Comfort, O Comfort My People
What might get lost as one reads the book of Isaiah, is that 150 years or so has passed between the time chapter 39 of Isaiah ends and Chapter 40 of Isaiah begins. The last few verses of chapter 39 predict that “days are coming when Judah will fall” and the Israelites will be exiled to Babylon.
What is predicted by Isaiah happens, and during the 150 years or so between chapters 39 and 40, Israel and Judah’s monarchy collapse, the temple in Jerusalem is destroyed, their villages and homes are destroyed, and many are exiled to Babylon to serve a Babylonian king. After the 150 years it takes us to get from the end of chapter 39 and to the beginning of chapter 40, the Israelites are not just in a spiritual and physical wilderness, they are scattered and shattered.
While we have not had to bear same kind of hardships as the Israelites in today’s story, we might relate to the ways they are struggling to cope with the hardships of life. This week in our staff meeting Dr. Damion Womack led our staff devotional and brought up how these last 9 months we have been scattered. Our being scattered from loved ones has been difficult, as well as being scattered from the normal things we have known over the years. We all have felt dislocated at times.
As we have been scattered into a wilderness far from our “normal” we might have found ourselves in moments of despair, grief, and disappointment. We might connect with the Israelite’s cries of lament that we hear them cry out from their dislocation in Babylon. We might connect with their feelings when they cry out in Lamentations chapter 1, “She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has not one to comfort her…Her downfall was appalling with none to comfort her…Zion stretches out her hands but there is no one to comfort her…They heard how I was groaning, with no one to comfort me.”
Dr. Womack pointed out we even have felt separated from the usual things at church. This seems very evident as the church staff plans for all the unique things that Advent and Christmas season bring. The reality is we know the normal way we experience Advent and Christmas is going to look different than it has in previous years. The hope we have found is that no matter how different it all might seem, the hope filled message will always be the same…there is nothing that can scatter us and shatter us from God’s love through Jesus Christ, our Emmanuel!
For so long the Israelites found comfort in the Temple (their place of worship), in their leaders and kings, and in their sense of home, but when we meet them in today’s text all of that is gone. In today’s passage God is proclaiming that even though all those things are gone, they can have hope because God’s presence and comfort will always be there for them.
“Comfort, O comfort my people…Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places plain.”
These words are a powerful reminder that the power of God’s comfort is not only tends to us in our places of wilderness, but God’s comfort also creates new possibilities in our moment of wilderness.
While we might have moments of feeling scattered and shattered, and while things in our life may fade and wither like the flowers of the field, we can find the ultimate comfort that the Word of God will stand forever. It is hard not to hear this verse about that the Word of God will stand forever and not think of the opening of John’s gospel.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word become flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
God’s love through Christ is so powerful it will reign over all things and all situations. God’s love for us through Christ that will be the balm for our wounds. God’s everlasting love for us is the source of comfort when the world feels scattered and shattered.
After this promise of the ultimate comfort that transcends all things, God commands God’s children to GO and be a herald of good tidings towards people who are in need of comfort and assurance, those people who are scattered and shattered. A calling to let their words console the broken and grieving… “Here is your God!…He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather in the lambs in his arms, and carry them and gently lead the mother sheep.”
This advent may we let these comforting words of God’s promise speak to us and may we come back to them over and over again when the world feels overwhelming. May we hold tight to the Good News that God’s comfort brings new possibilities.
During this advent season, may we also let these words inspire us to be heralds of comfort and good tidings to others. May the Good News and promise of God’s comfort and everlasting love through Christ that consoles us in our scattered and shattered moments be solid ground in which we stand, and may we offer our own gifts of comfort to a world in need.
Offering comfort, compassion, and empathy has been something the church has been doing since its beginning. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul shares with the church in Corinth that one of the ways we serve God and serve one another is by offering the gift of comfort. In the first chapter of 2nd Corinthians vv. 3 and 4 he writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in any affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”
A wonderful reminder that as we wait as a church for Christ coming, we may find comfort in God’s presence, but also we are able to find our own voice of comfort and be a herald of comfort and good tidings for others.
This past week was Giving Tuesday, a day set aside to remember and support so many wonderful non-profits doing great work in the world. One common thing on Giving Tuesday is for people to lift up on social media a non profit that is meaningful to them and why they support it. It so inspiring to see so many organizations in our community use their voice and resources to be a herald of comfort for others.
As I scrolled through so many wonderful organizations that people support, I was inspired to see once again the powerful impact of the Alabama Prison Birth Project and its vision to offer comfort and care for infants, their incarcerated mothers, and their families. This caring organization is a ministry that our church supports with our time, talent, and treasure. It was 10 years ago that the sister program in Minnesota began their work, a program that inspired the beginning of the Alabama Prison Birth Project. In those 10 years between their two ministries, hundreds of incarnated mothers and their babies have been able to receive care and comfort. The comfort given and comfort received has had a rippling effect beyond just the mother and their child, but also to their families. This ministry’s heralding of comfort has led to 1000’s of lives receiving the gift of comfort.
There are so many amazing non profits in our community that offer others comfort and compassion that we as a church support with our time, talent, and treasure. Tonight at our mission dinner we will support and celebrate the great work of Lee County Department of Human Resources and the Salvation Army and all they are doing in our community to offer comfort to those who are experiencing their own wilderness.
Of course we all know it's not just organizations and groups that offer comfort. God created each one of us with gifts of compassion and comfort to care for a world in need, and we have our own individual calling to be a herald of comfort and good tidings to those whom we encounter. It seems this year the challenge has been how we offer people care and comfort in new and different ways than in the past, especially when we have been scattered from one another.
Over these last few months many people in our church have had moments when they needed to go into the hospital to receive care. Usually in these moments family and friends are able to help care for us and give us comfort with their presence, but this year so many people could not have their loved ones near because of health precautions. For those in the hospital separate from family and friends, their heralds of comfort came in the form of healthcare workers who went above and beyond to provide comfort in the absence of loved ones. We also have found new ways and relied on old fashioned ways to offer each other comfort. A comforting card from a neighbor, or a phone call from a church member and a prayer over the phone carries so much comforting power these days. “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God…Herald of Good Tidings lift up your voice with strength.”
So as we wait and prepare for the Lord’s coming and things may fade and wither around us, may God’s words of comfort that the Word of God will stand forever bring you hope and your own sense of comfort.
As we wait and prepare for the Lord’s coming may this ultimate promise give us the courage to find our own voice so that we may share with others our words and actions of comfort. May we go out into a world that is feeling shattered and scattered and be a herald of comfort and good tidings to world in need. Alleluia Amen.