Rev Susan Johnson, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, writes a regular column for each issue of Canada Lutheran.
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Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. (Isa. 40:1–11) This beautiful text is the beginning of Handel's Messiah. Listening to this gorgeous, heart-wrenching melody is always a highlight of my Advent season.
But why are we in need of comfort?
For each of us there are different reasons why we need comfort: personal disappointments, tragedies, losses, frustrations. We also share a need for comfort that comes from being in the midst of a broken world. We need comfort in the face of mass starvation, war, poverty, homelessness, AIDS, pollution, global warming—it is overwhelming.
There seems to be little we can do in the face of what seem to be insurmountable odds, and that is another reason why we need comfort. At an even deeper level we feel like Isaiah—all people are grass … the grass withers, the flower fades. We feel like small drops in a big ocean, suddenly aware of our limitations, frailty, and vulnerability.
Our society offers a variety of ways people have used to look for comfort. One way is through escapism, throwing yourself into work or play, staying busy all the time, occupying your mind with movies, television, or video games so that we are not aware of the voice inside of us crying out for comfort. Others escape into a world of drugs and alcohol—chemical ways to try to achieve comfort. Advertisers would have us believe that we can find comfort in buying the right things, the right products.
None of these things really addresses our need for comfort. Comfort is not a quick fix or a magic solution.
But we do know of a real and lasting source of comfort. We have been given the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and this gives us joy. We celebrate this as we prepare again to receive the babe born in Bethlehem. God came down to us in human form and experienced life on earth. Jesus suffered the pain and humiliation of an agonizing death on a cross, of being abandoned by friends and family. God knows and understands our pain and suffering and promises to be with us.
We have also been given the promise of eternal life. Our lives may indeed end in this world, but we are no longer limited to being grass that withers and dies, rather we have been promised that we will be reborn into eternal life. We have been given assurance that we are more than insignificant drops of water in a big ocean. We are each valued and loved by a God who created and redeemed us. We are waiting for the fullness of the reign of God to be brought in, but even now we see flashes of that reign at work in our world.
We are also called to bring comfort to others. We are called to be comforters, and I don't mean large and fluffy quilts! We are called like John to prepare a way for the Lord and announce the good news to those around us, bring peace in the world, straighten roads, level mountains, and fill in valleys.
There is a story of a little girl who was going to bed. She didn't want her mom to leave the room because she was afraid to be alone in the dark. Her mom told her that she didn't need to be afraid because God was with her. The girl responded that, yes, she knew that God was with her, but that she wanted someone with a face!
We are called to be the human face of God. It is a privilege that we have been entrusted to share in the work of God, called to be a church In Mission for Others. This is another source of joy in our lives.
Comfort and joy—may you be able to give and receive them both during these seasons of Advent and Christmas.
Bishop Susan C. Johnson
Canada Lutheran, December 2007