Comfort, comfort ye my people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning ’neath their sorrow’s load;
Speak ye to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover,
And her warfare now is over.
This poem (hymn) based on our text from Isaiah this morning, is a poem of comfort, a poem of gentleness, a poem of community. Comfort – when you hear that word, what comes to mind?
A certain food (for my wife its mashed potatoes), maybe it’s a drink, an image (Calgon take me away) or something else that brings to your mind comfort?
But for God, its comfort of a different kind:
Comfort not for those who are already comfortable but to those who were suffering, those in pain, those looking for help – to them in the reading from Isaiah, God calls out, Comfort my people. It is God remembering the plight of his people.
To those contented and to those suffering, that message would also be sounded by John the Baptist who appears on the scene preaching God’s word, saying repent, change your life, find comfort in God. As the forerunner to Jesus, John sets the stage for all of us.
In Isaiah and JTB, the scattered sheep are being called to come together, to find their comfort with God, to walk the road to Jordan, to Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, to return home once again with their God. I think of this story from Scotland:
Once upon a time there was a pastor who inherited a church on a large island, but that was about it — there was a church building, but not much else. There were a few old souls who came regularly, but most of the younger ones stayed away. They were too busy with the fields and animals, with the new satellite TV, internet, and their own business.
And when the pastor would inquire after them in town or in the pub they'd excuse themselves with the explanation that they prayed better without all those people around them. They did better with their own quiet along the shore or by their own fireplace or kitchen table after everyone else had gone to bed.
So the pastor started visiting them one by one. He'd sit by the fire, drink tea, chat about the price of grain or sheep, and not mention religion. The fire would be crackling warm while the wind gusted outside, and the pastor would lean over and take a twig out of the fire. He was careful to take one that was glowing hot and burning well, and he would lay it on the edge of the stone fireplace and let it sit. He'd continue with the conversation and say not a word about the twig.
And as they'd talk the twig would cool down; the glow would begin to fade; the twig would smoke and eventually die out. When that happened the pastor would stop in midsentence, look his parishioner in the eye, and put the twig back on the fire, holding it until it caught again. And then he'd take his leave.
The first man got the message. Next day a woman did. Pretty soon the story started getting around, and by the end of the month the church was packed… (from Megan McKenna)
Why was the Church packed? Because they understood, they needed the fire, they needed God. And they needed each other. We too need to dream, repent, turn our faces toward God together. Advent is something we do together to catch the fire of Jesus at Christmas.
The season of Advent, with our readings, with the figure of John the Baptist, reminds us of our higher calling, to live more than what our culture says about this time, a time of buying happiness, and instead to make this journey together through Advent.
A journey that begins by making all the preparations in ourselves and our world and helping make this world ready for our God who is coming into its midst. For we are called to repent of our sin, to make the crooked straight, to bring up the lowly, to bring comfort to God’s people…
· Much like our journey to Chapel on the Green today; bringing comfort to the homeless
· the work of Conect (Congregations Organized for a New CT) and all the 25+ congregations and their people coming together to promote job training, affordable health care & home mortgages – Conect gives voice to the voiceless esp. with the government. – They did it together from very diverse faith groups.
The Advent journey we make together is to live in ways that are in harmony with our God and each other, for the time of our salvation is coming near, and we must be ready & eager to meet Christ again this Christmas. Amen.