“Comfort ye,” the tenor sings, three gentle syllables descending. He pauses to let the grace in the words linger while the orchestra echoes his descending notes as though to highlight his words. He enters again, higher this time, louder, rising with the marvel of the news then gently falling so our hearts can hear the tenderness with which these words come to us from the heart of our God.
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, says your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem
And cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished
That her iniquity is pardoned.”
(Isaiah 40:1-2, KJV)
The words may be old but the heart behind the words is ageless, pouring out a grace and a truth we long for as much now as when the words were spoken through Isaiah.
“Comfort ye. . .”
I set Handel’s beautiful Oratio, Messiah, to play while I put up my little tree the day before Advent began. I don’t always set up the tree so early in the season, but this year with the extra weight of darkness, the threat and death and loneliness and uncertainty of a pandemic all around us, I want all the reminder I can get that the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. The white twinkle lights remind me, as do the red and gold ribbon crosses I’ve woven for the tree. As, too, do Scripture’s words set to Handel’s beautiful music. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, says your God.”
Advent, for me, carries many precious and intertwining layers of wonder and beauty:
- the marvel of God coming to wear our flesh and share our death so he could put an end to death forever
- themes of light in the darkest part of the year and hope springing after 400 years of God’s silence
- a looking back to the wonder of Jesus’ first coming and a looking forward in preparation for his final coming (Oh, Jesus, may you find us watching!)
- God with us, walking among us, talking with us, eating and sleeping and becoming tired and sick and telling jokes—and in it all, echoing again God’s declaration that our humanness is not just good, but very good. Reminding us that our image-of-God humanness has now been made even more sacred by the Son of God coming to be one of us, and then sending the Holy Spirit to live in us, these frail bodies a temple for the presence of the mighty God.
Some years one of these themes, or another I haven't listed, catches my attention more strongly. But as this Advent begins, I feel myself invited to linger long with this one gift from our God: comfort. It’s the comfort of a friend coming close in a painful time, of a parent humming softly and rocking an overtired child. It’s the comfort of a relationship with space to be honest and find yourself understood and still loved, and the comfort of a God who comes and says through washing feet and making breakfast and stretching his arms wide on a cross, “I love you THIS much.” It's the comfort of knowing that those arms curled tight in a womb and later stretched wide in love are the same arms that hold me forever, and that here in these arms I am safe.
P.S. Here are a couple of lovely resources if you want to linger longer with the comfort of the God who comes to be with us. (Click on the highlighted titles to explore them further.)
- An Abiding Advent - a simple but rich weekly devotional to help you settle more deeply into the comfort of God with us. (I love that this one by my friend Corella Roberts is so simple yet profoundly hopeful. The simple rhythm and quiet prayer practice feel doable and comforting to me even on days and weeks that I’m weary and anxious.)
- The Advent Project - A daily devotional with art, music, poetry, prayer, and a longer reflection. This year the series is framed around the Scripture verses used to form the script of Handel’s Messiah!