"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God..." begins the 40th chapter of Isaiah and the opening lines sung in Handel's Messiah. Comfort is what we all need in this season that is supposed to bring us joy and happiness. Comfort is what we need when we see the world around go trying to go to hell in a hand basket. Comfort is necessary and needful to help us keep our sanity in a crazy, violent world. We all need a little Christmas to be interjected into our lives so we can live in a way that will bring us peace.
The people that Isaiah was speaking to in chapter 40 were people in captivity, in Babylonia, people whose ancestors had been taken hostage many years before and they were living there against their will. Some had decided to make the best of a bad situation and had intermarried with the Babylonians creating the people called Samaritans in the New Testament. Others, though, had heard the tales of Zion and wept for their homeland, a land that many of them had never seen since they were the children and grandchildren of the original people taken to Babylonia. They wanted to be free and to be able to go home to live as they desired.
Finally, the day of liberation came with Cyrus, King of Persia, who conquered the Babylonians and when the dust settled he told the Jews to go home. It was not that he was so kind and benevolent as it was that he did not want to feed and care for a group of foreigners who did not belong in the land he now had to manage. So, they were told to return to their homeland and begin to rebuild it so they could live there.
That is the point of Isaiah 40 where the prophet speaks the word of comfort to his people. They would receive comfort as they began to make their way to the Promised Land once more, a land where their ancestors once had built a Temple to their God Yahweh, a land where they had walls surrounding the city of Jerusalem, a land filled with good things as they planted and watered and harvested their crops. So, Isaiah spoke God's Word to them to tell them that all would be well for them as they made their way to go home.
"Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low..." Even the landscape would change (metaphorically) so that their way would be easier to travel. God would be with them to protect and care for them as a strong warrior and as a shepherd caring for the lambs. They would find comfort in the renewal of their spirits along the waterways of the Jordan as they made their way home.
Those are the tidings of comfort and joy we need to hear in our busy world also. We need to hear words of comfort and joy as we work and do what we want to do in life amid the noise of the tumult and the cry of the sword from rumors of war on almost a daily basis. We need to hear words of comfort as we learn of wildfires and hurricanes and tornadoes and earthquakes that can strike at any time, sending us into a spin and wondering what to do. We need to hear that God is in control and we do not have to worry because our lives belong to God and whatever happens in life God will be there with us and for us.
We need to share this good news with others also. Many have no source of comfort in their lives. They feel alone and abandoned by society. We need to let others know that God is on their side and God wants to bring comfort and peace to them even in the time of turmoil and pain.
Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths. Know that God goes before you and others to show you the path that is the best one for you. As we face the future we can do so without fear because knowing whose we are is as important as knowing who we are. We belong to God and God knows the future, both for us and for all of humanity. The earth is the Lord's and all that dwell in it. Praise God!