The Unlikely Comforter

You’ve got to love John the Baptist. He’s a romantic figure – living in the wild and eating locusts. He’s the ultimate prophet. You picture him with wild eyes scaring children and small animals. He calls the people who go out to hear him snakes. He threatens them with a metaphorical axe. And he’s an uncompromising fellow who would rather lose his head than play footsie with Herod.

Which is why he seems an unlikely comforter of God’s people:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every 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.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

(Isaiah 40:1-5, ESV)

This is one of my favorite Advent passages. It has such vivid imagery. I imagine God urging Isaiah to speak gently but ardently to Israel, like a man who has found his lost friend lying wounded on the battlefield and rouses him with the good news that the battle is over and the King is coming.

But back to the unlikely messenger. John is called to comfort the people of Israel, but not by confirming them in their sins. He calls them – and us – to repent. The Word of God John speaks comes to us as Law and Gospel, condemnation and comfort. We are the fruitless tree. The axe is laid at our root. But then the voice cries again. The one whose advent we await is coming to take away our sin. Let us go out to meet him.

Jeremy Abel


~ by Michael on December 7, 2005.

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