Prepare the Way of the Lord (Isaiah 40)

Sermon Series christmas messiah 1110 x 624

Sermon Series:
For Unto Us A Child is Born, Messages Inspired by Handel’s Messiah

Message 1 of 5: Prepare the Way of the Lord
Scripture: Isaiah 40:1-5
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 12/1/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

First three songs of Handel’s Messiah are based on Isaiah 40:1-5, KJV
Comfort Ye and Ev’ry Valley
And the Glory of the Lord

The first 39 chapters of Isaiah are heavy. God is speaking reality through Isaiah about the consequence of sin. In chapter 40, the message turns. The Prophet Isaiah looks past the situation in front of him, the people of God taken into exile and returning from exile, down the highway of time to the coming of God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ and past that to the second coming of Christ and the completed victory of God.

Isaiah 40:1-5, NRSV
1 “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 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.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

How are you preparing for Christmas?

Steve Garnaas-HolmesPrepare the Way
We prepare outwardly for Christmas: we hang lights and put up decorations; we bake goodies and wrap gifts. How will you prepare inwardly? The coming of Christ means that God will be incarnate: embodied, lovingly present, in the flesh in your life.

As the carol Joy to the World says, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” There was no room in the inn, but there can be room in my heart.

Following the first London performance of Messiah, Lord Kinnoul congratulated Handel on the excellent entertainment. Handel replied, “My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertain them. I wish to make them better.”

Handel’s desire in setting the scripture to music was that it would bring a change in us, that it would bring transformation. Prepare the way of the Lord is about transformation.

Prepare the Way of the Lord = Prepare Your Way In Me
Click Here for the first week of the Advent/Christmas Devotion which accompanies this sermon series.

We prepare inwardly by setting aside time for regular, quiet reflection with God. Here are two classic reflection questions to ask yourself.

A. This past week, when did I feel closest to God?
This is a question of consolation, of comfort. It’s when we experience the presence of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the in-breaking of God into our life. All of a sudden we’re awake, we’re alive in Christ and we notice it.

Isaiah 40:1-2
1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her

When did you experience God speaking comforting, tender words? God literally “speaking to the heart.” This is God’s voice of love and assurance breaking through the pain and confusion.

God is whispering, like the whispering of a lover into the beloved’s ears. It’s that intimate, personal, close. God isn’t whispering sweet nothings. These words are designed to remind you what is good, to strengthen you and help you and remind you how much you are loved.

B. This past week, when did I feel farthest from God? When did I blow it?
Which question is easier for you to answer?

This second question is classically a question of desolation. The sorrow, pain, guilt you are feeling is the Spirit calling you back to the path of life. Don’t let the feelings derail you, let them guide you.

Hear the good news and believe it. Isaiah 40:2 is Grace, Grace, Grace.
that she has served her term
You’ve been in prison and chains long enough

that her penalty is paid,
Jesus paid it on the cross

that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins
Yes, there are consequences for our sins. But this is not saying God is handing out a double punishment. It’s actually a reference to God’s grace. We sin, and God returns to us mercy, forgiveness, and grace. What God supplies is far more than what we deserve. It is double grace, greater than all our sin.

Isaiah 40:3-5
3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 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.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The “all” includes you, even in the wilderness of your soul and the wilderness of this world.

Jan L. Richardson, Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas
The wilderness does not merely give us a path: empties us enough so that a path is made within us. Through us. Of us. A road for the holy to enter the world. A way for the Christ who comes.

Prepare the Way of the Lord = Prepare Your Way Of Me
Our internal life leads to an external life. God’s word, “Comfort, comfort my people” does not equal us being comfortable. (no troubles, no worries, I pay no attention to the troubles of the world)

The comforting of God is the strengthening and encouraging of God. We are prepared in order to share. There is an expectation of prayer and action.

This passage is full of God’s call and command.
Verse 1, Comfort, Comfort my people! 
Make sure this happens!

Verse 2, Speak… cry out
To those in chains, to those exiled

Verse 3, Cry out in the wilderness
Those lonely places, harsh places, broken places, unjust places

Verse 5, The Mouth of the Lord has spoken 
This is not a suggestion. This is a command. God prepares us so we can be part of the way making.

Prepare the way of the Lord!
Isaiah is preparing the way. Down the road, John the Baptist uses Isaiah’s words to prepare the way for Jesus- The Way, the Truth, the Life. Down the road, it is now us.

Enjoy the season. Feel it fully. Be fully present and go deep. Spend time with God. God, prepare the way in me and through me. We are making the way and we are mending the world.

God breaks into all the systems and places and pain; breaks in to create something new. The mountains where what’s needed is too high, out of reach, brought low. The valleys where there are much darkness and pain are raised up. There is a plain, an evenness, an equity, a justice for all.

Messiah premiered in Dublin on April 13, 1742, as a charitable benefit for 3 charities- prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercer Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary. It raised 400 pounds, split between the 3 charities, freeing 142 men from the debtor’s prison. 142 households were instantly transformed.

How will you make a difference this holy season? For making the way where there seems to be no way, for bearing God’s light into the world.

PRAYER:
The time is now, for you have called
The place is now, for you have spoken

Yes, it is a wilderness, a desert even
So dry, so rough, so uneven
Yes, the gap is so very wide between the high and the low

But, you have called, O God. You have spoken.
Not an if or when or maybe. Not even a try.

You have spoken shall

Every valley shall be lifted
Every mountain shall be made low
The uneven shall be made level
The rough shall be made smooth
It shall be done in us and through us and of us.

