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Advent - Proclaiming
“Comfort ye, O Comfort ye O my people”
This for me from Handel’s Messiah is the unmistakeable herald of the Advent season - those wonderful King James Bible words and the rising cadence of Handel’s setting. The commissioning of the second Isaiah to minister to the people of Israel pointing them towards the promises of their return from exile. And very quickly we move to his exhortation to prepare:
“Make straight in the desert a highway for our God”
“Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill made low, the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain.”
And what great preparations these are! The language is that of the near eastern custom of sending representatives ahead to prepare the way for a monarch, to prepare a processional highway for the Lord. But who are we waiting for in this Advent season?
Notice firstly in the opening sentence of this book it says “Comfort your people says your God.” This echoes the covenant made with Israel when they were brought out of Egypt, this is the same God not a new or revised one but the ever living everlasting eternal God of all people yet despite Israel’s experience of punishment and exile, despite our experience of the world as we know it, we are waiting for a God of comfort who will speak tenderly, a God of constancy, not like the flower of the field or the grass that withers but a God of persistent and unchanging love; a god who will care for the weak, the lambs, the least of the flock who he will gather up in his arms and carry in his bosom. A God who is gentle who will gently lead the mother sheep.
And as we wait for such a God those descriptions of the regal preparations seem misplaced. These are not the attributes of a king as we know them, certainly not an Old Testament king. But perhaps we have misunderstood, Isaiah is telling us not only who we are waiting for but how we should wait,
“Get you up to a high mountain, lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, do not fear, say to the cities of Judah ‘Here is your God’”
Do not be afraid, make your Christmas preparations with enthusiasm and vigour but always remembering to tell people why we are doing these things - so that the true meaning does not get lost in activity but is amplified by the way we wait and get ready.