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Monday, November 28, 2016
Comfort, comfort now my people;
tell of peace!” So says our God.
“Comfort those who sit in darkness
mourning under sorrow’s load.
To my people now proclaim
that my pardon waits for them!
Tell them that their sins I cover,
and their warfare is now over.”
For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
calling us to true repentance,
since the reign of God is here.
O, that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God away.
Let the valleys rise in meeting
and the hills bow down in greeting.
Johannes Olearius’s “Comfort, Comfort Now My People” (tune: Genevan)
trans. Catherine Winkworth
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
“Comfort my people.” Thanks; I could use some comforting. So could far too many of the people I know, not to mention communities I hear about from news stories.
I confess my mood rarely coincides with the one prescribed by the cultural calendar. Whether I’m hearing a sincere “Be cheerful! Be joyful! Give more of yourself to more events, to friends, family, strangers!” or a more shallow “Buy stuff! Have more fun! Decorate these ways! Watch and re-watch these shows and movies! Listen to this music! And buy more stuff,” I am one who rarely exhibits or feels “holiday cheer.”
I appreciate that this hymn begins with the premise that what my people need is not more cheer but comfort. Things are cold, messed up, tragic, and full of loss, and we, collectively, as a people, need comfort. “Sitting in darkness, mourning under sorrow’s load?” Yup, that’s me. So what’s the comfort? What’s going to happen?
Pardon. Forgiveness. Warfare over. I was hoping for the end of literal warfare, the end of violence, oppression. But we’re talking about personal wars here. Wars caused by our own sins, our contradictory actions and desires, the wars we’re fighting in our own heads and that all too frequently spill out into our relationships, creating an external proof of our internal strife.
But the second verse is a call to action and a warning. Get ready. With “true repentance.” Wait, doesn’t that feel pretty awful? Repenting is to feel sorry, right? To feel rotten, contrite. That’s going to bring peace? Feeling terrible? I thought this was supposed to comfort me! Comfort me from my misery; don’t make me feel bad!
Is repentance something else? Is there some shift, some preparatory action I can take, internally or externally, that will ready me for God’s peace, God’s comfort?
What is preparing to be comforted? I can’t earn or create forgiveness, but perhaps I need to do something in order to feel it, acknowledge it. If I’m in a receptive state, might I notice that God is there? If open myself, will I see love, peace, comfort? Maybe in the form of a friend, in the abundance of blessings I forget to appreciate? In the form of an event, or an idea? Perhaps a momentary alleviation of sadness when I take a breath in and out.
I can’t count on what it will look like or how it will happen. Is this really a seasonal occurrence? Not really. But if the season reminds me to do the prep work, I guess it’s as good a time as any. I will take the season and try to get ready for a shift.
Dear God, I want your peace and your comfort so badly, and I keep getting in the way. How do I prepare for your presence? How do I repent and make myself ready to receive you? Please help me. Amen.
Written by Kat Evans, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
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