Announce it from the mountain tops, shout it from Jerusalem: love is about to respond. Send the herald, let the herald make a proclamation: love is about to respond. Just as the angel announces good news to the Shepherds, and the wise men announce good news to the king; the prophet has been sent to announce good news to the world: love is about to respond.
But what is love’s response? What is love’s response to brokenness and pain? What is love’s response to a world gone awry? What is love’s response to sin and rebellion? What is love’s response to us?
It’s a question that many in our world are wondering, both Christians and non-Christians. What is love’s response?
The word from Isaiah is…comfort, comfort my people says God. An interesting word in our time with all of its injustices.We want answers, and action. We want the injustice destroyed. But Isaiah says, announce comfort. Ease their grief. Give them strength. It’s an interesting word for our times. It’s an interesting word in Isaiah’s time as well.
There is a division that takes place between Isaiah 39 and Isaiah 40. Isaiah 39 speaks of the end of Hezekiah’s reign. Hezekiah had just welcomed some ambassadors to Jerusalem from Babylon. (At this time, Babylon was not a world power, or a threat.) Isaiah uses this opportunity to warn Hezekiah that Babylonian exile is coming. Judah has been sinning too long. Their rebellion has reached epic levels. God can no longer sit idly by and watch them destroy themselves. Love is sending them into exile. Love is willing to judge sin in the hopes that they will repent and return to God.
Isaiah 40, however, is much later; chronologically as many as 150 years. Isaiah 40 looks off into exile, and speaks to a people who have experienced brokenness. They have wandered through the wilderness, seen the destruction of Jerusalem, and felt the absence of God. Isaiah 40 speaks to a people without hope. Now love responds in a different way. Now is not a time for judgment, but comfort. Comfort my people for they have suffered for their sin. They have been punished for their rebellion. But their punishment is ended. No longer are they forced to stay away in exile. I, God, am inviting them home.
In love, God doesn’t wait for Israel to make the long trek back to Jerusalem. Love doesn’t say “you got yourself in this mess, you get yourself out.” Love steps in. Prepare a way in the wilderness; make a straight path. The mountains are brought low, and the valleys are raised. God is making an easy highway, an easy road to bring the exiles back. But the road is not actually for the exiles. It’s not that God is making an easy road so that the exiles can return to God. God is making an easy road so that God can go to the exiles. The highway is for God, and the glory of the Lord will be revealed. Love doesn’t wait for us the prodigals to come home. No, love makes a highway; creates an easy road by getting all of the distractions out-of-the-way. Then love comes to us, welcomes us, forgives us, and invites us home.
That’s the story of Christmas! Love comes near. God doesn’t just sit in Heaven and hope that we can get it figured out on our own. No, God comes to us, love comes near. God comes in the form of a baby. God takes on flesh and blood. God comes and joins the neighborhood. Love comes near. And the angels announce it to the Shepherds, and we are called to announce it to the world. Love comes near.
“Go up to a high mountain, O Zion herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news, lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, behold your God, Behold the Lord God comes with might.” (Isaiah 40:9-10a)
This isn’t just good news to proclaim, it’s love in action. God comes near, not just to be close, but in order to share love.
“He will tend his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11)
Love comes near, not just in an announcement of good news. Love comes near in taking care of the lambs, in providing for the weak, in raising up the young, and in protecting those who have suffered. Love comes near, not by sitting on the mountain and making proclamations, or grabbing the rains of power in Jerusalem or Rome and setting the Kingdom right. Love instead comes near by welcoming the poor, the weak, the crippled, and the blind. Love comes near by opening the table to the downtrodden, the forgotten, and the left behind. Love comes near through service, sacrifice, and death.
As we meditate on the birth of the Savior. As we long for Christmas morning and the celebration of God becoming flesh, we must remember the meaning behind the name “Emmanual – God with us.” Love came near. And we are called as agents of love, to come near as well. To love the world for God.