Comfort, Comfort My People

December 15, 2019

Isaiah 61:1-5; Isaiah 40:1-5

 

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

        Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her season of misery is over.

        And she will receive double for all of the awful things she has had to endure.

        For a voice cries in the wilderness that says “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

        “Make a straight way through the winding desert for our God.

        For every valley shall be filled in and the steep mountains will be graded towards level.

        And the rugged places shall be smoothed out.

        And the glory of God shall be revealed.

        And all of us…. All of us… shall see it.

        Today we lift up one of the more profound hopes of the Bible. God loves us and comes after us when we are most alone and distraught. God finds us. God holds us and is our strength when we cannot find our strength.

        “Comfort, Comfort My People”. Words to the war torn, the refugees, those recovering from violence.

        When I was 23 or so, a chaplain in the Emergency room, I got a call one night, either very late at night or very early in the morning.

        We had a murder victim in the ER, so the Coroner was called in. The mother of the victim was there. For a lot of complicated reasons, her family was not present with her. We needed someone from the family to identify the body and positively confirm their identity. The mother wanted to see her son.

        They called me, the Chaplain, to accompany her. The coroner met me with the mother and we went to the morgue. There is a process that they take you through, with a lot of attention to details. It helps to prepare you to be traumatized…. Somewhat.

        But finally, the orderly pulls down the sheet. His mother gasped like the wind had just been coughed out of her. Her son was probably 19-20 years old. She flooded tears. Later, I thought that all of the love she had stored in her soul for that boy. All the love that she had planned to dole out a tablespoon here and cup there for the rest of his life… All that love. It was like the stopper that held it in just broke and it all came running out.

        The Coroner was right up next to her and he caught her and held her into me and the two of us hugged her as tight, a young man and a wizened older man. She leaned over her son and she brushed his hair over and over with her fingers so that he would look the way she knew him.

        She was so afraid and so alone spiritually. If you could hug away that fear, you would. If you could be some transcendent presence in the midst of that absence you would.

        In some fundamental spiritual ways, it is the loneliness at the heart of grief. It is pacing the floor in the middle of the night filled with undifferentiated anxiety. It comes from an absence of connection. We share this with all higher mammals. Haunting and haggard. We are an embedded species. We need connection. We need to be loved.

        In grief, it feels like an objective dissociation, like we are cut off, even from people that we are usually close to. It is such a personal journey. It seems to magnify itself and you don’t need that. It fragments our sense of meaning too. So it is disorienting, so bewildering and bereft.

        Dante has that arresting line that says, “In the middle of my life, I found myself lost in the woods (spiritually) and I could not find my way home. It is worrisome in a way you cannot control and you aren’t entirely sure will actually end.

        Many years ago, we signed up to be foster parents. You take these classes to answer your most obvious questions, but then there comes a night when you actually get a call from a social worker. It is almost always late at night. Because it is almost always after they have tried to place kids in an emergency situation with relatives, family friends, and every lead has washed out.

        Fortunately, I’m married to a pro. My wife has taught nursery school her whole life. She has wisdom that is present as instinct. One night, we had a three year old boy that came to us, right around midnight. And he was just screaming.

        I don’t know what he had been through. But he was afraid, enraged, and inconsolable. The social worker had to carry him into the house kind of like she was carrying a mannequin, just stiff and rigid. I had no idea what to do.

        I remember Kate stripping off clothes that were wet, putting him in a hot bath as we both scrubbed him down and somehow got him in footy pajamas. Then she put him in the guest bedroom, crisp new sheets and she pulled the covers up tight around him. She got on one side and she had me get on the other side. And we held him in the dark, still screaming.

        And then he slowed down. He was so tired. He was exhausted. And then he stopped, like watching a miracle, like a miracle of love. “Keeping me true, holding me tight” says Dolly Parton in a wonderful song that she sings entitled “You shall be the light”.

        God comes to us in our lives when we are lost, alone, in grief, when we are estranged. And God holds us tight. God keeps us true. God makes us safe. God redeems us when we are broken. God comforts us when we feel so alone.

        In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “God will send the Spirit of Truth to be with you… I will not leave you as orphans; I will be with you (John 14:16-18)”.

        And in this season, we remember that we can be Angels to each other. We don’t have to generate the light of love. We just have to reflect it. We just have to channel it. We can hug each other through our most difficult places in life. We can be a refuge in the storm. We can be real inspiration, and hope, a beacon that guides one another through the self-transcendent, divine power of love.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

                Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her season of misery is over.

        And she will receive double for all of the awful things she has had to endure.

        For a voice cries in the wilderness that says “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

        “Make a straight way through the winding desert for our God.

        For every valley shall be filled in and the steep mountains will be graded towards level.

        And the rugged places shall be smoothed out.

        And the glory of God shall be revealed.

        And all of us…. All of us… shall see it.

        My brothers and sisters, May God pour out the divine peace upon you. Amen.

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