“Comfort, yes, comfort my people!” says your God. “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:1-5)
Remember the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? The female home invader tried out three chairs in the bears’ empty house: one was too big; one was too small; one was “just right.” When I moved from Wisconsin to Salem, Oregon, in October 1997, my search for a Lutheran church felt a bit like that. The church nearest my home seemed way too big. It had three Sunday services and a small parking lot which tested the forbearance of worshipers all arriving or leaving simultaneously between services. (That congregation later purchased 11 acres and built a bigger church with a very large parking lot.) The second church seemed too small. (That congregation later merged with another, selling its building to a Sikh worship community.)
At first blush, the third option held promise. The people: friendly. The liturgy: familiar. Sadly, that promise didn’t last. In his sermons in October, the pastor railed against Halloween. Families with children were forbidden to let their offspring go trick-or-treating. Their kids were NOT to wear costumes to school on Halloween, since that would stimulate opportunities for these little Christians to lecture their peers about the dangers of satanic influence. I breathed a sigh of relief on the first Sunday of November, thinking today’s sermon might take a different tone. WRONG! After two more Sundays with sermons about the evils of Christmas music played or sung before December 25th, I decided that this place was not a good fit for me. I love Christmas music and was not about to be bullied into feeling guilty about that.
That being said, this minister DID have a point. Sometimes we’re in such a hurry to get to Christmas, we miss out on the gifts of Advent. Today, with just a few days left to go before Christmas, let the voice of the herald cry into whatever wilderness YOU might be experiencing. Hear the ancient words of comfort to YOU in your mourning. Ponder which word or phrase truly speaks to YOU as you read the words of Isaiah 40 in one of literally dozens of translations. Or listen to music based on these verses. The internet offers so many lovely options! Here are links to several: to a version of Hymn #256 in our worship book:
Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People – YouTube
and to Handel’s Messiah:
Comfort Ye My People, Every Valley Shall Be Exalted feat. Levy Sekgapane – Handel’s Messiah – YouTube
Lord, may the words of ancient prophets and those of saints whom I encounter this week bring me comfort and hope. And may I speak your comfort to all I meet. Amen.