December is a season of expectation. But as we know full well, expectations do not always match up with reality.
We look forward to a sumptuous holiday meal with all the trimmings. We’re disappointed when the store is out of cranberries or the turkey is overcooked. We expect we’ll find a close parking spot at the mall so we can get in and out quickly and grab the perfect gift. We’re frustrated when we are waiting in line with 900 of our closest friends who all want to purchase the same item. We want an 8-foot beautifully decorated tree for under $50. We’re discouraged when we wind up with a refugee from a Charlie Brown Christmas pageant. We take our kids to the mall to get a Hallmark-worthy-Christmas-picture-with-Santa. We’re depressed when the picture reveals Santa’s weary face and the kids are crying.
At times like this, we desperately need the comfort that is found in the message of Christmas. Isaiah 40:1-11 reminds us that Jesus Christ brings a message of comfort and hope to those who are discouraged and disillusioned. He forgives our sins, reveals his glory, keeps his promises, and carries us during times of trial. Jesus Christ is the shepherd who delivers his people.
We can take comfort in knowing that God forgives our sins (1-2). Isaiah 40 is written to Israel while she was in exile in Babylon. The people felt defeated, bitter, and disillusioned. God sent a message of hope that her punishment was complete and he had forgiven her sins. God’s compassionate forgiveness is an act of divine grace that brings comfort to his people.
We are to prepare ourselves to receive God’s presence (3-5). God comes to us in the wilderness and desert of our lives. Our part is to get ready to receive him, because right now we aren’t ready. We are to confess our sins and remove the barriers that keep us from God. When God comes, his glory will be revealed to the entire world.
Life is short, but God is dependable (6-8). Outside my window are barren trees. The leaves turned color in the fall and dropped to the ground. During the winter, they appear lifeless. Like grass and wild flowers and leaves on trees, people are temporary. In contrast, God never fails for his word endures forever. Knowing that God keeps his promises brings comfort to us during times of difficulty.
Jesus is the shepherd who delivers his people (9-11). God is pictured as a tender shepherd who carefully carries and leads the weak and helpless members of his flock. His arm is strong enough to defeat his enemies in battle, yet gentle and loving enough to carry his weary lambs. This is the good news that we are to shout to everyone around us.
I take away four principles from this passage; four instructions or commands that we are to practice:
- Comfort others with the message of forgiveness. The bad news of Christmas is that we will never be good enough to earn God’s favor. The good news is we don’t have to. God has pardoned us and forgiven our sins.
- Remove any barrier that prevents someone from seeing God’s glory. We should aspire to be road graders for Jesus, making it easy for people to hear about him and believe his message.
- Tell your friends that God can be trusted. We are to cry out that God keeps his promises and he never fails.
- Shout the good news about Jesus to those around you. He is the shepherd who delivers his people. That is great news indeed.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 14, 2014. It is part of a series on The Message of Christmas. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.