What do you find comforting this Advent?

These are the readings for Tuesday in the Second Week of Advent from the Eucharistic lectionary:

Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people,
   says your God. 
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
   and cry to her
that she has served her term,
   that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
   double for all her sins. 

A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
   make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 
Every valley shall be lifted up,
   and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
   and the rough places a plain. 
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
   and all people shall see it together,
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ 

A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
   And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
   their constancy is like the flower of the field. 
The grass withers, the flower fades,
   when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
   surely the people are grass. 
The grass withers, the flower fades;
   but the word of our God will stand for ever. 
Get you up to a high mountain,
   O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
   O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
   lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
   ‘Here is your God!’ 
See, the Lord God comes with might,
   and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
   and his recompense before him. 
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
   he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
   and gently lead the mother sheep.  

And the Gospel reading:

Matthew 18:12-14

Jesus said, "What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost."


What wonderful readings! As I read through them again today, I thought about what I find comforting these days, which is not necessarily what I might have found comforting another year (or will find comforting in the future). These readings are so gentle - glad tidings, a God of strength and might come to care for the people who are small and mortal.  And Jesus assures us that God does not wish to lose any of us, even when we wander off.

What is sometimes hard about the reading from Matthew is what's also hard about Luke's story of the prodigal son.... If you have ever been the one who wandered off and then was found, then you are filled with love and gratitude for the God who has come to find your and/or welcomed you home.

But if you're the one who hasn't gone astray, the "good one" who did what was right and didn't mess up and need saving in the first place - well, then maybe you don't like the idea of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine "good ones" to go after the Big Mess Up One.  And probably you really don't like the idea that God is happier over that one who was lost but now found than all the "good ones" who didn't need chasing or forgiving.

What about me? the good ones ask. I didn't screw up. I did what I was supposed to. Why don't I get a party? Why am I taken for granted?

All I can say is this: let us rejoice that we have a God who wishes for everyone to be saved.  And who comes to all of us - maybe God has to go a little farther to reach some of us, but all of us are within God's reach. God knows our frailties and foibles and loves us and cares for us and forgives us anyway. And if we haven't strayed very far, well, that's what God hoped for all along. It's hard not to have the party be for us, but we are still always invited.

These stories are not about us. They are about God. They tell us who God is. God loves us all and pursues us out of nothing but love. That's what kind of God we have.  And I find great comfort in that. 


Perpetua said…
Oh, thank you for this, Penny. It's just what I needed to read after a day spent having my eyes tested and receiving confirmation that I will need cataract surgery and also my 3-yearly mammogram, always an anxious time with my history. These words have really calmed and strengthened me.
I'm glad, Perpetua. And I hope that your cataract surgery will go very well. That procedure is becoming routine, but that doesn't make it any less anxiety producing to those slated to have it! Let us know when it is scheduled so that we can hold you in prayer.
Perpetua said…
Thanks, Penny, but surgery is a little way off yet. My GP will now refer me to the hospital consultant who will take things from there. There is almost certainly a waiting list ion the NHS for routine surgery like this. The price of a health service free at the point of need.
Bill Bynum said…
Thanks for a nicely written, thoughtful and thought-provoking essay. As one of the ones who seems to require God's long reach, I do indeed take comfort from the fact that God loves us all and pursues us out of nothing but love.
Thanks, Bill. I'm with you there.