Forming Faith Blog

Comfort My People (Isaiah 40)

The people of God were suffering in exile, far from their own land. In Isaiah 40, God gives a message of comfort and return, a message valid for them, for us, and for the world to come.

A mother providing comfort to her sad child, just as God comforts us.
Hope in the Promise

We are now looking toward the second Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time of hope. The word “advent” comes from the Latin word meaning “coming” or “coming to.” It is about the future, both the future from the perspective of our ancestors of the faith and from our own perspective. Last week, we heard from the prophet Jeremiah and God’s promise to send the One who will bring justice and righteousness. This week, we continue our theme of God’s promises with a promise of comfort and a hope of restoration.

Comfort, Comfort

Isaiah 40 begins with a call for comfort for God’s people. What does this word mean for us? The first thing that springs to my mind is a comforter, a soft, thick bed covering designed to bring warmth to a person in a cold room. We also talk about someone living a comfortable lifestyle, which would describe the life of someone who is at least moderately wealthy. Overall, something that brings comfort provides relief from unpleasantness and a sense of peacefulness. Of course, the main significance of the term is its opposition to that which causes us some form of pain—discomfort—whether physical or emotional. As a verb, we most often comfort someone who is sad or make someone comfortable who has experienced pain. This is what we see in our reading from Isaiah.

Double Fulfillment (or More)

Something we do not often address when talking about biblical prophecy is the concept of multiple fulfillments. Sometimes, we look at the Christological fulfillment, especially of the messianic prophecies, and stop there. It might not be as common to do with the current passage (which is why this can be a good teaching moment), but definitely with Isaiah 11 and Jeremiah 33. In the promised messianic figure, we can miss that the prophecy can speak to a lesser, more contemporary fulfillment like in the person of Cyrus. This doesn’t negate or contradict the prophecy being fulfilled in the first advent of Jesus or the second advent to come. Nor even a more personal fulfillment within our lives.

Comfort Then

More easily than the direct messianic prophecies, we can see the fulfillment of the promise in Isaiah 40 in its original context. God is speaking a message of hope to the people living in exile in Babylon. God is promising the return and restoration of the people of Jerusalem and Judah. This was fulfilled (or began fulfillment) within the Book of Ezra, which we will read next week.

John, Jesus & the Holy Spirit

Second, we see this passage directly quoted (in part) in Mark 1:2-3 in relation to John the Baptist. John calls the people to repentance, which will prepare the way for Jesus’ arrival. Also, when I look in the Septuagint for Isaiah 40:1 (since I know Greek (some) better than I know Hebrew (none)), I see that the verb used in verse 1 is παρακαλεῖτε (parakalete). The most well-known place we see this word used is John 14:16, 26 where it is a description given to the Holy Spirit.

Future Comfort

Third, we can gain comfort and hope from this passage when we look at it as a promise toward the future, the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom of God at the end of history. At that time, we can look forward to the complete restoration of all things broken and the healing of all suffering. God’s love will remove all obstacles between us and God.

Comfort Now

Finally, we can look to this passage in a more personal and timely promise and call to action. We are called to give comfort to those who are suffering from any form of exile. We are called to bring justice that makes straight and easy the paths before them. We can take comfort in the present reality of God gently gathering us into God’s bosom.

May you experience God’s comfort this Advent season!

In Christ,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the activity “Isaiah, Our Style” from our Living the Word: Youth (NL) curriculum, though the activity can be used with all ages!

This is a revision of a blog post originally published for December 8, 2019.

Order Faith Formation Resources

The Winter quarter began on December 3, 2023, with the first Sunday of Advent! Did you only order the Fall quarter and need to complete the year? Are you still looking for easy-to-use, theologically sound, and effective resources for the Narrative Lectionary, as well as for the Revised Common Lectionary, and even classic Sunday school Classroom curriculum for PK-2nd and 3rd-6th (check our blog post for a special discount)?

Looking for a resource for intergenerational events, a whole-church series, or even something new for Sunday school? Check out our Learning Together series! These five-lesson units are available on six different topics, one of which is FREE! The other five are quite affordable with variable pricing starting at $25 for a program with 1-10 participants. Perfect for children’s and intergenerational ministries, family or churchwide events, and even a whole-church Advent series!

At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we might just have exactly what you are looking for:

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