December 7, 2014 Text: Isaiah 40:1-11
Dear Friends in Christ,
Jeremy Cowart is a professional photographer in Los Angeles. His portfolio includes Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, and the Kardashians. One of his most beautiful and intriguing photographs, however, involves people you don’t know. It was taken when Cowart was in Kiev, Ukraine. He photographed two people standing outside St. Michael’s Church and Monastery. When you look at the photo, you can’t help but be surprised.
At the bottom of the photo, there are two people, young, preoccupied. One carries a bag over her shoulder and looks straight in your direction. The other is wearing a suit and a tie. His head is slightly tilted as he looks off into the distance. Both have the appearance of anyone you could meet on the street.
Behind them, however, is the wall of a monastery. It rises above them and is covered with angels. There are so many angels that you can’t see all of their faces. Behind these two ordinary people is a world of gold, filled with angels and wings.
If they would just turn around they would be amazed at the world that surrounds them. Their ordinary life is filled with the presence of angels. God is inviting them into an overwhelming experience of his personal love.
Unfortunately, what we see in this photograph often happens in our lives. We are so preoccupied with life that we never truly see the wonder of God’s ways. For this reason our text from Isaiah is a blessing this morning. He calls us today to stop and listen. Isaiah offers you . . .
“A VISION OF GOD’S LOVE”
Right away you have probably noticed there are no angels explicitly mentioned in our text. No picture of God seated with thousands of angels around him. In fact, Isaiah only gives us a voice, the voice of God that he hears.
Earlier though when Isaiah first received his call, he saw a glimpse of the heavenly council. He saw God “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” (Isa. 6:1) This God called Isaiah to speak, and he gave him the words to say.
This is what he is doing in our text. Instead of speaking judgment on the people, God is bringing comfort to his people. Hear this mercy: “Comfort, comfort my people,” says God. Not once but twice. God is emphatic. He is sending an army of angels to provide this comfort. They are to speak to his people, proclaim that their exile is over, their sin is pardoned, and they have peace with their God.
This mission, once given to angels, continues in our midst today. Advent reminds us of God’s mission. John the Baptizer was out in the wilderness calling all people to repent and prepare for the Lord. They were to receive baptism for the forgiveness of sins. The one coming was greater than John. The one sent from the Father would die for our sins. He rose and ascended to his Father to be seated on the heavenly throne. Jesus rules, and as long as this world endures, his mission continues. He now sends his Spirit to equip us to join in this mission of mercy to the ends of the earth.
This is a mission of love. The angels are to speak tenderly to God’s people. The language of God, who is in love with his people. Though they have strayed, God continues to seek them out.
This text is a foretaste of a more personal love. Advent prepares us for Christmas and God’s gift of personal love. Remember the angels who filled the heavens to announce this event? God in the flesh came in the person of Jesus to suffer God’s wrath and bring us back into a right relationship with our heavenly Father. When we stray he seeks us out and brings us back. Personal love, spoken in his Word, and also spoken personally by a preacher he has sent, today, to you.
Have you noticed how talk of religion can become divisive? The ways of God are different from the ways of the world, and religious speech is often heard as an attack on others rather than as an invitation to participate in a new way of life.
God invites you into his personal mission of love. Knowing the forgiveness of sins in your life and being equipped by the Holy Spirit you join the chorus of witnesses who speak of His love. Angels surround you as you serve God in the world, and they look forward to singing a song of joy over one sinner who repents.
When you look at Jeremy Cowart’s photograph, it is interesting to see how near the angels are to our world. One angel stands there behind the man in the suit and tie. In one hand, the angel carries a lily. In the other hand, a staff and his forefinger are extended. It reaches out from the mural to point the young man in front of him, standing there, staring off in the distance.
In Renaissance art, one angel often carries a lily. Gabriel. The angel God sent to Mary to announce that she would bear God’s Son. How beautiful that this angel, so close to the incarnation, is also so close to this young man.
God sent his Son into the world for individual people, like this young man. Though they may not be attending to God in the world, God is attending to them. Sending His Son to forgive their sins and then sending his angels, sending his prophets, sending his Pastors, sending his people to join in this mission of love.
God’s overwhelming mission, so personal in Jesus, remains personal today as God sends you to be a messenger, bearing his word of good news to others.