Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Two big themes speak loud in this ancient text. Both are Advent topics, part of this season of waiting and preparation. One is forgiveness, and the other welcome.
Let’s start with welcome. Prepare the way. Advent is a season of road-building, a time to give God a clear run into our lives, our churches and our corner of the world. Welcoming the message of Christmas, welcoming Christ afresh into our living, might require us to straighten out some of our deeds and desires. The glory of the Lord will be revealed, in us and for us and around us. But we shall see God’s glory more clearly if we allow Advent to be a time for audit, for reflection and for re-directing our lives.
Which is where forgiveness comes in. Audit can be painful. It can bring us face-to-face with aspects of our living that we do not like, with miseries and memories that are hard to acknowledge. Isaiah reminds us that God does not hang on to the bad stuff. God may ask us to come to terms with our failures, to process them and learn from them. But God knows how to pardon, often better than we know how to pardon ourselves. God knows how to move on – which bits of the past to carry and which to leave behind. Advent is a time for trusting God to do that with us, in us and for us.
This part of the Book of Isaiah is a word for a time of exile. Life had fallen out of joint. Familiar horizons had faded. People felt that they were reaping the harvest of past mistakes. Don’t be afraid to welcome God, is the message. God comes to pardon, and to light your path. God does the same in Advent.
God of our days of exile,
teach us how to come home,
to you, to ourselves, to truth, to hope.
God of our days of shame,
deal with us honestly and gently,
and teach us the depth of your pardoning love.
God of our days of preparation,
work with us, we ask,
as we make a way for your presence,
in the world you love.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Rev’d John Proctor is the General Secretary of the URC.