“Comfort, Comfort ye my People”
I like doing handyman stuff around the house – fixing plumbing, chopping wood, repairing walls, doing simple carpentry, and so on. If I have an event to attend – like dinner with friends – I have to schedule in time beforehand to take a shower and change my clothes. (Truthfully, I’m not allowed to sit on the furniture in my own lounge until I’ve cleaned up. Imagine!) Anyway, the point is that there is something fundamentally disrespectful in arriving dirty and disheveled at someone’s house for dinner or attending a special event (like a wedding) in this state. It’s just wrong. And it feels wrong. And it’s embarrassing to do so. However, this is not a post about etiquette, it is a post about Advent.
A significant aspect of the season of Advent is repentance. It is an essential part of our relationship with God. When I say this, I know it sounds to many like God is harsh or unapproachable, but actually that is not at the heart of why repentance matters. Repentance comes out of the right perception of who God is and who we are. He is holy and we are sinful. Just like the clean and well laid out home or dinner, and the well-dressed other guests makes my grubby clothes stick out as inappropriate, so too my encounter with the majestic glory of God’s holiness makes my sinfulness stick out as a shameful dishonouring of Him.
Only a few Advent and Christmas hymns make a point about repentance (as far as I know), but one that does is, “Comfort, Comfort, my People” translated from the German by Catherine Winkworth (1827 – 1878). CLICK HERE to listen to a contemporary setting of the hymn. Here are two of the verses:
For the herald's voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
bidding all men to repentance
since the kingdom now is here.
Oh that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way;
let the valleys rise to meet him
and the hills bow down to greet him.
Make ye straight what long was crooked;
make the rougher places plain;
let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits his holy reign,
for the glory of the Lord
now o'er earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that his word is never broken.
Hyatt Moore, Conversion of Paul
The imagery for the hymn comes from Isaiah 40:1-5. It starts, “Comfort, comfort my people says your God.” Immediately it is clear that the focus is not judgment. The focus is reassurance, comfort, tenderness (v 2) because God is coming in might and power with his reward (v 10). He is coming to gather his flock and “carry them in his bosom” (v 11). He is doing this because “her warfare is ended, her iniquity is pardoned” (v 2). It is both appropriate and necessary, in the circumstances, to prepare ourselves. We must hear the voice in the wilderness crying “prepare the way of the Lord” (v 3).
That preparation is repentance – making crooked paths straight, lifting up valleys, flattening mountains, levelling rough ground (v 3-4). This is done in joyful anticipation, not in fear and dread. Just as I like to clean up after I’ve been doing messy work – to put on fresh clothes and comb my hair (the few that are left!) – so repentance is a similar process of cleaning up in anticipation of the coming of the Lord.
Use this season to get your own heart right with God. He is coming (again) and is bringing his reward.
In His grace