Third Sunday in Advent, December 11, 2022
Reader: “The Light of the world is coming.”
Response: “Jesus is that Light.”
Scripture: Isaiah 40:1-11
“Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over
for all her sins.”
Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness
for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
for our God!
Fill in the valleys,
and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves,
and smooth out the rough places.
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
The Lord has spoken!”
A voice said, “Shout!”
I asked, “What should I shout?”
“Shout that people are like the grass.
Their beauty fades as quickly
as the flowers in a field.
The grass withers and the flowers fade
beneath the breath of the Lord.
And so it is with people.
The grass withers and the flowers fade,
but the word of our God stands forever.”
O Zion, messenger of good news,
shout from the mountaintops!
Shout it louder, O Jerusalem.
Shout, and do not be afraid.
Tell the towns of Judah,
“Your God is coming!”
Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
He will rule with a powerful arm.
See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.
These familiar words of Isaiah are personified in John the Baptist, in proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. Various musicians have set parts of this text to music many, many times throughout the centuries. Some of the most time-honored and well-known examples are in Handel’s Messiah. Music often goes beyond what words can express, speaking directly to the language of the soul. Through the sacred music of all ages, millions of people have experienced the wonder and glory of God at a more profound level than with mere words. (Today’s devotional is a little more musically oriented. I’ve had the joy of conducting these pieces multiple times.)
As with the Messiah, you’ll note a similar impact in the second movement of the Brahms Requiem, a passage which reminds us of the temporary nature of our life on earth while the word of the Lord stands eternally. While we are used to thirty second sound bites and three minute songs, I urge you to listen to the second movement listed below for the full 15:46 without interruption, noting how the weightiness of the text builds throughout. Like life, note the relentless nature of the tempo. I Peter is actually quoting Isaiah! Wait for the dramatic, “But the word of the Lord . . .” (At 9:30 into the piece―don’t cheat! Let it build to that point! Patience!) It’s worth every minute. Listen and watch where you won’t be interrupted. You’ll see the English subtitles to the German text.
In the concluding portion of our pericope today, Handel reminds us of the tenderness of our great God and his care for his sheep. Handel and Brahms give us a few glorious examples of musical settings of this text this advent season.
*As a farm boy, the relationship between a lamb and its mother is very, very close. One bleat from the mother in the midst of a whole flock, her lambs discern her voice and come running. All I hear is a cacophony of sheep noise! One plaintive bleat from her lambs and she is there in an instant. When the mother sheep knows the shepherd, she will trust him with her lambs. This passage is a beautiful picture of our God both when he comes again and how he cares for us in the meantime. You can trust this Shepherd today to care for his lambs, including you. (#20 below.)
Make some time to listen to these music settings, even if you have to spread it over several days. Listening and watching these videos makes for a wonderful Sunday afternoon with Scripture!
Music: from “Messiah”, #2,3,4,9,20 and Brahms Requiem #2.
#2 “Comfort Ye” v.1-3 #2 & #3 together (6:30)
#3 “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted” v.4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Pz9BCMFoP8
#4 “And the Glory of the Lord” v.5 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRq9EkDTdxs Voces 8 (2:54) Glorious!
#9 “O Thou that Tellest Good Tidings of Zion” v.9 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIqDNTnOCks (5:46) Sasha & Mormon Tabernacle Choir
#20 “He Shall Feed His Flock” v. *20 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-bAXm-A3Ls&list=RDl-bAXm-A3Ls&start_radio=1 (6:16) Barbara Bonney
Brahms #2 “Behold All Flesh is As the Grass” v.6-8 Herbert Von Karajan
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2jc13Q1wX4 (15:18) English Subtitles
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever. Amen! –from the Revelation of St. John