Hearts are breaking all over the world! I see them on the newscast daily, and hear them as I listen to conversations. My own heart breaks for parents, for children, for those who have been given many chances and choose to ignore them, and for those who have been given no chance at all. I grieve for those who have somehow found themselves in harm’s way through no act of their own doing. And I grieve for those who have been suddenly plunged into deep fear and darkness, or who in their lives have only known, in the words of Zora Neale Hurston, “sorrow’s kitchen.” Too many of my friends are in one of these places. It is easy to want to sing the Advent Blues. How welcome then are these prophetic words from Isaiah in this second week of the season:
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord double for all her sins. (Isa. 10:1)
We experience these word in the half-light of Advent where it sometimes seems as if there will never be any comfort to be had. Yet the prophet declared those words to be hope for a people displaced, in exile, far away from the familiar city they loved, the people they knew, the faith practices that had begun in their history together, and people who were as sad and angry as so many are in our world today. In older translations of Christian scripture, Paul characterizes the Holy One as the God of All Comforts (2 Corinthians 1:2), and Isaiah concludes his declaration to the bereft and exiled ones with a description of that Holy One as a shepherd: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. (Isa. 40:11).
As I dwell in the blue glow of Advent, I suspect that my call is to be a harbinger and presence of the comfort of the Shepherd to those whose hearts have been broken, are breaking still. Those that mourn need remembrance and an ear. Those that suffer will long for attentiveness and patience. Those that are outraged by injustice, those that are weary in well-doing, those that live on the margins of neglect and well being, all invite me to bring them a comfort of gentle gathering and carrying and leading while we wait for the dawning of Christ’s coming. And I don’t have to go far to find them: the people down the block, the friend who asks for prayer on Facebook, the seasonal worker trying to make some money in an overcrowded department store on Black Friday, need to have the intimation of God’s comfort that I can bring.
I pray this Advent week in the words of Toyohiko Kagawa, Gentle Shepherd, Let every word that I speak to every one that I meet be filled with tenderness.