Monday, December 09, 2019

Comfort Y'all, My People

The following was my brief reflection in response to the theme question of our Advent season at SMC: "What are we waiting for?" and the theme word, "Comfort" drawn from the the text, Isaiah 40:1-11.  It wasn't quite the sermon, but it has a lot of sermon qualities.
Like, me, I’m sure that many of you, when you hear the text of Isaiah 40, “Comfort, O Comfort my people” hear music in their heads, whether that’s, "Comfort, comfort O my people, speak of peace now says our God,” or the much more tricky, “Comfort ye, my people” from Handel's messiah, followed by the warble of “every va-a-lley sha-all be exa-alted” I’m sure we hear and sing this text more than we read the scripture from prophet Isaiah. Especially at this time of year. Especially if you, like me, have ever spent any time in a choir.

But these words were prophecy before they were set to music for Christmas, long before there was a Christ or Christmas to celebrate. These were words spoken to a people who had been in exile for a generation or more. People who had been through some stuff - seen their city and homes destroyed, been taken into exile, wondered if God cared for them - whether God was even there any more.

And here comes the prophet with the words of God. Not, “Take comfort” not, “I comfort you,” but, “Comfort my people.” Or, as the tenor sings, “Comfort ye my people.” (Not, as apparently some people grew up hearing, “Come for tea, my people.”) In any case, these are instructions. Plural instructions. So who is God talking to? There’s some consensus in the academic community that God is speaking to the divine counsel. Speaking to the community of heaven to get out there and let the people of Israel know that this is it. Their wait is over, their deliverance is at hand.

Indeed we see later in the writings of Isaiah that the Persian king Cyrus will restore the exile to home and land and temple. Making a way through the hills and valleys of the wilderness. But at the moment of this prophecy that is still to come and God is speaking - possibly to other divine beings. But maybe God’s instructions to be comforters are for the very people who are in need of comfort.

As a Canadian I grew up thinking of the word/phrase “y’all” as a very American, very southern expression. Maybe still (?) that’s the impression. Certainly it’s not Canadian in usage - some Ontarians say ‘yous’ in a similar way. But I’ve started to find y’all handy. As I try to be at least somewhat more gender neutral in my language, I’m using “y’all” instead of “you guys” to indicate a plural “you.” Also, now that I’m a passport-carrying American citizen I feel I can rightfully adopt it as the language of my new people.

I think this right here is a “y’all” situation. God is saying, not “Comfort ye,” (or even "Come for tea") but “Comfort y’all, my people.” You, God is saying, you all are a people who have been through some stuff and you are in need of comforting. You have experienced loss and trauma and you need to be consoled. But also, y’all, you’ve seen and experienced some stuff so you know how to offer comfort to each other. Be comfort and consolation for your kindred. Offer care where you know care is needed. You know better than anyone how to do it.

I believe these instructions might be the encouragement to God’s people to keep on keeping on as a community who supports and consoles each other through trauma and loss. We can receive it as encouragement as well. Any community that experiences loss and goes through some stuff - which is to say basically every community, y’all be there for each other. Show up for each other. Care for each other. Pray for each other and hold each other. What are you waiting for? Comfort y’all, my people.

Photo by Rosie Fraser on Unsplash

No comments: