*invitation: Read Isaiah 40:1-11
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1).
Isaiah the prophet meets us with words of comfort, words of comfort from God himself. Here’s a dictionary definition to help our imaginations come alive to Isaiah’s heart.
A state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint. The easing or alleviation of a person’s feelings of grief or distress.
Comfort: It’s the narrative pulse of Advent and the whole hope of the Christian story. God is making a way for freedom from the pain of sin. God is making a way for the alleviation of the grief and distress of the whole world. And he won’t just stop at alleviation…restoration and never-before-seen-flourishing are God’s intent, at the end of it all.
In Advent we not only anticipate baby Jesus, but we also anticipate “the once and future coming of Jesus,” as Fleming Rutledge puts it, the final resurrection day that we still long for and look to.
God sees us, comes to be with us an infant child, and saves the whole world by dying and rising and setting into motion the making-new of all of creation, including your tired and weary and wayward heart.
God as a baby, God on the cross, God alive and risen… It’s the ultimate comfort.
The comfort of God is not a surface level, placate-our-longings-just-for-a-moment comfort, but comfort with depth… comfort that meets us in the most intimate ache and says: “God is here. And you are God’s.”
Comfort “my people.” Not “Comfort, vague humanity.” Not “Comfort, you way down there.” But “Comfort, my people.” “Comfort, Anna.” “Comfort *your name here*.”
It’s the story of God-for-us, God-saving-us, God-with-us.
Isaiah locates God’s comfort within God’s enduring and faithful character, in steep contrast to the fickle and unpredictable realities of our mortal lives as humans:
“All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.” (v. 6-8)
Here is the comfort of God via poetry, really: An invitation to receive Isaiah’s theological agenda via repetition, artistry, imagery… the breath of God versus the withering grass of humanity… the fading flower of a mortal life up against the standing-forever Word of our God.
Or, in the words of Robert Alter in his masterpiece study, The Art of Biblical Poetry, Isaiah the preacher-poet contrasts “the ephemerality of humankind and the power and perdurability of God.”
You are wavering. God is steady.
You are small. God is the all-consuming author of all creation.
God, the all-consuming author of creation, is entering into your smallness as a tiny baby– a baby who will need the comfort and around-the-clock nurture of his mother, identifying with our frailty and dependence entirely.
This same baby-God, tiny-infant-God, holds all of eternity together… ‘the power and perdurability of God.’
I needed to learn the word “perdurability” during this Advent season. In one sense, I simply needed to learn this definition, as it popped off the page as new vocab while I was reading Alter: “Perdurability” def.:
- Very durable; permanent; imperishable.
- Theology. eternal; everlasting.
But I needed to learn the word “perdurability” for deeper reasons – as a melancholic personality with deep empathy that sometimes leaves me flailing for something to hold on to, reflecting on the perdurability of God has been a welcome task. Perhaps you can relate. And the perdurability of God does not mean a distant, static, unfeeling God. Far from it. Lean in with me to the tenderness of God Isaiah points us to next:
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep. (v.11)
To be a little sheep held within the bosom of God: that’s the comfort of the perdurability of God on display. God’s grip– it’s durable, permanent, and everlasting.
Will you wonder a bit with me, as we cast our human hearts upon the bosom of God?
Strong Breath of God, meet me here now.
Blow away all that needs to wither and fade in my heart of worries, heart of sorrow, heart of jealousy, pride, hatred…
Holy Spirit, the list goes on…
Strong Breath of God, meet me here now.
Feed me, Shepherd, with your Word.
Gather me into your arms;
Carry me in your bosom
that I may tangibly experience safety in you,
safety from all my fears
Comfort me, God
Comfort me with the hope of Jesus today…
The tiny baby who sees me, loves me, and by his very character shines the brightest light into my darkest places, and the darkest places of the world.