What brings you comfort? Is it a person, a season, a time of day, a certain meal? That blanket that you keep at the foot of your bed, the cat or dog who greets you at home? Of course, it's probably not just one of these, but a mixture of many. Sit me down on my couch with the red fleece blanket wrapped around me and my husband in his chair and our dog at his feet, my belly full and a cold and rainy day outside with nowhere to be, maybe Parks and Rec or Harry Potter on TV, or a Louise Penny mystery in my hands--and comfort I will have.
But is that truly comfort?
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.
I first learned this version (thanks, YouTube!) of Isaiah 40 when I was 15. Our youth choir sang it in worship on the fourth Sunday in Advent that year; my first semester of ninth grade had just ended, and boy was I relieved. It wasn't that I hated high school, but it had been a long and weary four months of transition--plus I had experienced my first short-term relationship and spent the short wintry evenings at lengthy swim meets.
All that is to say, I associate this hopeful tune and lyrics with that time--relief at being done with school, joy at having two weeks off to be with my family and friends and not worry about anything outside of that. In a word, comfort. In another word, peace.
Comfort and peace, for a 15-year-old white middle class girl in America.
I'm not disparaging myself for feeling that way 15 years ago, nor for what I count as comfort now. But I have realized that the comfort God, through Isaiah, is talking about does not equate to the superficial level of comfort that, in many ways, stems from privilege. The comfort these prophets speak of is bone-deep, far surpassing cozy afternoons on the couch. And as God incarnate brings this soul-filling, earth-shaking comfort, God also challenges us--particularly those who think we are pretty comfortable now--to look past what we see as comfortable and recognize that we need to do God's work toward making this deep comfort a reality for all.
In my Advent devotion today, we read from Isaiah 1:16-17: "cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow."
It is not a verse the American Christian world seems to be paying a lot of attention to right now.
On Facebook this morning, someone shared this tweet that hasn't stopped resonating for me:
All I can say is, "Amen."
Christmas (and Advent) is about God joining us on earth to understand our lives, our sorrows, our joys, our frustrations, our hardships. And it is about God bringing healing, full-hearted comfort. But if we're God's people on earth, if God came down and dwelt among us, then God must have also expected us to be bearers of that deep-seated comfort for our neighbors. May it be so.
Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
blotting out each dark misdeed.
All deserving divine anger,
God no more shall see nor heed.
She hath suffered many'a day,
now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness
into ever-springing gladness.