Scripture reading for today:
Years ago I attended a conference on the state of the environment.
The consensus among the scientists who spoke there was damning.
We’re all too far down the path to turn back, they said.
The earth is done.
No small acts of organic gardening
or using less fossil fuels by biking
or taking public transit
or eating lower on the food chain would help.
The individual can do nothing. All is lost. Eat. Drink. Be merry.
In the Anglican tradition, just after the confession and absolution, the early prayer books insert something called “Comfortable Words.” Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all who truly turn to him, the presider says – which is followed by readings from scripture meaning to provide encouragement amidst the struggles of life.
Isaiah, chapter 40 could be considered some of the most comforting of “Comfortable Words.”
Just before chapter 40 – back in chapter 39 – we hear of an impending pillage from the Babylonians. All that the Hebrew ancestors worked for will be taken. The people will pay for their sins. All is lost.
And then the whole tone changes. God says, through the prophet Isaiah:
Comfort, comfort my people.
Such beautiful words.
Not just one word of comfort – but a tender repetition.
Like a mother soothing a child.
Who in today’s world needs to hear God’s words of comfort amidst seeming hopelessness?
And what does it mean to hear words of comfort not just from places of relative privilege and power – but from the margins?
What might spoken words of comfort mean:
For a person living on a small island where the water is rising due to global warming?
For a single mother trying to find housing in one of our Canadian cities that she can actually afford?
For a marcher in a Black Lives Matter protest?
For someone deeply lonely even though surrounded by the masses.
For a group of women talking about their experiences of #metoo or #churchtoo?
For someone who doesn’t fit into our theological boxes longing for home and community in the Church?
For a church planter struggling with their vocation and ‘failure’?
For an indigenous community whose water source is tainted due to resource extraction?
What does it look like to hear God’s words of comfort as one waits on the margins?
There’s a lot right now in the news, in politics – even in the Church – that makes hope seem futile.
But then God – through the ancient prophet – bursts across time and space and culture with comfortable words.
The voice of God says:
Comfort my people…
The penalty has been paid…
The glory of the Lord will be revealed…
God will carry us in God’s bosom.
Or, as one singer-songwriter put it:
One day you’re waiting for the sky to fall
The next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all… (Bruce Cockburn)
At that same environmental conference, it was the theologians who had the last say.
Which is why I didn’t leave despondent.
They too affirmed that things are dire. But they reminded us that, with God, all things are possible. They talked of a hope beyond all hope – an ultimate hope rooted in Jesus Christ.
Compared to so many in our neighbourhood, our city, our country, our world – I’m hardly waiting on the margins.
But if those scientists were right – if the prophets are right – we all need an audacious hope in the face of imminent doom.If the prophets are right – we all need an audacious hope in the face of imminent doom Click To Tweet
And God knows there are times when we need comfort. We all need a little hope.
It’s that hope reflected in St. Paul’s reading today:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
And so friends, we open our ears and our hearts to these comfortable words even as we hope and wait.
But our waiting is not passive.
Because you see, I think those scientists were wrong – for we too respond to the waiting of the groaning creation as the daughters and sons of the living God. As followers of the Messiah – who has come and will come again.
And so we do live as if the Kingdom of God is here now.
We do live as though we love the Creator and, in loving the Creator – we love the creation.
Yes – God does the transforming – and God’s action will overcome the seemingly impossible hopelessness.
But creation has been waiting for the revealing of the children of God. We too have our role.
And still we God’s children wait. We need God’s comfort.
And so we do open our ears and hearts to the comfortable words of the Lord:
Comfort, O Comfort my people.
O come, messiah, come.
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.
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