God’s People Are Comforted

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.A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
‘Here is your God!’
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

—Isaiah 40:1-11

In this scripture I hear a conversation between characters from Winnie the Pooh. Owl, the wise one starts: “Comfort is coming, Israel has served her term and now, she will be redeemed. The loving Lord has given her new life. It has been long, and hard, but we have persevered and stayed faithful (even though we grumbled!) and now we will rejoice in God’s favor.”

Then the sweet, open, innocent voice of Winnie the Pooh: “Make way! Clear the brambles from the road, smooth the mountain passes, the Lord has shown God’s glory and soon we will all be able to see and feel it. God has spoken to us!”

And yet, in spite of the good news Eeyore complains: “Who cares? Everything is ruined anyway. The grass has withered, the flower has faded. We are like the flowers, withered, tired; God has come too late for us. Woe, woe, woe.”

Winnie answers him: “No, my friend, the grass may be withered and the flowers may have faded, but…can’t you see?  God’s word is forever! Come up here, on the mountain with us, and see. Sing praise to God with us. Proclaim with us, “Here is our God!”

And Owl sums it up, “Rejoice, indeed. Our Lord comes in might, with strength and protection and reconciliation. God will gather us as a shepherd gathers his sheep, and God will carry us, lead us, gently, into life.

Our world right now seems dusty, barren and barely livable. Many in the United States and more around the world live without enough food. People are still warring against one another; women and the poor are oppressed, still. It does seem as if life is withered and faded. We hear very few hopeful stories in mainline media. We receive so little nourishment; our souls may feel withered and faded.

The media get a lot of footage and pictures out of the barrenness of the world. That withered grass is good press; the soulnessness of humans is good press. Those are the news reports that lead the evening news; those are the front page articles in the newspaper and in magazines. We often get a lot of mileage out of pouting and proclaiming gloom and doom. It is so much easier to complain about the hurt we have received, to moan about how much we have suffered and how much we don’t have. But does that really feel better than joy? Does it nourish our soul as much as recognizing God’s gifts?

The story of Advent is this: Jesus is coming! Jesus IS coming! The One who encourages, reminds, prods, enlightens us is coming! Our God is coming to breathe air into us, to water our parched souls, to show us how to create with God a world of potential, a world where God will gather us, and feed us, and lead us gently into life. Our God is full of love for us, God weeps with us at the sorrow in the world, God yearns to share our lives, to fill us with love and teach us how to share that love.

How many times do we hold on to the memories of the bitterness and the times of hardship, keep our eyes and hearts closed to the potential of forgiveness and reconciliation, keep ourselves from reveling in the love of God, who, after all, is all.

My prayer is that this advent we remember the voice of the herald, O come, O come Emmanuel.  God with us (forever), God within us (always and forever).  Alleluia, Amen.

***

Terri Gibbons is a member in discernment in the United Church of Christ. She is a graduate of the Claremont School of Theology and plans to serve her ministry as a Chaplain for end-of-life care.

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