Isaiah 40:1-3, 11 (NIV)
Comfort, comfort My people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
… 11 He tends His flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in His arms
and carries them close to His heart;
He gently leads those that have young.
In 1990 Australia Post, the equivalent of the New Zealand Post Office, published the children’s book, Bush Nativity written by Jo Monie and illustrated by Marg Towt. It was re-printed in 1991.
The illustrations in the book were similar to those on the 1990 Australian Christmas stamps which re-told an ancient story with an Australian twist, emphasising how the whole creation praises God.
The story is that of the coming of a child into the world, a King who would change the world – the story told of how the bush animals would react to the birth of this baby.
The prophet, Isaiah spoke of the wonderful news – He said, Comfort, comfort, …
Comfort a double emphasis on the hope and peace which was coming into the world. When Isaiah spoke he would have had Jerusalem buzzing – because Jerusalem had been under foreign occupation – a bit like the world today preoccupied with things which are not of God – things which are ego-centric and which are false gods to us.
We could say that our captivity has been in “things”, material possessions, personal power and authority – where, for example, our community and we have:
- ignored the 1st commandment and set ourselves above all that God teaches and encourages,
– ignored God’s Word on the holiness of His name (how often have you heard or used the Lord’s name without thought for what His name means?),
- ignored the priority God gives to worship - being disdainful of the preaching, teaching and reading of God’s Word and grudgingly attending Divine Service, home group or Bible Study.
- been amongst those who seek not to honour their father and mother, engaging in elder abuse which is, according to the media, rampant here in New Zealand - we are told “75% of cases attended by Aged Concern involve psychological abuse.
- desired to end a yet to be born baby or elder relatives life - lives which would deliberately be taken from this world before God’s time for them has come. …
I think you get the picture!
God’s justice on all of this and more had required suffering for sin which would never end – Yet along comes a baby, Jesus, who receives a an adult “double for all her sins (that is Jerusalem’s and ours).
With Jesus receiving double the consequence of sin we receive double the blessing - double in unmerited comfort (note the reference to the word comfort used twice in verse one of our text).
We are prepared for this double comfort when we hear of the prophet – John the Baptist who was commission to “go before the Lord to prepare His way” (Lk 1:76–79).
The double comfort of verses one to two of our text will come about when the Lord breaks into history again and comes to claim those of His people who have remained faithful.
In the ancient world, roads were often constructed for visiting dignitaries, triumphant kings, or for idols as they were carried in procession.
What road are we building and how are we preparing? I think the Bush Nativity gives us a parable of Australian nature as we await the coming of Jesus.
Into our self-absorbed world God is sending hope – the animals with all their traits in the Bush Nativity reflect something of us and the Advent story as it develops. Let’s look at the story in a little more depth.
“The outback was buzzing with wonderful news…” so too it is buzzing in the shopping malls and churches as Christmas music is played, carols and songs. Music groups are practicing and people are gathering – all kinds of people, all shapes and sizes, from all over the world – the cold hearted and and warm, the rodents and those grand birds which fly and call out, fluffing their bright plumage for all to see.
“A wallaby passed it to two kangaroos…” a small often ignored marsupial of little significance passed some news of the imminent coming. A family heard of the one who was to come – much like John the Baptist calling in the wilderness for the world to “prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.”
“Spiny echidnas emerged from the ground…” – those who live in the dark and who are prickly have to hear the news too!
“Busy young bandicoots bounded around …” in a whirl and a twirl, so busy and preoccupied they had to hear the news as well! Running this way and that, not really knowing what to do! Is that us as we race from shop to shop, party to party in search of some fun?
“A web footed platypus gazed at the view…” just as those who are a bit odd with webbed feet and fur, a ducks bill and laying eggs, living underwater where they appear deformed in their lifestyle is part of this too. Is this us, or our neighbour who have strange habbits and customs, who look a little different but want to see too?
“Some fluffy-tailed gliders look longingly too…” they hang around waiting, looking with hope to the fulfillment of some distant wish or desire. Are we or they waiting in anticipation of something to happen to brighten our lives, encourage us to more?
“Carolling kookaburras laughed with delight…” Is there something new happening to bring them their joy? Are we singing in anticipation of what God is revealing for us to be involved with and in?
“Crimson rosellas sang right through the night…” A bird of the day up all night – this is most strange – but is it really as we too may do when we come to the lessons and carols at midnight on Christmas Eve to sing and praise what God has done and continues to do?
“Along loped an emu as though in a dream …” like so many people searching for paradise, but confused by the fuss, which begins in November and is all over by lunch on the 25th of December. What about afterwards – what does it mean? If we don’t know or are not sure, that’s most of us probably, the prophets will guide and disciples will teach - with a word from the Book so the dream will be reality for all on the last day.
“Koalas stopped munching to show their esteem…” their attention has been caught and the world has stopped for a moment of pause with a celebration as well. Will we stop and take it all in, the ordinary turned holy and eternal for us pause and reflect, to honour and participate in what this all means?
“Dancing grey brolgas stepped forward and bowed…” even the haughty and proud, acknowledge something special about the one who is to come. They may not like the organization which has grown, but most will acknowledge the difference and beauty of the one who is coming.
“Bright-crested cockatoos chattered aloud…” Cockatoos are noisy, especially together – like loud radio hosts with an opinion to share. The message will and has been heard on stations like 2ZB with Lutheran Media “Messages of Hope” and the Christian Broadcasting Association with its “Crazy Kiwi Christmas Kids Show” on the morning of the 25th of December.
“A possum quite joyfully pricked up one ear…” Nocturnal and scratchy, damaging the environment, there’s a pause to hear – to listen attentively to a message from of old but relevant for eternity.
“Wide eyed with wonder a wombat crept near…” He’s big and he’s slow, nocturnal too, but out and about, to know something special is happening here. He’s hard to move, but alert to something unusual, happening to bring great cheer.
“The stars of the Southern Cross pointed the way…” As the prophet Isaiah told it … the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” The cross in the sky proclaims another cross from which the prophet says: 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.
The cross is empty, it’s power, which is death is defeated, and we have a way to move forward positively… Slide “to the Babe who was born on that first Christmas day.”
Like the animals in the story we look forward with anticipation as God gathers us to be cared for by the babe grew into the Shepherd who … tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.
The Lord promises comfort and restoration for all who are far off from Him. His promises, fulfilled through John the Baptist’s ministry, have personal consequences for each of us and for all people.
Just as the Lord doubled the comfort and forgiveness for the exiles in Babylon in the 6th Century BC, He has doubled comfort and forgiveness for you in the person of His Son Jesus, the Christ.
So, like the wallaby in the story will you pass this message on to a family who has not yet received an invitation to “buzz with the news, …” be with the Babe while He shepherds us to be gathered for His second coming?
We have an incomparable God who watches over us. Though the Lord may use His power for condemnation with His law so that we can see our need to be rescued, He acts as our Good Shepherd for everyone’s salvation, offering comfort to all.