Comfort Ye my People, says your God. Your iniquity is pardoned. (Isaiah 40:1,2)
‘Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, to London, to Ipswich ……’ After the year we have all experienced we all long for comfortable words. Not sugary doses of wishful thinking but something reliable; words that will bring hope. The historical background to these words of Isaiah is unclear but the prophet appears to be speaking during a time of exile: bringing a promise that the pain of exile is coming to an end; God will restore them. At the heart of this restoration lies not a place but a relationship; the relationship between God and his people.
As we listen to words such as these it is easy to forget that first and foremost, prophets spoke to the communities and situations of their own times. Later thinkers reinterpreted prophecies for their own times. Christians see in Jesus such prophesy fulfilled. And there we often stop; job done. What if those prophecies, words which point so eloquently to the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago, also speak to our own age?
The reconstruction of Jerusalem, its temple and society, depended on the healing of that relationship with God, broken when they turned their back on him a generation earlier. Now God is ready to work with his people again because they are ready to receive him once more. Speak comfortably, your iniquity is pardoned, our relationship can be renewed.
Historically, we believe that the ultimate sign of that renewal is, indeed, the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus; events we will celebrate over the next 4 months. This process of renewal didn’t stop 2000 years ago. Events of the past year have brought us all face-to-face with the brokenness of our world, but have also given us glimpses of much that is good. Our iniquity can be pardoned, but only when we, individually and as communities, face up to it. Slowly we are accepting that we can’t go back. The world has changed and we must change with it. As we move through Advent, let us hear the words of the prophets, not just for 2000 years ago, but for us, for our today.
Rev Philip Payne
The Pew Sheet for 6th December can be found here.