A voice says 'Cry Out!' and I said 'What shall I cry?' (Isaiah 40 verse 6.) At the opening of the chapter the message Isaiah was commissioned to speak was one of Comfort. 'Comfort Ye my people'. The people of Jerusalem mentioned in this chapter needed to hear that despite their unfaithfulness, which had led to exile and imprisonment at the hands of the Assyrians and later the Babylonians, God was merciful, and still considered them to be His people. Although their wrong doing and failings had seemed to throw up mountains of obstacles blocking their vision of the creator, and split open deep valleys, separating them from God, Isaiah was able to fortell a time when the mountains would be levelled and the chasms raised to make the ground level and reopen the highway to God.
In our own lives we find that all the little things we do wrong, all the times when we have failed to live up to the way of life to which we have been called, come between us and God, as they also come between us and those around us. Very soon a small sin, perhaps a word harshly said or an unkind action, causes blockages in our relationships. It is as if a mountain had formed blocking us from each other or from God. It is in accepting forgiveness and being prepared to forgive that we can rebuild relationships. Forgiveness is the leveller, and as Christians we recognise that the greatest act of forgiveness was when God sent his only Son to bridge the gap that we had created between ourselves and Himself, so that once again the Highway for our God was open.
But in order for forgiveness to be effective, there must first be confession. We must be prepared to face up to the things we have done to spoil our relationships. It is very human to try to cover up, to hide from ourselves the things that we have done. To justify them perhaps by comparing with the actions of those around us, even to project our faults onto other people. Jesus himself recognised this characteristic in one of his metaphors, speaking of the speck of dust in anothers eye and the plank in our own.
We heard in the Gospel. (Mark 1; 1-8) about the witness of John the baptist. He called on people to prepare the way of the lord, fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy of a voice in the wilderness. He understood the power of forgiveness in reconciling people to each other and to God. His simple message of repentance encouraged those who would listen to confess, and by a symbolic washing in water, restart their lives, in the same way, perhaps, in which we can restart a computer when a program goes wrong, freezing up or failing in its intended task.
John's message is as valid today as it has ever been. It is for us to take to heart and act upon for ourselves, but it is also for us to spread to those around us. It was not only Isaiah who was asked to 'Comfort God's people.' This time of Advent, with its carol services, Christingles, and other occasions when many people come to church who don't regularly attend, provides many opportunities to make clear the message that whatever has come between people and their faith, their relationship with God, however high the mountains seem and however wide the chasms, we know that God has already begun the process of levelling the ground and presenting us with that bridge, that highway back to Him. It is comforting for us to know, as well as for others, that God is patient with us, not wanting any of us to perish, but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3; 9).
Advent, the lead up to Christmas is also a time when we think of the Second Coming, the time when Jesus will return and establish the kingdom with a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. This hope of things to come should give a further sense of urgency to the task of mending and nourishing our own relationship with God and, accepting that God resides in all of us, with other people. It should also encourage us to echo the call of Isaiah and of John to call on those we encounter to do the same. By which I don't mean that we should rush at people with bibles open, but that by being with them and showing a Christian perspective and way of relating to each other that arises out of true forgiveness of each other and acceptance of God's forgiveness, we can perhaps encourage more to be ready for the day of the Lord when, like a thief it arrives.