Its not often that the hopes of one nation impact the entire world. But this is precisely what Isaiah 40-55 promises will happen through the hopes of Israel. Israel, in exile is far from being the ‘light of the world’ it was made to be.
And so the words of Isaiah bring hope of a new thing:
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the LORD’S hand
double for all her sins.
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,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
See, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.(Isaiah 40.1-11 NRSV)
Its just not the case that once Israel had returned to the land that their exile was over. They were still slaves in the land (Ezra 9.9), and God had most certainly not returned to rule for them as he had promised he would. Implication – Israel is still in exile.
Israel needed to redefine their idea of how God would bring them out of exile, that seems to be what John the Baptist was trying to do. How do the gospel writers introduce him?
As one who went ‘into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’
Its only when God himself returns to his people, to rule for them, In Jesus Christ, that Israel’s oppression, hardship and exile is over. But these are words of hope not only to Israel, but to the entire world. God is doing a new thing in Jesus, taking his people out of exile, comforting them and bringing the true light into the world, for the world.