Comfort, comfort my people!
says your God.
Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her that her
compulsory service has ended,
that her penalty has been paid,
that she has received
from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins!
A voice is crying out:
“Clear the LORD’s way in the desert!
Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
Every valley will be raised up,
and every mountain and hill
will be flattened.
Uneven ground will become level,
and rough terrain a valley plain.
The LORD’s glory will appear,
and all humanity will see it together;
the LORD’s mouth
has commanded it.”
A voice was saying:
And anothert said,
“What should I call out?”
All flesh is grass;
all its loyalty is
like the flowers of the field.
The grass dries up
and the flower withers
when the LORD’s breath blows on it.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass dries up;
the flower withers,
but our God’s word
will exist forever.
Go up on a high mountain,
Raise your voice and shout,
Raise it; don’t be afraid;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
Here is the LORD God,
coming with strength,
with a triumphant arm,
bringing his reward with him
and his payment before him.
Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock;
he will gather lambs in his arms
and lift them onto his lap.
He will gently guide
the nursing ewes.
Isaiah 40:1-11, Common English Bible
A time of joy? A time of peace? A time of hope? A time of love?
This time of year is always one of sacred tension for me. A tension that is sometimes so tangible that I can cut through it as it stands before me, and sometimes a background tension that is never quite articulated …. But is still present in the undertones of life. A tension between the peace we all long for, and the reality of heartache and brokenness in the world.
This year is no different.
As I read the prayer requests sent out weekly, the facebook status updates, blog posts, and newsfeeds … my heart breaks for our community, both here and abroad. Many of us have experienced loss or hardship either recently or in the past years— and those losses always seem to creep back into our minds around this time of year. While this season is always portrayed in carols as cheery and bright — there is real heartache that exists.
In Isaiah we hear a voice cry out for the preparation of the way of the Lord —- a cry of desperate joy. But before this cry is even finished — another voice echos back, “What should I call out?” What are the should’s and supposed to’s of calling out to God during this Advent season? What do we do with sadness during a time of preparation? Do we go through motions of decorating and carol singing with a heavy heart? Do we mourn and forgo this season altogether? Or is there something else?
Isaiah’s words echo in the back of my mind. Do you hear them, too? What should we call out? How do we handle all the conflicting emotions that this holiday season stirs?
For me, this season of Advent is a season of comfort. Of finding comfort, of sharing comfort, of providing comfort. Now, I’m not talking about the kind of comfort one finds in the coziest chair of your house, wrapped in a snuggie and drinking hot chocolate with little marshmallows. Not that kind of comfort. Comfort that comes from seeking to share Advent’s peace, hope, love and joy with others. From wedging out a little bit of room for reflection for ourselves — away from the busyness. Comfort that comes from sharing your personal story with others so they might find their voice to share their own. Comfort that comes with not offering to solve the tragedies of our loved ones – but by offering a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear.
Today’s passage from Isaiah speaks of this comfort. Comfort that comes from the heart of God to God’s people. In fact, the opening lines demand this comfort — “Comfort! Comfort my people!” “Speak compassion!” God knew that people would need comfort during this time of Advent. Because – you see, people have always needed comfort around this season. As Mary prepared to deliver God’s own son —- she had worries and distractions of her own. Joseph needed much reassurance that he was providing for his family according to God’s will. Where we find God’s people — we then feel God’s comforting presence.
The same is true for us. Through the heartache, grief, and hardships we can feel God’s comfort among us. I love Isaiah’s poetry in verse 11 — “like a shepherd, God will tend the flock, he will gather lambs in his arms and lift them on to his lap”. God has always known that his people will need comfort in this season of hope, of joy, of love, of peace. This is why the Christ child was sent for God’s people, after all. To break through the tension of our lives. So this season, let us draw comfort from our Creator and respond with compassion to the cries in Isaiah. “Comfort, comfort my people!” Amen.
This post was originally written as a reflection for an Advent service at McCormick Theological Seminary and was shared with that community by Stephanie Levan. It has been modified for a blog audience.