Isaiah 40: 1-5; 9-11; Mark 1: 1-8
“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” What beautiful words from Isaiah today; a message of hope and comfort to a people onto the other side of exile. But four or five times today there is also another message that repeats itself from both Isaiah and in Mark’s Gospel, “a voice cries out…” All any of us needs to do is turn on the news these days and you can’t help but wonder about that voice that cries out for comfort and strength. We hear the cries of injustice, inequality, poverty, oppression, and it doesn’t seem to go away. As a matter of fact, that voice crying out seems to get louder and louder by the day.
Now we, as humans, may never agree on the details of all of it. Whether it’s right or wrong, truth or not, or whatever the case, but that’s because the media and we as humans like to keep it on the surface and never really deal with the issues that lie beneath the surface of inequality, poverty, oppression, injustices that we witness. We see divisiveness. We hear hatred and fear being spewed. Someone out there just kicks back and watches it unfold, but it isn’t the God of comfort and strength. There is one thing we can agree on, though, that can possibly be the common ground that is needed to address institutions and systems that are dysfunctional at best. Can we all begin with the premise, as it was for people Israel, that there is a great deal of hurt and suffering in the world, on every side of every argument. Pope Francis has spoken of this regularly about the violence that ensues in our world. The more people hurt and are suffering, the more inequality and injustice is prevalent, people will react and quite honestly, in violent ways. We all do it. Yet, the prayer of Isaiah remains our prayer these days, comfort, give comfort to my people.
People Israel knew the realities of inequality and injustice probably more than most people’s in history. They find themselves at the moment when exile begins to end but a time to reflect upon how they have suffered and the pain that they have experienced in their lives. It was violence beyond our imagination. People crying out for a God to be with and to be present and yet, so often felt unfound in the midst of such atrocity. But they aren’t the only ones that know and knew exile. It’s our story as well. In this life we all find ourselves in exile trying to make our way and return to God within today and in the end times. Exile is a part of us and because of that, so too is violence. As much as we’ve seen enough and experienced enough in our lives, it’s not until we can begin to let go of our own judgments, our own hatreds, our own hurts and pains, seeking healing and forgiveness, can we move from violence to love. And so the choice is ours, do we give stones or bread? Do we give violence or forgiveness? Do we give love or fear and hatred? The choice is ours over and over again.
We will hear both this week and next from John the Baptist who preaches the message of repentance. This isn’t just about going to confession and seeking forgiveness of our sins, although that’s important as well. It’s about a total change of our lives, our perspectives on life, the lens by which we see one another. The people still knew of injustice and inequality at his time. They still knew poverty and oppression as we do today. They are realities. But God did something different. It was no longer going out there somewhere to find this God who offers comfort. Our God came and comes to us, in this moment. And maybe the craziest thing of all, it’s exactly in our own poverty that God wants to meet and encounter us to bring about healing and comfort.
We see so much violence, participate in it, act upon it, not always out of what it seems or appears, but about something much deeper that goes on within us. It is the voice that cries out within that we so often want to quiet and that many others want to quiet because it speaks of change; it speaks of the realities of violence that plague our relationships and our lives. In the desert of our hearts and souls, we hurt and we ache; we suffer and experience pain. Not just somewhere beyond our borders, but here in these pews and in these streets; it’s here and it can be the place that unites us rather than divide, under and within the wounds of our God who humbled himself to come into our own broken humanity. If it is divisive, then it is not from God; God unites!Not to bring about more violence, hatred, and deep-rooted fear, but to offer us healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness for all that we hold onto and has defined our lives in the exile we often create for ourselves, by what we do and say and by our own fragility as humans, as brothers and sisters. As we continue this journey through Advent allow the prayer of Isaiah to be our prayer today and beyond, “Comfort, give comfort to my people, Lord.”