Greeting: Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever.
Text: 1) Comfort, comfort, My people says your God. 2) Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received double from the Lord’s hand, double for all her sins. 3) A voice of one calling: “In the desert, prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. 4) Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged place a plain. 5) And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. 6) A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. 7) The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8) The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stand forever.” 9) You, who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You, who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the town of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10) See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power; and His arm rules for Him. See, His reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him. 11) He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.
Make way for the King! If those words ring strange in your ears, I’m not surprised. I doubt whether we’ve ever had to make way for the approach of an earthly king. We likely have never had to step aside, or bend our knees or bow our heads because a king was passing by us. We have not had a “Make way for the king” experience.
Yet a King comes to us. Through His messengers, He calls us to make way for Him in our hearts and lives. It can be a very costly and inconvenient experience to make a proper way for a king. In the Old Testament, we are told of the heavy burden the maintenance of the king of Israel placed upon the people. The people had to provide large amounts of food, to pay sizable taxes and to perform lengthy service as their duty to the king. This King who calls on us and comes to us also requires our deep devotion and significant service. But He is a king of such quality that He surely deserves it.
The King comes to make things better for us, much better than they would otherwise be. The new candidates for political office like to ask the “better off” question. For example, they might say: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” We might ask this question about Christ as the King. “Are you and I better off now than before we became Christians?” “Will you and I be better off having Christ as our Lord than not having Him?” The answer to those questions is an unqualified “Yes!” God’s spokesman, Isaiah, give us three strong reasons to support that “Yes” answer. In his ancient prophecy, Isaiah offers three important ways in which the King comes to make our lives better.
1. Who Forgives The Guilty
One way the coming King makes things better for us is that He forgives sin and transgression. Through the prophet, God announces: “Proclaim that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” He announces the wonderful news that He comes to pardon rather than punish. The King who comes, enters the world to take on a miserable mission. He comes to gather up and take to Himself all the sins of everyone. He carries that burden through long, lonely, years and He offers Himself as the sacrifice and ransom price for all those sins. He prays: “Father, forgive them.” He declares: “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.”
With this King, there is forgiveness of sins and the removal of guilt. To be guilty means that you are responsible for doing wrong and are liable for facing the punishing penalty for that wrong. What are your sins? Hatred, bitterness, betrayal? Greed, envy, jealousy? Lying, lust, laziness? Failing to serve, to show compassion, or to forgive? Unfulfilled promises, unoffered prayers, gifts withheld? We all have sins – plenty of them. Each one of our sins violates God’s holy law. Each one makes us a sinner. Each one makes us subject to God’s punishment.
Without the King, the ugly curse of sins remains on us, the condemning sentence hangs over us, and the bitter punishment will be administered. But with the King, things are different. The sins are fully paid for by Him. The hard sentence is suspended forever. We stand pardoned and innocent before Him. Let us make way for the King and believe Him when He says: “Your sins are real and damning, but I have fully forgiven them.”
2. Who Comforts The Afflicted
A second way that the King makes things better for us is that He comes to comfort the afflicted. Through His spokesman, He says: “Comfort, comfort My people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been accomplished.” Isaiah first spoke those words to people who knew and whose descendents would know deep affliction firsthand. He spoke them to the people of Judah, people who had witnessed the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians and the exile of thousands of people into a terrible oppression. Then, over a hundred years later, the people of Judah themselves would be conquered by the fierce Babylonians and many thousands of the survivors would be sent into an equally oppressive exile. Their comfort and consolation would be found in the King who promised to be with them and who promised to deliver them in the future.
With this King we can find great comfort in our afflictions. Every day in this sinful world has its share of evils for us. Every age of our life has its painful afflictions. We keep losing things: possessions, income, health, the company of family and friends, mental powers, our youthful energy, our loved ones in death. Some losses are more painful than others, but all of them are painful in some way. Some losses are not easily helped by mere human comforts. Our King comes to bring comfort, sweet comfort, deep comfort to us in our affliction and losses. His words raise the dead and restore what sin has taken. His words are spirit and life to our grieving souls. Without the king there is only pain without relief, loss without replacement, despair without hope. But with the King we find a soothing answer to our affliction. Our hard service comes, but it mercifully ends. There is temporary discomfort, but there is endless consolation. Let us make way for the King who comes and speaks His words: “Comfort, Comfort, my people. Take the very real and very sweet comfort that I bring.”
3. Who Protects The Threatened
A third way the coming King improves the lives of others is by giving them His protection from harm and danger. Isaiah describes His protecting care with these words: “He tends His flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart. He gently leads those that have young.” Using the example of a tender shepherd who lovingly cares for the young and the vulnerable, Isaiah introduces us to a strong king with a deep love for those under His care. As a kind shepherd carries the lambs in His arms and slows down the pace so the ewes with their young are not pushed too hard, so Christ lovingly cares for all His believing people.
Our King knows the needs and natures of each one of His people. He is well aware of our weaknesses and the dangers that threaten us. He knows how much we can take and how much assistance we need in life. He knows how fast our life should move without it overwhelming us. He knows when we need to be carried because we have no strength and need to rest in His arms. He knows what dangers threaten us and how fiercely and faithfully we must be guarded. Jesus showed that protecting love when He assured His believers: “You are in my hands and the Father’s hands. No one can pluck you out of our hands.” He showed that defending concern when, at the time of His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, He insisted that His disciples be allowed to go free.
Without this King, we are easily overcome. Our limited strength would be no match for the challenges we face or the enemies that oppose us. But with this King there is protection and safety. Our King comes to our aid. He gives us shelter against the devil’s lies and temptation. He provides a solid defense against the deadly deceptions of false teachers and of the deceptions of our own sinful hearts. Most of all, our King spares us from the withering blasts of God’s eternal wrath on our guilty lives. He steps in to cover us with the protecting shield of His perfect sacrifice for our sins. He protects us from error and deception by giving us the powerful truth of His Word. We need not worry or fear any threat or danger we face. Our King is present with His help and protection.
During this Advent time, it is good for us to ask: “How do we make way for our King, this One Royal Person who is so good and so kind?” Perhaps the place to start is with a review of our lives and a sincere apology for our past mistakes. That review will lead us to see that we have often failed to make proper way for the King. We begin by admitting: “Noble king, My heart should be open to you and so often it has been closed. My heart should be filled with love, joy and praise and so often it has been dominated by pride, selfishness and disbelief. Forgive me for my failures. Assure me of Your pardon.”
Perhaps the place to continue is to be willing and attentive to do the King’s will, even when it may not be so convenient. On the long plane ride to and from China, I regularly have an aisle seat. It gives me room to stretch and not bother others with getting up and down. But being on the aisle seat also has the challenge of being asked to be inconvenienced by the needs of others who need to get up to go to the rest room or to get items from the overhead compartments. Welcoming the King properly is like sitting in the aisle seat of the plane. It means being willing to be inconvenienced so the needs of others can be served. Our King gives us much to take care of and many people to serve in His name. Moved by His love, may we dedicate ourselves continually to be inconvenienced in service to the King.
Make way for the King. Yes, you and I are to make way for Him. We need to. More importantly, we want to and we love to. How else could it be for us who know Him. The King who comes is the King who forgives our guilt, the King who comforts us in affliction, the King who guards us against dangers. The King who comes is our great and loving King. Let us willingly and lovingly make way for Him. Amen.
Now may the Lord Himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. Amen.