Comfort, Comfort O my people. Why would we need comfort while anticipating the Christ child? Why would part of ‘what to expect when we are expecting,’ mean that we might need to be comforted, or comfort one another?
While at the airport on Friday when traveling to Columbus Ohio to preach at a dear friend’s ordination, the gatekeepers told me the flight was overbooked, and they were sorry, but they had given my ticket away. I stayed calm at first. That can’t be—I booked this months ago. Other people had checked in before me, and they count on people to cancel, but it was a full flight, and they were sorry, I couldn’t get on the plane. “I am here in time, I have TSA pre-check, I can definitely make it to the gate I insisted!” They refused to print a ticket out, and booked me on a later flight. Still determined, with my later ticket, I breezed through security and marched to the gate to see my flight still there. I took a photo of it. I said to the person, “I have a ticket to the flight, it is still here, surely I can get on this flight.” “No, we over booked.” “That’s not my problem, I am a pastor, I need to preach at an ordination!” “We’re sorry ma’am”. “This is “blanked-up,” I surprised myself, “this system is BS you can’t just give a ticket away!” I started sweating with anger, tears of frustration welling up, “surely there is something you can do.” She handed me a piece of paper with (ahem) United Airline customer service, outsourcing her guilt to an innocent woman on the other line.
I called my friend who was about to be ordained, with disappointment in my voice, and she sang to me through her words, “comfort, comfort.” “Hang in there,” she said, “let me call you back.” And she called me back having already booked a ticket for me on Southwest- truly the best airline around. No one is paying me to say that.
Emotions run high around the holidays. Intensified joy, expectations, sadness, loss, grief. I surprised myself with colorful language and frustration that came out of me- paired with “I am a pastor!” Small things have the ability to destabilize when we have expectations about how things should be. Have you had an experience like this? Small things are symbols for larger things, for our longing about the way we want the world to look and operate. For me, I always get upset when human lives or plans are discarded because someone want to make a buck. The flight was “overbooked” to make money. I want fairness in the world. There is always something behind our hang-ups. It is never just about the small thing. We need a different kind of comfort around the holidays- we need to hear the words, “comfort, comfort.”
The prophet Isaiah presents a vision. Comfort, comfort O my people. Your time of suffering is over. God will make your paths straight, will make things fair, will bring the things you long to see into the world.
So I ask you today, What do you long for? What kind of peace do you long to see? Because of my agitation about people being discarded when corporations want to make a buck, I have experience hope since the Rev. Dr. William Barber launched a poor peoples campaigns, aimed at ending poverty, led by the poor. Have you heard about this? The leadership is from across the political spectrum, across the religious spectrum. They are seeking to re-claim the conversation about morality to make it more about how our society treats those on the margins, and less about sexual ethics. A vision of peace can bring comfort; a clear direction about where we are going and how we get there. Because we long for the world to be a different way. More loving, more fair, with less suffering and corruption and violence. We see so much we want to change; we long for something different. We desire a different vision for the world. Advent holds us in a season of longing and waiting for things to be different than they are.
Yet, we anticipate the gift of the Christ Child as bringing a promise of hope for the world of peace, abundance, freedom for all of God’s children. The gift of this child comes as a teacher or a correction or a comfort to our longings and desires for the world to look different. Because the gift of the Christ child is that God pours God’s love and power out onto creation, making the whole earth sparkle and radiate with God’s nearness, just as we are, just as it is. And we are grateful for the peace that we do have now.
Being with the tension of desire for the world to be different and grateful for what we do have is a gift of the season of Advent. We talk about Advent sometimes as waiting in the dark. The darkest time of the year, the themes of night sky, of the dark fertile soul beneath the snow that came down last night.
Joanna Macy speaks of even pain and grief being places of connection with God. “That dance with despair,” she says, “to see how we’re not called to run from the discomfort and not run from the grief or feelings of outrage or even fear. And that if we can be fearless to be with our pain– it turns, it doesn’t stay static. (It only doesn’t change if we refuse to look at it). But when we look at it, when we take it in our hands, when we can just be with it and keep breathing, then it turns. It turns to reveal its other face and the other face of our pain for the world is our love for the world. Our absolutely inseparable connectedness with all life.”
She reads her translation of Rilke, who trusts darkness and nights.
“In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery
at the crossroads of your senses
the meaning discovered there
And if the world shall cease to hear you
Say to the silent earth “I flow”
And to the rushing water speak, “I am”
What are you longing to see in the world and what are you grateful for now? How are you holding those two spiritual gifts in tension; longing for Christ’s presence and gratitude for what is already blossoming around you, for the way the world sparkles.
What do you long for the most right now, in your life, to see in the world? Your desire could be as simple as spending time with your family, making your flight, being more patient when things aren’t as we expect, being more present in the moment—or big life goals, writing a book, having health, or even bigger, like Israeli and Palestinian peace, decreased gun violence, more equitable systems of education. What do you long for?
Imagine today that John the Baptist stammers up here to this pulpit and comforts you with the wild wisdom in his eyes, that what you desire most is coming for you, is desiring you as well. What you long to see the world is coming to the world, through a Child, Christ Jesus. And then imagine the prophet Isaiah sings from the balcony, “comfort, comfort oh my people”—reassuring you that the vision of the world you so long to see, is surely on its way. You are making it so, with your hoping, and praying and anticipating. You may not see it in your lifetime, but it is surely coming, and we wait, and we have hope. Amen.