By Rev. David Gregg
This year, our text for the third Sunday of Advent, whose theme is Joy, was the familiar promise of comfort from Isaiah 40: “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.” This is a pivotal moment in scripture, when the early voice of Isaiah, full of judgments and warnings and calls to repentance, shifts to a new voice, a word of forgiveness and reassurance. “God is not deaf to your cries,” says Second Isaiah; “Your delivery is at hand.” Of course, for followers of Jesus, we take “delivery” to mean something additional: the delivery of the child in whom we see revealed God’s love and power-in-vulnerability that pervades all creation.
“Comfort, O comfort my people.” These can be understood as words of comfort given to God’s people. “Take comfort. Like a mother hen, I will protect my chicks,” to use one of Jesus’s images. Second Isaiah offers comfort to the Israelites, as they imagine returning home from the brutal Babylonian exile. And today, we hear echoing again God’s tender, motherly word for us. “Take comfort. Even in times of sickness, trial, and strife, I again walk among you, and my help is close by.”
“Comfort, O comfort my people.” These can also be understood as words of exhortation demanded of God’s people. “Give comfort, all you who follow Jesus, for you are his emissaries and ministers of his comfort, all of you.” Second Isaiah asks — and really demands — all of us to participate in God’s loving work, by being agents and embodiments of God’s love in a hurting world. Jesus is “God With Us” — surely, at least in part, that means we should be channels for “God with Us” in imitation of him. God becomes flesh in him to teach us that God can become flesh in all of us.
On the third Sunday of Advent, the Chancel Choir shared the Christmas portion of GF Handel’s oratorio, Messiah, in worship. It begins with these words of promise and exhortation: “Comfort ye. Comfort ye my people.” Both, God will comfort you, and you are called to comfort others. Both of these meanings are at the heart of the Christmas message. It was glorious!
As we were listening to Handel’s music, I was thinking of another bit of song as well, the chorus of a well known Christmas carol: “O tidings of comfort and joy.” As I listened to Messiah, I felt both comfort and joy. In fact, they seem to go hand in hand for me, this year. The Joy of Advent is that God, the heavenly parent of all humanity, loves me, and will always offer me comfort. And — the Joy of Advent is the gift of of a meaningful role in the unfolding of God’s plan, the Joy of being appointed a messenger of comfort to God’s people.
This is the third post in a four-part Advent blog series. Read Pastor Yuki's reflection on hope and Pastor Kathryn's reflection on peace.