Isaiah 40:1-11 – Comfort for the Weary

The Shepherd by Indian artist P. Solomon Raj (1921-2019)

Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
    that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will 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 like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

You who bring good news to Zion,
    go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
    lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
    say to the towns of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
    and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense accompanies him.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young. (NIV)

As we journey through the Christian Year, we have spent the past twenty-five weeks in the longest season on the Church Calendar: ordinary or proper time. It is only appropriate that the dog days of summer and the bulk of autumn should be within this time.

Most of the Christian’s life is lived in the mundane yet necessary work of mission. Small and seemingly obscure acts of kindness, careful yet often discreet acts of love, and graciously chosen words of encouragement which may not be noticed by many are what mostly characterize the daily pilgrimage of faith.

I am sure the ancient Jewish people felt that, for an awfully long time, they were plodding along as faithfully as they could with often little to show for it. Yet, they knew it would not always be this way. God’s people anticipated that a time was coming when their pedantic service would see the light of day.

I am sure we, too, have times when it feels as if our prayers are only bouncing off the ceiling. In such times, words of comfort and assurance come as a breath of fresh air. When we least expect it, God speaks to us tenderly and with compassion. The Lord steps into our weariness and exhausting work and says, “Enough!”

Whereas our walk with God may often feel like trudging up and down hills, sloshing through muddy valleys, and traversing hard terrain, the proclamation of comfort assures us that it will not always be this way. The way to God will be made level so that we can connect with the Lord post haste.

No matter how much our worldly circumstances break us down, even shattering our expectations and dreams, we carry with us an unflagging vision of wholeness, integrity, and hope. God is our true home, our polestar, our ultimate destiny. Feeling displaced, out of sorts, or like we just do not belong are signs that we long for our place with God.

And when we find our home with God, all might be going to hell around us, yet we are buttressed and sustained by living divine words. For those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts attuned to grace, there is John the Baptist, smoothing the highway to our Lord – preparing the way to Jesus. (Mark 1:1-4)

God, as both the warrior who powerfully fights our battles, and the shepherd who lovingly tends to our needs, firmly takes the initiative to bring us home, going out of the way to gently pick us up and carry us back to the place we belong.

The good news is that the world is changed by God. The world around us is no longer the way we thought it was or was supposed to be. Despair gives way to confident expectation, and discouragement is slowly replaced by consolation. The long exile is coming to an end. Jesus is coming soon. All will be made right; justice and peace will have the day.

Let your hearts be true and humble, as befits God’s holy reign. For the glory of the Lord is on the earth and will be from everlasting to everlasting.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to people of goodwill. We praise you; we bless you; we adore you; we give thanks to you for your great glory. Amen.

Psalm 119:49-56 – Night Reflection

Remember your promise to me;
    it is my only hope.
Your promise revives me;
    it comforts me in all my troubles.
The proud hold me in utter contempt,
    but I do not turn away from your instructions.
I meditate on your age-old regulations;
    O Lord, they comfort me.
I become furious with the wicked,
    because they reject your instructions.
Your decrees have been the theme of my songs
    wherever I have lived.
I reflect at night on who you are, O Lord;
    therefore, I obey your instructions.
This is how I spend my life:
    obeying your commandments. (NLT)

Insomnia happens to everyone, some more than others. We all have experienced the inability to sleep. Then, there are those persons who choose to arise in the middle of the night just to pray. Yes, monks do this, but there are common people who do, as well. In my own times of trying to get to sleep, I think about such persons. I especially and reflexively go to the psalms. Along with the psalmist, I reflect at night on the character and nature of the Lord.

The psalmist seems to be awake at night because he is frustrated and upset with people who both spurn wise instruction and direct their contempt at those trying to live according to God’s Law. Although insomnia might be the result of angry or unwanted feelings, maybe it is something else altogether. Perhaps the psalmist simply chose to be awake at night and do some theological reflection on God, others, and himself.

At various times in my life I have chosen to set my alarm for two o’clock in the morning to pray.  I know it may sound crazy to some. Yet, this discipline has taught me something valuable: God is Lord over all chronological time and every season. And I am a servant of God, not master. 

This nightly exercise of weaving my life around a set time of prayer has caused me to learn that I have spent far too much of my life trying to make time bend to my wishes. It is all really an illusion – that I can somehow control the clock. Time marches forward, seasons come and go, and we are a vapor which lasts only a moment.

Whether we find ourselves awake in the night because we cannot sleep, or intentionally choose to use the night for connecting with God, the wee hours of darkness afford us a unique opportunity to ponder the Lord’s promises and commands, attributes, and works. 

The next time you find yourself awake at night, try avoiding the television and a zombie-like state of hoping for sleep. Try using the night-time for thinking about the Lord in ways you might not have considered during the day. Pray. Reflect. Consider. In doing so, you may find a blessing of light within the dark.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Psalm 119:49-56, NKJV

2 Corinthians 1:1-11

            To be comforted and to comfort others when there is grief, bereavement, or trouble is not a luxury but a significant need which we all possess.  Without comfort there is an abundance of people getting stuck in some stage of denial, anger, bargaining, and/or depression.  The Apostle Paul started off his epistle to the Corinthians mentioning the word “comfort” 10 times in 5 verses.  It is a beautiful word, full of wonderful meaning. 
 
            It is likely that all of us have had both good and bad experiences with others in our own personal season of grief.  Whatever has been said to us of assistance, we can emulate.  And whatever has been said which was unhelpful, we can determine to avoid in assisting others.  Here is the “what” and the “why” of biblical comfort:  We are to come alongside and walk with another through grief, offering helpful words and actions, until the person can accept the new situation and move on.
 
            Now here is the “how:” The way people get unstuck from grief and move on is through telling their story.  The power of listening well to others’ stories is grossly underrated and is vitally needed today.  Spending time with another, asking loving questions, and offering ears to listen, mimics what God does for us in our grief.  He always has a listening ear.  He knows grief better than all of us, because he saw the agonizing death of his one and only Son.  But through Jesus hope is reawakened.  Because of Jesus, there is a future resurrection awaiting us and our loved ones.  Our grief will be turned to joy, and our comfort will overflow.  Thank you, Jesus.
 

 

            Saving God, you have acted with the ultimate love by sending your Son, the Lord Jesus to this earth.  He is familiar with suffering, and knows grief inside and out.  Thank you for the comfort that you offer through the redemptive events of Jesus.  Let your Holy Spirit shape me into one who is both comforted, and is able to comfort others.  Amen.