I have been wondering how to take the Advent charge to prepare the way for the coming of the Holy One into my little corner of the world, into my little sphere of influence. As often happens, I am given direction by sacred text in Scripture and in song. In this 17th Century Advent hymn, Joannes Olearius gives us this direction based on Isaiah 40:
Comfort, comfort you my people, tell of peace, thus says our God; comfort those who sit in darkness bowed beneath oppression’s load. Speak you to Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them; tell them that their sins I cover, and their warfare now is over.
I can prepare the way by speaking of and being comfort to the world. So much of the speech in the air around my head is not comforting—it is sad, is terrible, it is outrageous: A helicopter crashes into a bar. A country tries to gather its limited resources and people together after a super-typhoon. Yet another person of power is unmasked in misuse of that power. My own circle of friends suffer too with illness and long tedious rehabilitation. Church leaders are having to choose between congregations they serve and the denominations which have been their lifelong home. Heartbreak seems to be rife.
So my Advent task this week is speak comfort…not an easy comfort, not a facile bromide, but comfort that is grounded in a sure trust that we follow the One who is God-with-us. To the one who weeps in darkness, I can speak and, maybe reflect, the Holy Light of Presence. To the ones who feel shame and guilt, I can speak and enact forgiving Grace. To the embattled and beleaguered, I can speak the promise of peace.
I look at this first week of Advent. In the darkness of waiting, I am choosing to speak comfort by listening attentively to the anxiety and frustration of my friends who feel that they are stymied and without hope, then assure them of the presence of the Holy One. I can speak comfort by not having to have a solution for every snafu, an answer for every question, but rather talk in faith of the Light who shines, whom the darkness cannot extinguish. I will speak comfort to the clerk at the drugstore, the temp at the gift store, the postal worker behind the counter, by speaking words of encouragement and friendship. I can speak the truth in love to those who are frazzled and frayed. I can speak comfort to the mourning ones by just showing up and sitting with them for a spell.
Isaiah’ s powerful metaphor in Chapter 66 likens God to a mother who comforts her child. I know that way of speaking comfort in my bones; I learned it from my mother and grandmother. For me this the week, I gather, in body or in spirit, the motherless ones who need to feel the God of All Comforts to my own heart. I am preparing the way for the Holy One to be born.