The first words of Handel’s Messiah are these:
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. (Isaiah 40:1-2)
In other words, IT IS FINISHED.
This is where it all starts for us: IT IS FINISHED.
Once we were far away; now we have been brought near. (Ephesians 2:13)
The Kingdom of heaven is at hand; it is near; it is within us. (Luke 17:21)
This is the truth that we know: Jesus paid it all.
Here we are.
Here’s a thing I love about Handel’s Messiah: the arrangement of the texts speaks so clearly to the paradox we all live with: the battle is finished, and yet we are still in it.
First words of Messiah: Comfort, finished, pardoned, done.
Next block of text: voices in the wilderness, valleys that need to be exalted, rough places that need to be made plain, a brief flash of the glory of the Lord, and then a whole bunch of stuff about shaking and fire and purification. Then a little bit about a virgin conceiving and good news, more about darkness and then “For Unto Us.” Parts 2 and 3 are similar: promises, promises, promises, “Hallelujah,” then the suffering savior—which, incidentally, is the longest piece of Messiah. Finally, we get to “Worthy is the Lamb” and “Amen.”
The message I take away is this: guys, it’s going to be a mixed bag. Yes, there’s glory and good news, but wow. There are also many rough, dark, suffering places.
And the rough, dark, suffering places just keep coming.
We’re going to need the comfort.
We’re going to need it all the time.
I don’t know what your year’s been like. Mine has been that mixed bag that Messiah predicts.
We’ve had glory and goodness, for sure. Our brand-new granddaughter is right at the top of our goodness list. A lovely daughter-in-law will join our family in the new year. Our college kids are amazing us with their wisdom and love in the world.
And there have been rough, dark places. A terrible, terminal diagnosis for a dear friend. Devastating pain at the suffering our best beloveds have suffered. Confusion and sorrow at the state of the world.
Honestly, a lot of this year has not felt like my warfare is accomplished.
For me, it’s felt more like raise your sword and fight on.
I’ve needed help with that this year. Early this summer, Andy looked at me and said, “You need help.”
And he was right. I was overwhelmed and angry and frankly, it wasn’t getting better.
What I know about myself is this: I have a terrible tendency to push away comfort, which just makes the rough places even rougher.
I have an ongoing battle with another text from Messiah:
His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)
There are two nouns in this text: “yoke” and “burden.”
And we all know this is true: we have heavy things to haul through life.
But the words used by Matthew to describe our yoke and our burden are these:
Now. My tendency is to haul my stuff around like it’s mine, only mine, and there’s nobody here to help me.
But a yoke has two sides, so that two animals can walk side by side, sharing the burden.
Along with the reality of every burden, there is the comfort of God’s great faithful Love, and the comfort of one another, and the comfort of numberless blessings that have the potential to bring peace and rest to our souls.
I just don’t always access the comfort very well in the moment. I sometimes need a prod in the right direction.
So I found a spiritual director this summer, because I needed to verbally process my grief and confusion and pain.
I put more care into my physical body, because I know enough about interpersonal neurobiology to understand that what happens to me doesn’t happen in some isolated cognitive-spiritual chamber. What happens to me happens within this body, and this body needs tender, loving care. I started doing yoga. I worked less and I napped a lot more.
Andy and I went on vacation. I laid myself down in the sand at the edge of the world and just let myself be. I allowed beauty and peace to wash over me with the relentless comfort of the tide: it is finished.
I’m in a much calmer frame of mind these days, but I don’t think this is my final resting place. I know there will be valleys and rough places and darkness ahead. I’ll probably forget to receive comfort. I’ll start hauling that yoke around like it’s nobody’s business but mine. I’ll probably need to be reminded that there’s help, and I need it.
But the truth is this, no matter how often I forget or ignore it:
my warfare is accomplished, and my iniquity is pardoned.
It is finished.
All is well.
This work does not depend on me.
Love has provided on my behalf a wealth beyond my comprehension.
The Light has entered the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
No matter how rough or dark or deep the valley, there is comfort for us all, dear friends.
There is comfort in God’s Love for us.
There is comfort in the gifts of the Body, one for another.
There is comfort in rest for our physical selves.
May we receive comfort, and in return, offer comfort to one another, and to a hurting world.
some thoughts adapted from Comfort Ye My People by Kay Bruner