Isaiah 40:1–11 (NRSV)
Chapter 40Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Verse 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
Verse 3A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Verse 4Every 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. Verse 5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." Verse 6A voice says, "Cry out!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. Verse 7The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. Verse 8The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
Verse 9Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" Verse 10See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. Verse 11He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Wherever you live, wherever you are from, landscape shapes your imagination. Take a moment to picture a landscape that might have been formative for you. Does it give you a sense of possibility? Of grandeur? Of security? Of isolation? Of barrenness? Of being hemmed in?
Today’s reading from Isaiah 40 is a familiar one for many of us, though I wonder how much we notice that it’s all about landscape. The prophet’s word comes to a people in exile—that is, in a foreign land—telling them they can come back home. This comes as a relief, but the landscape—both emotional and physical—that separates them where they are now from where they used to live will be a challenging path to walk. Mountains, valleys, wilderness, and just generally rough places. The prophet’s word does not just promise a homecoming—which surely won’t be easy—but also brings a word that God will be tending to the journey back.
Comforting God, you call us back home time and again—to our communities, to ourselves, to you. When the journey is difficult, remind us that you are preparing a way where none seems to be. Help us to find comfort and delight in your everlasting Word of promise. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, we pray. Amen.