Across the Pastor’s Desk: Comfort as a word for the season
Across the Pastor’s Desk by Todd Walsh
The first verses of Isaiah 40 are one of the readings we hear in the lead up to Christmas. The text is before you from the King James Version.
“1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. 2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she had received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. 3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: 5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
I’m using the King James Version in part because of its poetic beauty. I’m also using it because it is the version of the Bible George Frederic Handel used in 1741 when he composed his sacred oratorio, “Messiah.”
Messiah is an expansive vista of God’s activity in the world through the life of Jesus. Charles Jennens chose the biblical texts for the work. One can imagine trying to decide where to begin. If the work is to be about Jesus, should it begin with him? If it is to cover all time, should it begin with Genesis?
Messiah begins with the greatest of the prophets, Isaiah. It takes us to a book that speaks of God coming into the world to set things right again. It also begins with the same words that all four New Testament gospel writers would use 800 years later, setting before us the life of Christ.
Consider the first words that begin the life of Christ in “Messiah.” “Comfort ye.” It is said twice. We see the theme of the work that is beginning. It is also clear we are seeing the theme for the life of our Lord Jesus and the will of God for our world. It is comfort.
This comfort is not the sort that we find on a soft piece of furniture or just the right temperature on a beautiful day. The comfort that God brings is the peace and reconciliation that can only come from the hand of God.
The voice of Isaiah 40 announces that God is coming to set things right. Recall that the means by which God creates in Genesis is through his voice. When God speaks, creation comes to be. When God speaks, there is life. Recall also that when God’s people are enslaved in a far-away land, God speaks directly to a human being whom God has chosen to deliver the people from their bondage.
When God chooses to send his son to save us, it is again a voice that announces the news to the shepherds of Bethlehem. And then from the cross, it is our Lord’s voice that announces the meaning of his death for humanity: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Then there is the highway. The way is cleared for God. God is coming to save. And nothing is going to stop God from taking us back and giving us life. And notice again how this way is made: “For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.”
One of the wonders of the Advent and Christmas season is our belief that God is coming and that this is good news. We make preparations by our hands and by our hearts. And those preparations look forward to new life.
The sad circumstances of the present pandemic, some would say, is blocking our way or even blocking the way of our God. Yet God’s people find ways to share the story. God’s people find new ways to share the good news and bring the new life that God gives through his son.
Advent and Christmas are a time to join what God is doing in the world.
Our comfort is knowing that God is coming and at the same time is already here. Our comfort is knowing that God will not be stopped from saving us and giving us new life. Our comfort is knowing that the voice of the Lord is in our midst and each of us gifted and privileged to be that voice in the world around us.
Todd Walsh is director of spiritual care services at Thorne Crest Senior Living Community in Albert Lea.
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