God promised to establish a world based on compassion justice and mercy
Comfort ye my people! You can hear the music from Handel’s Messiah mediate these words. We read these words in our reading from Isaiah 40:1 this week. The prophet writes that the people of Israel have suffered enough, they have served their term and their penalty has been paid.
I don’t think that most of us feel like suffering is meted out from the hand of God and that there is a sentence being served. But I do feel that we are in desperate need of being comforted. History teaches us that every generation has had to deal with some combination of war, pestilence and famine. Each of these events arise in unexpected ways and threaten to undo us as a people. We can see the fabric of a society begin to fray as the security of our institutions are stressed and assaulted. Sometimes these assaults are from foreign adversaries, sometimes from natural disasters and sometimes from internal doubt and corruption. In our lifetime we have seen them all.
It seems to me that one of the roles of the church is to echo the voice of the prophet and speak to a people whose faith has been shaken by these destabilizing events. It is in these times of crisis that anything is possible. We have seen nations thrown into chaos and endless strife and suffering. We have seen the advent of despots who have scapegoated enemies internally and externally. We have witnessed civil war as well as massive dehumanizing poverty.
The prophet saw the suffering of the people and struggled to put it in context and inspire the people to move forward. That context was and is, that the God who created the people had promised to deliver the people and establish a world based on justice, compassion and mercy. This is the core character of God and this is to be the core character of the people. With these words chaos and destruction are stemmed, the people are given hope and vision and the ancient cause of a new humanity is rekindled.
The church, in its proclamation of the Word and practice of the Sacraments stands in the position of the ancient prophet. The people who gather find an inner strength in the wisdom and promises of the ancient texts and rituals. These people return from worship with a spirit and confidence and agency to speak and practice hope, justice and mercy. What happens in church is not meant to stay in church, but to infiltrate the culture with God’s presence of compassion. There are many images of the work: light, salt, yeast that helps the bread rise, laborers in the vineyard. We are meant to be all these things.
This Advent we are called, yet again to hear the voice of one crying out in the wilderness to make a road in our current wilderness so that the hope of the ages has a chance to come in and comfort a people who have suffered enough.