1 Comfort, comfort my people!
says your God.
2 Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended,
that her penalty has been paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins!
3 A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
4 Every valley will be raised up,
and every mountain and hill will be flattened.
Uneven ground will become level,
and rough terrain a valley plain.
5 The Lord’s glory will appear,
and all humanity will see it together;
the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”
Isaiah 40 [CEB]
I received news of a death of a patient recently. I had been involved in care for the patient for many months. While the death was not unexpected, the rapidity to which the disease took over and snuffed out life was shocking. Now the family and friends go about the difficult task of finding hope and encouragement in a time of year when the grieving are often overlooked. Not intentionally, mind you. Chalk it up to short-sightedness, exhaustion or busy-ness — we just forget.
These words from Isaiah, traditionally read in Advent, bring a forward focus in God’s promise of forgiveness, restoration and healing. The word is out – God personally will appear. We will all see it. GOD-WITH-US will hold every aching heart close as our “compulsory service” of life with its pain and sorrow has ended.
Those first steps forward are the hardest, though.
This morning I read through a liturgy for a “Blue Christmas” service (elsewhere called “Comfort and Joy” or “Christmas Memorial Service”.) For those in a time of mourning and loss, there are no words which are adequate. Yet on some level it is helpful to find an opportunity to stop and reflect, to pray and cry, to listen to the healing words of the Spirit.
I recommend Christmas Liturgy in a Minor Key. It uses Scripture and the antiphons of the plainsong Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O Come Emmanuel). Maybe you need to read through it alone or with a friend… and feel God’s comfort.