I started listening to Christmas music early this year. We usually adhere to a strict no-Christmas-music-before-Thanksgiving rule, but my need for comfort was so intense that I felt the call to stray from our usual practice the week before Thanksgiving.
Like much of America, I am beginning this season of Advent with a profound sense of exhaustion. The presidential campaign and election process has afflicted us, corporately and individually, with a mistrust of others, fear for the future, and a scarring in our social fabric that will take work to mend. No matter whether you voted blue or red or somewhere in between, it’s likely that you contracted a case of anxiety along the way — and the continued animosity between friend and kin isn’t helping to relieve those symptoms.
In the wake of the election, I’ve been considering my next steps — and I’m beginning to believe that Advent is the perfect time to begin our repair process.
I’ve been meditating on the first part of Isaiah 40 over the past few weeks, a text set beautifully to music in the tenor air “Comfort Ye” from Handel’s Messiah. The opening verses seem particularly appropriate right now:
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
In context, this pronouncement comes to God’s people at a difficult time, right after a discouraging prophecy has been pronounced over the kingdom of Israel. All is not well in the kingdom, and yet the Lord invites his people to receive his comfort. Similarly, today there is strife on all sides in our own country. What is to be done?
We have work to do in repairing the divisions within our country, but first we will require time to heal, to acknowledge our own human finiteness and wait on God. In my life, this means limiting my own access to news to once or twice a day (instead of checking constantly for new developments) — a practice which has already borne the fruit of some considerable peace in my life. The subsequent verses invite us to “prepare the way for the Lord,” and in peace we can perceive that next path. But today, let us receive God’s comfort, replenish our energy, and allow our souls to heal. The season of Advent seems well-suited for a time of retreat and preparation for the promise of Isaiah 40.5:
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.