It took me a few tries before I really caught onto the opening words from Georg Friedrich Händel’s Messiah. I was still settling into the hard church pew, slowly pushing away the distractions and thoughts in my mind, before I remembered to concentrate on what the Tenor was singing.
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God”
These words from the first verse of Isaiah 40 are often read at the beginning of Advent. They introduce the idea that a Messiah will come, that a saviour will free, and heal the people of Jerusalem. Many promises are declared to the people of Israel in Isaiah 40, many promises are declared through scripture in the words of the Messiah Oratorio, but they all begin with comfort.
I had forgotten that God wants to comfort us. I had forgotten that the Christmas message, the prophecy of the Messiah, begins with comfort. I think we skip forward too quickly to expectation of what will be fulfilled. We want all that is promised to happen, we want peace, and renewed hearts and wills, we want positive action, and we forget that we first need to be comforted.
Being comforted does not mean being comfortable. It doesn’t even mean to be without pain or hurt. Being comforted means allowing God to wrap his arms around our pain and heartaches. Sometimes the bandages we’ve plastered on to hide our wounds need to be taken off, sometimes we need to admit that we’re hurting, that all is not well. We hear of another migrant boar capsizing, another dark skinned teen being shot, another terrorist attack by IS, another air strike killing civilians, another child abandoned or harmed, another loved one going through chemo, and we grow numb. But pain is pain and we need to be comforted. We need to hear God promising that it will not always be like this.
I’ve skipped past the comfort so many times. I’ve gone straight to demanding that the baby Emmanuel be the God with me, that Christmas be a time where I help others feel they are loved and where I am loved back. Instead of preparing my heart to accept God’s comfort, I’ve prepared ‘stuff’, with side thoughts of how I might be a better person thrown in for good measure.
But when these words, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God”, were repeated over and over, I felt my wounds open up before God. I felt the total lack of control we have over world events, over health, over our own wellbeing. I felt the need to let go and be comforted and to hold onto God’s promises. It was a process and thankfully, Händel’s Messiah gives us time to dwell on God’s word, but I was ready to declare with the Chorus “Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6).
By Jasmine Chandra