We are now into the second Sunday of Advent,
as we continue our waiting and longing for Christmas.
We likely will hear the Advent and Christmas texts very differently this year.
This is a year like no other, and a holiday season like none before.
Perhaps you will hear our sermon text,
our first Reading from Isaiah Chapter 40,
differently as well this year.
“Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God”,
The verses to our reading begin.
“In the beginning of the sixth century BCE, Babylon invaded Judah,
destroyed much of Jerusalem, interrupted the economy,
and deported leading citizens to Babylon;
It occupied the land for fifty years.” (Kathleen O’Connor)
It is in this context that these words were written,
decades after their deportation, to a nation in exile struggling with its identity and with its faith structures.
A context which bears some similarities to the situation we’re in currently.
The people of Israel no doubt wondered:
Will we ever be restored?
Will we ever get back to the life we once knew,
to the places and people that were home to us?
When we return, will we be able to re-invent ourselves,
for certainly we won’t be able to just continue where we left off!
Too much time has passed.
We ourselves could ask these same questions.
Comfort, O Comfort my people
Perhaps you might have the famous aria from Handel’s Messiah in your ear:
With the tenor so soothingly singing “comfort ye” my people.
We need comfort these days so desperately.
Not only the comfort of a comfortable armchair,
or a comfy old pair of sneakers or a favourite sweater.
No, we need true comfort, divine, deep and sustaining comfort
in these trying pandemic times.
We are mourning under sorrow’s load, the absence of loved ones, we are missing conversations over dinner tables, hugs with friends,
With Facetime and Zoom providing pale substitutes.
The telephone works, but you can’t see your counterpart’s face,
reach out and touch, and hold hands.
In these words of comfort from Isaiah,
We hear Gods’ promise, that “He will feed his flock like a shepherd,
Gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them”.
We long to be carried like lambs in God’s arms,
to be carried like we were carried as young children by our parent,
When life was simpler and more care-free.
What does God’s comfort look like in 2020?
We might remember back to February, as we looked with fear at other countries with spiking numbers, like Spain and Italy,
and we wondered if the virus could come here.
We heard worst case scenarios, of 70% of the world population infected,
of refrigerated trucks lining up at morgues.
Then came the Summer: with a little breather, and relaxations of rules,
and some carefree outdoor times.
It seemed we could perhaps beat this, maybe, one day.
Then the Fall arrived with new fears of the second wave,
and schools closing by Thanksgiving,
and then things not turning out as badly through October,
But then a creeping realization through November
that this second wave is really real.
And now Code Red in the Region,
and a return of closed church buildings,
And daily COVID tallies climbing and climbing.
Yet this week, hope re-emerges with the approval in the UK of the first vaccine, and suddenly, maybe,
there is a weak shimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
Is it an oncoming train?
Hopefully we will not be deceived with a false hope or a mirage.
They say “second quarter of 2021.”
Perhaps we can last a bit longer, though it has been a long haul so far.
Take it two months at a time, and see where we land in February.
We just got to get through, week by week, following public health advice.
Through this year, and into the new year,
we need to cling fast to the promises that Israel clung to,
The covenant, the contractual relationship between God and God’s people.
God will not abandon us and God does not abandon us.
God promises comfort, and comfort will come.
God’s comfort in 2020 will look and feel differently for everyone.
For some it’s as simple as the fact they’re still alive today.
Others will have felt God’s comfort at various times in the past 9 months, sometimes warmer, sometimes colder.
For som, the loneliness and isolation will have removed the distractions which sometimes obscure or hide God’s comfort.
For others, the loneliness this year may have made God’s comfort feel more distant than ever before.
Others still may question God’s power and love.
Often in troubling times this comes quite naturally.
We may ask: "Does God hear us?”
This cry of the afflicted, this cry of those in pain,
Resonates deeply around the globe.
In this Advent season of looking towards the future,
We need to stay hopeful.
Let’s keep saying:
“If and when we get out of this COVID mess.”
When we say “if”, we affirm there’s a chance,
In God’s time, whenever that may be.
In this Advent waiting and watching in the pandemic desert,
We need: Patience.
We know: we are exiled from our church building once again,
Exiled from our normal patterns,
And gathering festivities of the season.
There will be nNo extra-large turkeys this year.
Hopefully we can find some peace, with a little less rushing around,
Even if enforced through pandemic legislation.
The Grass withers, the flowers fade,
The coronavirus will fade,
but the Word of God will stand forever.
There is comfort in God’s word, esp. in God’s words of:
Comfort, comfort now, my people. Amen.