If this passage sounds familiar, you may have heard parts of it sung in “Messiah,” Handel’s beloved oratorio. The power of the passage lies in the fact that it not only spoke to Israel after years of exile in a foreign land, but it speaks just as powerfully to us as we try to cope in a changing and unsettling world.
After years of silence, God sends a messenger to COMFORT the people, to speak tenderly. The message is that the punishment is over; there is a new king who is going to set you free. Never mind that there is a wilderness between you and home. God will prepare the way; all obstacles will be removed; you are going home.
There is an element of mystery here. The Voice is talking about the return of Israel to their homeland. Or is She/He? All the Gospels quote this Scripture and make it clear that the one who will prepare the way is John the Baptist, the “voice of one crying in the wilderness.” And the King is the Christ who not only will forgive our transgressions, but will take them on Himself.
The fragment of Israel that heard this message was generations away from their ancestors who had been taken into captivity. All they knew of their homeland was what they had heard from their forefathers. This message of HOPE promises that home will soon be a reality.
The season of Advent is the time to prepare our hearts, to get rid of all the obstacles that keep us from receiving the Messiah. But we don’t have to do it alone. The image here is of the Shepherd who tenderly carries his sheep through the wilderness.
And, when we arrive at Christmas! The Good News is that God has come into the world in the form of a baby. The ultimate Mystery. The Word made flesh. Love Incarnate.
Go tell it on the mountain!