I planted tomato seeds this year. Eventually, plants emerged and began to grow among the stakes I had placed to support them as their fruit grew and made them heavier. Small yellow flowers appeared, then were replaced by small green tomatoes that grew larger and s-l-o-w-l-y turned red. I picked the first that blossomed red and tasted the most delicious tomato I had ever eaten. Sadly, the first frost hit before many more tomatoes ripened. The vines withered and died, heavy with unripe fruit.
“A voice says, ‘Cry!’ and I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass” (Isaiah 40:6-7).
The writer of these words wrote them to a nation attacked by an invader from the northeast. A sister nation to the north had already fallen; its people had been deported and its cities destroyed. He may have anticipated the similar fate that would befall his own nation in the future. His words still ring true in a world terrorists kill children, officers of the law face accusation of abusing their position of trust and assaulting those they swear to protect, stores and houses burn as angry protesters commit arson against people unrelated to the source of their anger, loved ones die too soon, and of much, much less significance, garden plants freeze before their fruit ripens.
“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 form the LORD’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2).
In the midst of grief, whether legitimate, wrongly based, or misplaced, we find it hard to hear words of comfort. It seems easier to lash out, to strike in anger, to slander. We crave revenge; we long for well-defined justice. Isaiah’s message: God has avenged; God forgave sin, our sin. He initiated a process for renewal and reconciliation. Centuries later, another prophet cried out, living out other words from Isaiah 40. In the desert, John the Baptist prepared the way of the LORD, calling for repentance, baptizing for the forgiveness of sins, identifying Jesus as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:19-34).
The “Lamb of God” became a sacrificial lamb, dying for others, arising from death to reveal the possibility for new life after injustice, for forgiveness after abuse, for united love after divisive combat. He left a message for the angry, for the abused, for the weary: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). His resurrection from death creates hope for our resurrection from anger, from abuse, from death, when we submit to his invitation and recreate his death, burial and resurrection, believing that the God who raised him from the dead can raise us from our guilt and will raise us from the dead as well (See Romans 6:1-4). The apostle Peter reflected, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).
“Comfort my people,” says our God. We may not want to hear those words and feel ready to receive comfort. We hold on to our hurt, to our anger, to our lust revenge. God, and Jesus, invite us to realize that God will avenge the injustice done to us just as surely as he will forgive the injustice we have done to others if we repent.
Father, Heal our pain. Remove our anger; turn our hearts to you. Grant us the humility to repent of our sin and instill within us the love to forgive others of their sins against us. May your will be done, and may we be your agents of reconciliation. We pray in the name of Jesus, in whose steps we follow, Amen.