Isaiah 40:1-11

Advent catches me off-guard every year with the reminder that God may be “in his heaven” but all is not, in fact, right with the world. (With apologies to Robert Browning.)

But it also reminds me that this is the point of Advent. All is not right—it is so very not-right that we yearn for God to come to be with us in a way that God has never been with us before. With every Advent-calendar window we open and every candle we light, we remind ourselves again and again that no matter how not-right things are, God is not staying put in faraway heaven. God is not only near but here.

The prophet Isaiah wrote to people who needed the promise that God was coming to be with them. They needed to trust that the treacherous terrain of their spiritual lives would be made smooth. They needed to know that God would be a shepherd to guard, carry, and lead them. After generations of exile—a terrible time of not-right-ness—they desperately needed a word of comfort.

Don’t we all?

Isaiah 40:6-8 is true in every season, but against the backdrop of Christmas light displays and ugly-on-purpose sweaters and relentlessly jolly commercials, the truth that human life is fragile and fleeting feels like a terrible irony. The traditions of the holiday season seem like stubborn insistence that we’re all full of cheer and the world’s a sparkling wonderland. But anyone who has lost a loved one, struggled to climb up from rock bottom, or paid even the slightest attention to current events knows better. Who needs good news, after all—those who live in a cheery wonderland, or those who are painfully withering and fading?

For people struggling to survive—in exile or under attack or overwhelmed by grief or certain they are entirely alone in the world—no amount of carol singing or tinsel flinging can disguise the reality that we are frail and life is short. Every Advent, every year, even every season, somewhere in the world people desperately yearn for the promise of God’s presence. At some point, every one of us will go through an Advent season when we, too, desperately yearn to know that God is coming to us. To the whole world, and to all of us, the prophet still cries out, “Comfort, comfort my people.” For those who yearn for all to be made right, at last, there is good news: God is on the way.

Discussion

  • Do you always experience the season leading up to Christmas as a “good” time of the year?
  • Reflect on a time when you were struggling during an Advent/Christmas season. Who supported you? Where did you find comfort? Did you experience the presence of God in that season? How did that time change the way you participate in Advent?
  • How does it help you to understand Advent to remember why we yearn for Jesus’s coming?
  • What Advent practices help you to experience the yearning and the celebration of this season?
  • How can you pray specifically for the people in your life and around the world who most need to know the promise of God’s presence in this season?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.wordpress.com.

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