Our first reading is Isaiah 40:1-11.

Growing up in Colorado, I lived near the county line. Along this border was a road that was called (surprisingly) County Line Road. What an awesome road. Driving on it was like being on a roller coaster. We went up one hill, down the other side, and immediately up another hill for what felt like miles.But what was fun during warm days was terrifying during the winter. Snow storms and icy conditions made County Line Road terrifying. 

When I returned home for a visit after college, I noticed that the road was different. Construction crews came and leveled the hills. The route was straighter, faster, and less exhilarating. Some of the joy was lost but the winter terror was gone.

This passage from Isaiah was probably composed after the exiles from Babylon had returned to Jerusalem. The children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were returning to a city they didn’t know but one that they heard about from stories of their parents, grandparents, and teachers. When they finally returned, the city must have appeared to be a ruin compared to what they had heard. The city was rough, the temple still in ruins, the walls broken, and its vibrancy and size only a fraction of what it was before. Not everyone had been sent into exile but enough to render the city an alien place to those who returned. I imagine the city looked rough, broken, and probably felt like it was abandoned by God. God’s city symbolized God’s people being at the bottom of the valley and in a land that no longer seemed to be a place of milk and honey. I imagine it felt like being caught on a roller coaster road, in the middle of a snow storm, with no end in sight. How could they hope to survive and thrive?

But in the middle of the terror, we hear words of comfort and hope. We hear about God’s relationship with God’s people. And we hear that God has not abandoned the world or us. Rather, God will feed the flock, gather the lambs, carry and nourish us in the midst of our snowstorms on icy streets. This passage tells us to rest in God’s promises, that we are caught up in God’s end, that we have been brought into God’s acts of restoration and resurrection and that our hope does not rest on what we do but on who we belong to. Our hope is in the one who comes to us today, yesterday, and who we will celebrate on Christmas Day.