“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2 )
One of the Christmas songs I find running through my head this season is “God rest ye merry gentlemen.” (And yes, the word “ye” is the one that I use.) So curious was about this song that I decided to read up on it. One of the things I found out is that the the comma or pause is to come after the word “merry” and not elsewhere. This means that the hope and sentiment is that God would be good to the ‘gentlemen’ and not that the gentlemen would be merry. (And in this era of political correctness, I would venture to suggest that the term ‘gentlefolk’ would be used.)
The next line of this Christmas song says, “Let nothing you dismay” and has the same ‘backwards’ format where the noun is placed before the verb; so the sentiment is actually ‘let nothing dismay you’. This connects to the passage for today, and again why my mind is drawn to this Christmas song. The refrain “O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy” reflects on the previous stanzas “Jesus Christ our Saviour / Was born upon this day, / To save us all from Satan’s power / When we were gone astray.” And this is ‘tender’ news that explains why Jerusalem’s “hard service” is done and why her sins are forgiven. It is also tender news to us.
Our Anabaptists fore-bearers also considered the comfort that God, Christ, and the Spirit brings. Leonhard Schiemer wrote, “One must hope for the comfort of the Lord and sit still. The Scriptures tell us in many places, especially in the Psalms, the prophets, in Isaiah and the Lamentations of Jeremiah that the whole strength of Christians consists of being still. It is in not giving up in discouragement, but to be patient and thus to await the comfort of the Holy Spirit amid the greatest desolation and misery . . . .It is not a matter of solitary waiting for the comfort of God, but a Christian should and is able to encourage others and give comfort in tribulation.”
What greater comfort can there be but to hear that one’s difficulty and sins are behind them? It was news that the writer of Isaiah wished his audience to know; news that Schiemer wanted his friends and family to know; and news that is part of each Advent season. In this Advent and Christmas season may you have this peace within you and share it with others. And as the last verse of the Christmas song says, “Now to the Lord sing praises, / All you within this place, / And with true love and brotherhood / Each other now embrace.” Selah!