Friday, December 5, 2014

Comfort My People

I had an attack of sadness this week.  It is not the first time.  But when I came to consider the readings for today, Isaiah said it all to me.  I wonder what he has to say for you.

Comfort, O comfort my people,
   says your God.  
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
   and cry to her
that she has served her term,
   that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
   double for all her sins. 

My sadness this week was triggered by the passage by the Senate of Migration and Maritime Powers Amendments Bill.  This legislation will change the landscape for refugees seeking protection in Australia.  My sadness was a personal sadness because I have been advocating against these kind of laws for years – along with many others of good will.  My sadness was representative – sad for those who will never gain our protection even though they deserve it.

It is a very complex matter to explain to you.  I think the implications are almost solely for those who arrived here by boat.  Those of you who came through UN facilities overseas should not be adversely affected.  But those who know far more than me about these things are also very sad that our parliament has done this.

Comfort, O comfort my people,
   says your God.  

These are the words we need to hear.  I remember a wise old man illuminating me on the meaning of Comfort.  There are two parts to this word – com and fort.  In the Latin these together mean WITH STRENGTH.  This is not always a part of what we mean when we use the words.  The same is true when we offer comfort to another.  So this is a good word for us today.

But what about the people in this congregation who were refugees?  How many of you have family members still back at home in danger?  How many of you long to have someone in your family join you here in this wonderful place?  As we come to the end of another year that you have been here, perhaps you too are feeling sad that you have still not been able to keep a promise you made.  Maybe you are sad that you have not yet fulfilled a wish or hope you had.

And maybe there are others here who are sad in these days leading up to Christmas.  Perhaps there are squabbles in families.  Perhaps there are disappointments and regrets.  Perhaps there is loss and separation.

Comfort, O comfort my people,
   says your God.  
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

“Jerusalem” simply means “the people of God”.  These words are for us.  The Lord has tender words for us.

And what are the tender words he has for us?  With what would he strengthen us in times like these?  The prophet goes on with these words.  You will be familiar with them because we use them in our liturgies.  Our sacred songs have echoed them as well:

Get you up to a high mountain,
   O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
   O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
   lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
   ‘Here is your God!’ 
See, the Lord God comes with might,
   and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
   and his recompense before him.  
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. 

There is an important message for us in these words.  
We are reminded that our God is HERE. 
Right here! 
With us! 
Not far away! 
With us!

And he has come among us so that he can feed us like a shepherd feeds his sheep.

He has come among us so that he can hold us in his arms – in a loving embrace that protects us and strengthens us.

He has come among us so that he can gently lead us in his ways.

Are these the words you need to hear today?

For me this is the real joy of the Incarnation that we celebrate in the Christmas Season.  That God has come among us.  Oscar Romero once explained it like this.  If Jesus had been born in a  little village in El Salvador and if he had come into the church that Romero was speaking in, Jesus would have looked just like any one of the peasant farmers who were there in church that day.  So today, we need to remember that if Jesus had been born in a western city like this and if he came into our little church here in Hamersley, he would look just like you and me – he would fit right in.

And if he is here with us, then no matter what happens, even if it is not God’s will, Jesus will keep on walking with us, feeding us, loving us, guiding us.  Surely that is a Good News story. 

Comfort, O comfort my people,
   says your God.  

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