"'Comfort, comfort my people,' says your God...
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
he gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young."
Isaiah 40:1 & 11, part of the Advent text for the 2nd Sunday, year B
I drove down to the beach for my evening walk on Saturday.
It was cold for these parts, with a brisk breeze making my cheeks burn,
forcing hands into pockets.
The sun was setting, casting a pathway of golden light on the water in front of me.
And I thought of this passage from the prophet Isaiah,
these 11 verses in the 40th chapter, verses that contain not only the beautiful words quoted above, but also these:
"Prepare ye the way of the LORD...
"And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed..."
Starting in about the 8th grade, and continuing until the last few years,
I have sung in choirs of all different kinds, sizes, styles.
And these words from Isaiah 40 have been a part of the repertoire of almost all of those choirs, most often set to the music of Handel in, "The Messiah."
I have heard at least a dozen different tenor soloists ring out with the sweet sounds of, "Comfort Ye My People," and probably a couple of dozen altos sing of our Shepherd. In fact, I think I even had my arm twisted and became one of those 2 dozen at a Christmas concert about 25 years ago.
But in all those years of reading and listening, of studying and wondering, I don't think I ever put those verses together in my head and in my heart - the one from the beginning of the chapter and the one from the end of the Advent reading.
Yesterday's worship service helped me to do exactly that.
Do you ever really think about the word, the idea of 'comfort?' Most of us can think of things/people/events/foods that help us feel comfortable, that help us feel secure, that help us celebrate the simple gifts. Because that's what comfort is really about, don't you think?
The simple things.
A hug when you're not expecting it.
A word of kindness when you're blue.
A dish of ice cream in the heat of summer.
A cup of cocoa in the crisp coolness of fall.
The assurance that, 'All shall be well,' when it feels decidedly unwell all around us.
A reminder that God is faithful, even when - perhaps most especially when -
we are seriously doubting that truth.
And for me, those reminders of God's faithfulness are often small, simple gifts.
A giggling toddler.
The smell of a wood fire.
The angle of the light as the days grow shorter and the shadows longer.
An earnest word of thanks - delivered in person, by phone, in the mail,
or on the blog post.
An unexpected moment of quiet in the midst of the rush-rush of the day.
A sudden onslaught of tears which speak
so strongly of God's imminence and kindness.
Strange to think that tears can be comforting.
Yet I have learned that very often the Comforter is moving in our tears,
speaking words of love and recognition through that sudden saltiness that brims and overflows.
I found myself in tears tonight, praying for a new friend.
There was the gift of insight with those tears,
the wisdom of an older friend of Jesus melding with my own God-sensed ideas about her situation, and I knew
that I had been given the briefest of glimpses behind the curtain.
And that was such a comfort as I wrestle my way to becoming increasingly sensitive to the story beneath the story, the truth below the surface.
Yes, these tears brought comfort.
I deeply desire to be one who prepares the way of the Lord, who is open to the possibility of glory, who offers comfort to others. But for those things to happen in and through me, I must first be the one who is comforted.
Paul spells this truth out for us in his second greeting to the church at Corinth:
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles,
so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."
Yesterday's sermon helped me to connect the dots, to see that God's 'coming at us with arms outstretched' (the literal meaning of the Hebrew word for 'comfort') is the basic building block upon which the entire story of the Bible is built.
"The glory of God is a human being fully alive,"
Iraneaus wrote over 1900 years ago.
And the glory of the Lord,
the way that is to be prepared,
all of it comes to fruition in us,
as we allow ourselves to receive the comforting grace-gift God holds out to us,
the one held out with so much love.
May you, dear readers, experience the comfort of our God this Advent season.
And then, even as you have received, may you help prepare the LORD's way by offering that same comfort to others.
Offering it for Jesus' sake,
that great Shepherd of the sheep who gently carries us close to his heart.
Connecting with several kind invitations tonight - Deidra's new "Sunday" party, which probably really doesn't want so many words as I've put down here this time; Jennifer's spankin' new GodBumpsGod-intentions," Michelle's "HearItUseIt" meme, Jen's Solideogloria sisterhood and Emily's "Tuesdays Unwrapped." Whew! Did I forget anyone?? YUP. Forgot lovely Emily over at CanvasChild and her Thursday invitation to offer some ImperfectProse: