The prophet is trying to prepare the hearts of the people for their liberation from captivity and their return to Jerusalem. They had suffered so long, and many were tempted to fall away from the Lord, and his covenant.
This text from Isaiah 40 has become well known, even to those who are not steeped in the Bible, because of George Frideric Handel’s immense and powerful oratorio, known as the “Messiah.” He wrote this heavenly musical praise of the Lord in less than a month in the spring of 1742. It was originally composed to be an Easter piece, but we hear it most often at Christmas time now. Using the words of Isaiah 40 Handel’s Messiah begins with the words: “Comfort ye, O comfort ye my people.”
As we are presently in that part of the Church year called Lent, the period of preparation before Easter, Isaiah 40 is a very appropriate reading for us to enter into. The prophet in this section of Isaiah is writing at a time when the Israelites were well into their Babylonian exile. He is speaking to them in uplifting words, encouraging them, giving them a sense of hope that the time of their exile is coming to an end. In verse 3 we hear the famous words, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The prophet is trying to prepare the hearts of the people for their liberation from captivity and their return to Jerusalem. They had suffered so long, and many were tempted to fall away from the Lord, and his covenant.
The prophet, inspired by God, gently chides them to remember the Lord and his promises. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?” (verse 21) He reminds them of God’s greatness and their smallness. He reminds them that the Lord is the One who created and holds all things up because of his great power and mighty strength. He encourages them with these words and admonishing them for their complaining, reminding them that the Lord is everlasting and never grows tired or weary of his love for us. Even more encouraging, he reminds them that the Lord will give strength to the weary. He reminds them that, if they have hope, even if they stumble and fall, their strength will be renewed by the Lord’s eternal love and mercy. “They will mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
As Christians, we associate “the voice of one calling in the desert” to John the Baptist. His ministry was to awaken us to the Messiah’s coming. The long wait for the fulfillment of the ancient promise of mercy that the Lord gave to Abraham and to his children forever, is over. The call to repentance still remains true. We are chided to repent and to prepare our own hearts to receive the Lord again and again, each day. We who have seen his face, heard his voice, who know of his death and resurrection, are reminded here to cling to our hope when we, too, stumble or fall, for the glory of the Lord has been revealed to us in Christ, our Savior.
Jesus, you are the Savior of the world. Deepen our faith. Teach us to prepare our hearts to receive you each and every day, so that we may grow daily in our abilities to know, to love, and to serve you in everything we do. With your grace we shall soar on the eagle’s wings of holy hope. In your name we pray, Jesus. Amen!
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