naked for three years as a walking symbol of shame and humiliation.  Scripture tells us that many prophets were killed or exiled.  And yet, despite all the hardship, the high calling of a prophet was well worth it.  To do the work of God is always a great honor, and to speak the words that come from his mouth must be the greatest blessing a human can bear.
    One of the other blessings in the life of a prophet is the opportunity to escape time and space for a moment and be in perfect relationship with our triune God.  Many prophets were transported around the world by God's hand.  Some were lifted to heaven to receive a word.  In the case of our lesson from Isaiah this morning, scholars tend to agree that Isaiah is sitting in the midst of the heavenly conference room as God commissions his divine council to issue a message of comfort to the people of Israel.
    In 586 BC, the army of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon breeched the walls of Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple of God, and sent the inhabitants of Israel into exile where they would live as slaves until the fall of Babylon nearly 50 years later.  Life in exile was hard.  Most especially because the whole religious life of the Jews had been destroyed.  The Temple had been the only place where sacrifice could be offered.  It was seen as the residence of God, he made his home in the holy of holies.  To have it destroyed meant God was no longer with them and the ways in which they made atonement were now impossible.  Imagine 50 years of wondering where God was.  Imagine not knowing how to interact with the One who had chosen you.  Imagine your whole world falling out from beneath you with no sign of change for almost 50 years.
    Then, imagine hearing these words from Isaiah.  I have been with God's council and he told them these words, "Comfort, O comfort my people... Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lords' hand double for all her sins."  How sweet those words must have been.  The true comfort that must have come from hearing this message from the prophet who had been the bearer of such harsh news in the past.
    A new Exodus was about to begin.  "Every valley was about to be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low; the uneven ground will become level, and the rough places a plain.  Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all people will see it together."  Oh how great that word must have sounded.
    How great that word sounds to me, even this day.  We haven't been in exile for 50 years.  It hasn't been so long that we can't remember the fat and happy times, but in the midst of what feels like a very difficult time, while stress piles upon our shoulders, I am grateful today to hear these words from God.  Sure, the were spoken to his people more than 2500 years ago, but I think they are for us today as well, "Comfort, O comfort my people, says the Lord."  Remember that the word of our God will stand forever, and he will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep."
    The life of a prophet is hard, but when he or she gets to share words of comfort directly from the mouth of God is a blessing beyond compare.  Hear these words of comfort today, and then go and share them with those who need to hear it.  Amen.

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