Advent Expectations: Comfort, Comfort

Isaiah 40:1-11

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 theLord 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 forever.

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.

***

I can’t remember when I was a child, if I was afraid of the dark. I do remember that my younger brother was always a little uncertain at night. It probably didn’t help that he had a horrible older sister that loved to hide in his room and jump out as he walked in just to startle him and watch him jump 10 feet into the air. When it was time to sleep he had a little Snoopy night light. Somehow it comforted him – that small, tiny light, and not so much the goofy cartoon character, but the warm glow that allowed him to see a little – that allowed him to slumber in peace at night.

Now that we have babies we get asked one question often: How are they sleeping through the night? We usually laugh in response. Sleeping peacefully at night seems like an urban legend. In fact, “sleeping like a baby,” has a whole new meaning for us, and those who use the phrase to mean sleeping deeply and soundly do not have babies. It’s been quite the obsession for us – something we always took for granted. We never expected it would become almost the center of our lives – trying to understand sleep, sleep issues, sleep patterns, sleep routines, sleep associations.

We have had good months, hard months, easy weeks, and weeks that seem like they will never end because no one is getting any sleep, even Ellis, our Boxer dog will look sluggish. Now, lately, Desmond has figured out how to stand on his own, and he has taken to pulling himself up by clutching the rail and rattling his “cage,” bellowing to be let out. This is happening for every nap, and when we put him down to sleep at night. But, at night his shouting turns into screeching and eventually all out crying, and when I go up to check on him, he has big tears in his eyes. I know there is something about separation anxiety at this stage, but I am beginning to wonder if he also feels anxious in the dark, too. What’s amazing is that – whether it’s me or his daddy – as soon as we pick him up, he stops immediately. One thing comforts him in these moments, and that’s being in our arms.

Such a simple, small story, but it came to mind when I read Isaiah this week.

With a tender tone, like the whispers of a parent speaking into the ears of a wailing baby, God gathers Israel in her arms and says, “Here I am.” And, a peace, like Paul writes centuries later, one that surpasses all understanding, washes over her as she rests her head. God’s majesty, God’s glory, God’s strength is in God’s presence, and it is experienced when we are held close to God’s heart.

We experience that light in numerous ways – not only through stars and lamps – but through an encouraging word or through the sharing of a meal. Even as we table together, as we break bread and share God’s cup of reconciliation, in this simple feast, we may experience the fullness of God’s comfort and peace, the reminder that we do not sit in darkness alone.