Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, the penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
These are the words of Advent, made popular through Handel’s Messiah. Out of context, they mean little to those of us who have the privilege of living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. . . Who being Americans value, even relish independence and self-rule. . Who on so many levels live the dream of the Kingdom.
However, when Isaiah first spoke these words, life for Israel was very different. Independence was but a distant memory. The great Davidic kingdom had succumbed to the Babylonian Empire. As we know from the Book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar not only took control of new territories, he desecrated them and then he took the people hostage and dispersed them throughout the empire in an effort to destroy their sense of identity and culture. Over time,Nebuchadnezzar’s plan was to be stamp YAHAWEH out of Israel and Judah as the children of Israel were spread across the empire and forgotten.
The Book of Lamentations is filled with the cries of fallen Israel and all who now must pay the price for their infidelity to YAHWEH. “How long oh, Lord?” the Psalmist cries. And then after a time light begins to shine. The prophet Ezekiel looks out over the ruins of Jerusalem and sees the bones of the fallen rise from the dead, a sign that YAHWEH will restore Israel to its former glory. And now in this second part of Isaiah, the words the Israelites have waited decades to hear have finally come. They have paid their debt, it is time for restoration.
But when? But how? The prophet does not tell us, just that it’s time. How familiar these words feel to us. They are not that different from when Christ’s taught the Kingdom was near. “Near? But Where?” we ask, as we look for the signs he spoke of last week. . .As we wait patiently in the gray of knowing but not really knowing anything.
It seems as if the whole of our lives as Christians is about waiting and watching. These past weeks we have been told to “keep watch.” Like the brides maids a few weeks back we are told to be prepared, to come well stocked for the bride groom could come at any second, but then again, it could also be a long wait.
As a modern day people, patience is not one of our strong suits. If a problem cannot be solved within an hour. . . well actually in forty-five minutes with commercials, we grow frustrated and lose interest. We expect economies to be repaired in a matter of months, not years. And we move quickly from one issue to another in a matter of days, not weeks. Life for us moves rapidly making it hard to accept God’s time is not our time. In our letter from First Peter this morning we were reminded “ that with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.”
So we wait, and watch, knowing the Kingdom is near, that the time has ocome, but not really knowing when or how. All we know is to keep watch for the day will come in the midst of the darkness.
Waiting in darkness is scary. Almost all of us know what that is like. One day we wake up and we are healthy and full of life and then suddenly a mass or lump is found and we are plunged into the dark. Then fear over comes us as we wonder if it is cancer. Our lives lose balance as we endure test after test, scan after scan, still not knowing and fearing what is next.
As many already know, four years ago my family was plunged into that very darkness when my father suddenly took ill with an infection. For twelve weeks he laid in ICU on life support. The Doctors could not tell us what the infection was or how to treat it, and worst of all, they could not tell us if he would live or die. It was twelve long weeks of riding what I have come to call the ICU roller coaster. One hour all looks good, the treatment is working only to be followed soon after with yet another crisis. Like so many other families who have had loved one’s in ICU, we too endured the watching and the waiting in the darkness of not knowing when or how this ordeal would end.
This week many of us joined in the online course on how to stop worrying with Terri Racey. As we worked our way through the course, much of what Terri talked about was how to deal with issues we could take control of, concrete issues and issues about the future that truly are not real yet. But how do we cope with the chronic issues in our lives. Those issues that crop up when family members suffer physical or mental illnesses that we can neither control nor fix but must endure in the darkness of being powerless or not knowing what lays before us.
In the case of my father’s illness, this is where I learned that patience, acceptance and faith are most needed. After a week into his illness, I realized my father would be riding the roller coaster between life and death for many weeks. In order to cope, I would have to embrace living in the darkness of his journey. I also had to come to trust in God and to live in the assurance of the resurrection so that whether my father lived or died it would be okay because there was life for him either way.
Those twelve weeks of waiting and keeping watch through my father’s illness were not easy, in fact, like anything that creates chronic stress, they were downright exhausting, and there were times I wondered if I could endure with in him this marathon of life to the end.
As a people of God and followers of Christ, we are often told we are an Easter people, that we live in the light of the resurrection. And this is true, as an Easter people we do live in the light and the hope of the resurrection, we trust humanity is in the midst of its own recreation and we live with the assurance of life after death.
We are, however, an Advent people as well, who live in the darkness of this broken world, who have come to accept that we are powerless to fully fix it’s problems, and so we have had to learn to embrace the darkness of human life and wait, knowing that the light of a new world has broken forth and will soon reign.
So, Comfort, Comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, the penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.