Compassion not condemnation – Tuesday, second week of Advent – Is 40:1-11
While today’s reading begins with a double command to comfort, I find the season of Advent awfully un’comfort’able. It’s more like a mixed bag of comfort and discomfort. Deep down the feeling is wonderful but on the surface it almost seems to be too good to be true.
If Lent is all about us turning to God, it almost seems like the readings in Advent is all about God bending backward to make us happy. This makes me feel awfully uncomfortable for it should be the other way round. The feeling of being uncomfortable really gets to you when it dawns on you that such love is not merited but freely given.
The reading of today, sung through the season of advent in our Churches, is taken from the second book of Isaiah (chapters 40-55) this section is generally attributed to an anonymous poet who prophesied toward the end of the Babylonian exile.
In 587 BCE Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonian Empire. In fairness this was a well-deserved punishment from God to a people who had made idols their gods and refused to trust in Yahweh. The first book of Isaiah ends with chapter 39 and the unspoken (in this case unwritten) exile to Babylon. While the narrative is recounted in 2Kings 20:12-19, chapter 39 which precedes this text simply finds it hard to even acknowledge this painful historical reality.
Yet Chapter 40 which begins around the year 540 BCE seems to pop out of a dark tunnel of shame like as If nothing happened. It’s as if with one stroke (seventy years in reality) God has had a change of heart for his wayward people. To a people undeserving of such comfort, God insists, if not commands that His people be comforted. There is compassion not condemnation for the exiles and it almost seems like God is repentant of His decision rather than His people of their actions.