The first reading comes from a prophet named Isaiah. [To see the words of the reading, click here.] He says some beautiful words, “Comfort, give comfort to my people.” God is talking to his people saying that their suffering is ended; their sins are forgiven. Why does God say that to his people? Let me give you some background. An awful thing happened to God’s people. The armies from Babylon came and beat the armies of Israel. They destroyed the city of Jerusalem. They killed many of the leaders. They tore down, destroyed the temple, God’s house. Thousands of people went to Babylon as slaves. The Israelite people in Babylon began to wonder, “Has God forgotten us? We thought he would be our God forever, He was going to protect us, save us from our enemies. But God failed; He is weak. The gods of Babylon were strong; their armies beat our armies.” Babylon was a beautiful city with beautiful temples. They saw the statues of their gods; they were impressive. Many of the people of Israel decided to join the religion there; they forgot the God of Israel. They decided they wanted to stay and have a successful life in Babylon.
Not all forgot their life in Israel; many did not forget the God of Israel. Some asked. “Why did God allow this awful event to happen, why? The prophet Isaiah was telling the people they sinned; they were not faithful to God; they did not always obey God. Maybe God is punishing the people or maybe God wants to purify, cleanse His people, make them better persons. The prophet Isaiah helped the people understand that God has not forgotten His people. God has not ignored His people. God sees the suffering of his people and sees that they have changed. God says to the prophet,”Comfort my people, give comfort to my people; their suffering has ended. Soon they will see the power of God coming, the glory of God coming. Then all the people will go back to their home country, saved. God has not forgotten His people.”
When the people in Babylon suffered, they prayed; they continued to know their God was real, and they had a deeper understanding of God. God was the God for their small country of Israel, yes; but God is also God for all the world. Before they knew God saved them, but now they began to understand that God was the creator of all the world; everything that is, earth, sun, moon, stars everything depends on God. God has picked the people of Israel to do His work, so that other people can know about Him. The people of Israel went to different cities, set up their own churches, synagogues, and in this way many people came to know the God of Israel. The people suffered but God had a plan.
Notice something: the people suffered a lot; they struggled; they failed; they felt overwhelmed by life; they felt stressed. They felt God was far away; God does not care. Inside they felt empty, broken. In that situation God came to His people; He gave them new ideas about God, helped them to see that their work was not finished; there was new work God wanted them to do for God, to help other people in the world to know that God is near, that God lives and God cares.
The same thing for you and me. Sometimes your life, my life is hard, frustrating; we feel overwhelmed, depressed; inside we feel empty, broken. Notice those moments of feeling empty, broken, why? God wants to come into our heart. When you and I are busy, doing many things and feeling successful, then God cannot always come into our hearts. But if you and I feel empty inside, broken, then God can come into us, help us to learn something more about God, that He is with us, that we can have a more deep trust in Him, a deep faith in Him, understand God more clearly, let God come and influence us in new ways, change us, help us become good people that God wants us to become. Failure, disappointment, feeling overwhelmed, emptiness, suffering, are always bad? No. Sometimes God has wonderful work for us to accomplish. He wants to come to us when we feel broken and empty so that his will, His work is accomplished more fully. Those experiences are always easy? No. They are painful, very painful. But God is never going to leave us, never going to forget us, never going to ignore us. God is always a loving God, a kind God, caring for us, cherishing us.
It is the same idea in the gospel today. It is the story about John the Baptist; he was a prophet; he talked for God. [To see the words of the gospel, click here.] Where did John talk for God? In a nice, comfortable office in Jerusalem? No. He was out in the desert. He ate in nice restaurants every night? No. He ate desert food– bugs, locusts, wild honey. He had fancy clothes? No. He had wild, rough clothes. He called people to come from the nice comfortable city out into the desert, why? The desert is empty, no trees, no flowers. The empty desert forces people to think, study oneself more; see and learn more about oneself. People came from Jerusalem to listen to John preaching. He said, “You must be sorry for your sins; change your life. God wants to forgive you when you are sorry. You know you have done wrong. Then get ready, God is sending his most important person to come, to be with you right now. He is sending you His Messiah. Be ready to change; show sorrow for your sins. Show how? I will pour water over you like a shower, washing your body outside. Wash inside, I cannot. We need God’s person, the savior to come; He will give you the Holy Spirit; then you will be clean inside, because he will give you a baptism with the Holy Spirit.”
Pay attention to the hard times in your life when you feel empty, broken, overwhelmed, depressed, disappointed. God may be using those special moments to come into your heart, so that you can do God’s will more fully, become the more holy person God wants you to become. Then you will change to become a better person.
Let me end with a story: There was a boy, sick; he needed a new kidney. They searched to find someone who could give him a kidney. His sister was willing to give him one of her kidneys. But the doctors could not do it, why? The sister weighed over 300 pounds. It was very dangerous to operate on the sister and take her kidney. She loved her brother and wanted to help him. She was very disappointed, frustrated. What did she do? She decided to lose weight. She began to eat right and exercise and go on long walks. Then two years later, she went back to the doctors; she lost 130 pounds. The doctors decided she was now healthy enough for the operation and gave her brother one of her kidneys. Because the sister felt disappointed and then changed her life, two people were saved. The brother was saved because he received a new kidney; the sister was saved because she now had the right weight. The sister experienced emptiness, failure, disappointment, and that experience changed her so she became a new person. She was willing to struggle to become the new person, and then she could help her brother.
Sometimes for you and me the same thing happens. Failure, frustration, disappointment help us change. We have to let God’s grace come into us. God is always willing to come, always willing to be with us, in us.