By the power of your Holy Spirit,
we will persevere in this wilderness of preparing
We will not forge a path or blaze a trail but make a highway
A highway for your coming
For your glory, O God shall be revealed in this place
And all shall see it
All shall see it together
Shall, by Lisa Degrenia

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Be sure to also check out Rev. Magrey deVega’s stunning reflection on this passage in his blog post, Is God on your Christmas List?

Prepare the Way of the Lord © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

A Prayer and Graphic for Each Beatitude

I’ve been offering a series of reflections and prayers based on the Beatitudes on my Instagram account (@revlisad). It’s been so rewarding to prepare the graphics, I thought you might want to see them as well. Feel free to share them on your social media platforms. I pray they are a blessing to you. – Lisa <><

Beatitudes title

Beatitudes 1 poor in spirit

Beatitudes 2 Mourn

Beatitudes 3 meek

Beatitudes 4 hunger thirst

Beatitudes 5 merciful

Beatitudes 6 pure heart

Beatitudes 7 Peacemaker

Beatitudes 8 persecution

Beatitudes receive blessing
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Beatitude Prayer Graphics © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Growing in Resilience: Comfort Us, based on Isaiah 61.10

Isaiah 61 10 robesGrowing in Resilience
Day 22, Read Isaiah 61
Reflection: Comfort Us, based on Isaiah 61:10, NRSV

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Comfort us
Comfort us who mourn
When one suffers, we all suffer

Hear our lament for the ways we hurt one another and in turn hurt you
Our words weapons instead of life

Hear our wails for all shattered by sin and fear and shame

Hear our groans for all bent low beneath watching and waiting
for another in pain
or their own

Hear our tears for all captive to
their poverty
their addiction
their loneliness
their otherness

Hear our grieving for the powerful misusing their influence
The Forgotten… forgotten

Comfort us
Comfort us who mourn
Comfort us in your coming
Your freeing
Your healing

In your deliverance, there is a crown for our ashes
The oil of gladness pouring across tender brows till it pools in our clavicles

In the nakedness of our need you clothe us
Garments of Salvation
Robes of Righteousness
Jewels of our Belovedness
You dress us in your Victory
Wrapping us in your Joy and Delight
Swaddling us in your Promises made real

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Click Here for more on the Growing in Resilience Reading Plan sponsored by Bishop Ken Carter and the Cabinet of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

Comfort Us © 2018 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
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Jesus, the Coming Messiah- Teacher and Comforter (Isaiah 50, Matthew 4)

Jesus, The Coming Messiah
Jesus, The Coming Messiah: Advent Readings from Old Testament to New
December 15: The Messiah as Teacher and Comforter
Readings: Isaiah 50:4-11; Matthew 4:23-24

Isaiah 50:4, The Voice
The Lord, the Eternal, equipped me for this job— with skilled speech, a smooth tongue for instruction. I can find the words that comfort and soothe the downtrodden, tired, and despairing. And I know when to use them.

Matthew 4:23-24, The Voice
And so Jesus went throughout Galilee. He taught in the synagogues. He preached the good news of the Kingdom, and He healed people, ridding their bodies of sickness and disease. Word spread all over Syria, as more and more sick people came to Him. The innumerable ill who came before Him had all sorts of diseases, they were in crippling pain; they were possessed by demons; they had seizures; they were paralyzed. But Jesus healed them all.

Prayer
Hallelujah to Jesus!
The Word spoken in creation
So we would know light and new life

Hallelujah to Jesus!
The Word made flesh
So we would know grace and truth

Hallelujah to Jesus!
The Word of Divine Comfort
Who hears our cries and draws near

You hear and you bear
You bear our disgrace and shame
You bear our burdens and disease

No one, no thing, no situation
Can stand against you
You, Eternal One, Eternal Word
You persevere while they come to an end

You
Our Savior
Our Sustainer
Our Shelter
Our confidence is in you

The next devotion will focus on Jesus’ suffering, which is also a major theme in Isaiah 50:4-11.

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Thank you for setting aside times this Holy Season to seek the One we celebrate.

Jesus, The Coming Messiah is an Advent Bible Reading Plan highlighting the Old Testament prophesies and passages which Christians see fulfilled in Jesus.

As you read each passage, consider how this description of Jesus the Messiah reveals his character, motivation, and purpose. How does this description inspire you to trust Jesus and his promises? How will you apply and share what you have discovered? I look forward to your comments.

If you’re in Sarasota, please drop by Trinity United Methodist Church for one of our seasonal events or services or just to say, “Hi.” You’re always welcome and wanted.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas! – Lisa <

The Messiah as Teacher and Comforter © 2017 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in devotional settings with proper attribution.
Please leave a comment for information/permission to publish this work in any form.

Prayer- When You Need a Shepherd (Isaiah 40:11)

shepherd carry sheep

This prayer claims the promises of Isaiah 40:11 on behalf of someone in need. Fill in names, pronouns, and details as best suits the situation.

Isaiah 40:11
He will feed his flock like a shepherd
He will gather the lambs in his arms
and carry them in his bosom
and gently lead the mother sheep

Good, Good Shepherd
Your word is a feast for _______________
Your companionship is the water of life
Nourish her, body and soul

Gather ____________ into your arms
Comfort her
Guard her

Carry __________ through this grueling season
Lift her spirits
Raise her from _____________________

Lead __________, now and always
Guide each step
Make the way smooth
So in all things she may see your faithfulness
So in all things she may testify to your power and hope
Amen

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Prayer- When You Need a Shepherd © 2017 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.