Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Isaiah’s words in today’s first reading are meant to bring hope to the exiles returning to Israel. One thing we need to remember as we hear this reading is – the Israel’s exile lasted almost 100 years. So, the people returning are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who were exiled by the Babylonians. We also need to know that the people did not return in triumph. They came in small groups, over many years. For these people, Isaiah’s words bring hope. Hope that after the devastation and defeat, God has not abandoned God's people.
Isaiah describes a new Israel - one where the people will be faithful to God and restore everything that was lost. Israel will once again be God's example to the world, of God's power and love. The people are joyful at the prospect of everything going back to the way things were before. But things never do go back to what was before. The Israelites will still struggle to be faithful to God.
The good news for the returning exiles was that God had not abandoned them. We hear these verses again, in the opening verses of Mark’s Gospel. He repeats the passage from Isaiah, “A voice cries out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 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. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.’ ”
God is doing a new thing. He did not send another Isaiah to encourage the people. God sent his only Son to live among us and demonstrate God’s love. Just as God never abandoned the people of Israel, even when they turned their backs on God, God was with them in exile. And God was there when they returned. God was with them as they rebuilt the Temple. and when they returned to their old ways of discrimination and injustice for the poor. God still called them to repent and return to God's love.
God is with us as well. Even when we wander away from God and forget we are to love each other, Jesus is with us calling us to be the children of God we were born to be. God is calling us to speak out about injustice, systemic racism, and the needs of the poor. We are called work together, to find a way to heal the divisions in our own neighborhoods which keep us from walking together to follow Jesus. God will be with us, as we continue to navigate these uncertain times. May we be open to God's guidance, helping us to speak out, and act out God’s love for all people. Amen.