Where is God present? The answer was easy for people in ancient Israel — in the temple. For them God was a great warrior who with the armies of heaven helped them fight and win their battles, then marched to the sanctuary to dwell among the people and secure their home.
Israel lost more than a building in 587 B.C. when the Babylonians destroyed the temple that Solomon had built 400 years earlier. The people lost the center that held them together. God seemed to have abandoned them.
The winds of history might have swept away all traces of Israel as a people. Instead the captives in exile found God operating outside the box in Babylon, the land along the Euphrates called Iraq today.
There the priests gathered and wrote down Jewish history. We have it to this day in the Old Testament. People began to gather in synagogues to hear these writings and pray. In losing the temple, their fixed home for God, the people and prophets in exile discovered God’s spirit afoot in their midst.
The prophet called Second Isaiah, who is speaking in chapters 40-55, sees God at work in the events of history, in the victories of Cyrus and his Persian armies over the Babylonians around 540 B.C. Cyrus is God’s instrument to lead the captives home.
The people have nothing to fear and every reason to hope. Their God will accompany them home to their restoration. Israel’s restoration will have a prophetic purpose. Zion will become a herald of God’s good news to other nations, a witness of God’s power to renew and restore.
The Promise of Hope
Comfort, O comfort to my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that she has served her term
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from
GodUs hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:
“In the desert prepare the way
of the Lord! Make straight in
the desert a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low; the rugged land shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of God shall
be revealed, and all humankind
shall see it together; for the
mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Get up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice, Jerusalem,
herald of good tidings!
Lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
See, God comes with might,
the Lord God,
who rules with a strong arm;
reward is with God,
recompense before the Lord.
Like a shepherd God feeds the flock; God will gather the lambs,
carrying them and leading
the ewes with care.
- What continuity do you hear between the voice of Isaiah and the voice of the gospel writers?
- How does God’s promise of forgiveness and home speak to you this Advent?