In Joy and in Sorrow

Isaiah 40:1-11   “…in joy and in sorrow…”    Rev. Chris Davies– December 15th, 2013.

 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 forever.

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.

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Oh, God, today.  There are so many tears… in this sanctuary, in others all across the world.  This has been a strange and sad week for a lot of people, as we’ve re-lived the experience through the one-year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook. It feels like the tension is almost palpable in CT, everywhere I go… It’s also particularly strange because the shootings were a day before Erik and I got married.  Today is our one year anniversary.

I remember praying the day before, at the rehearsal dinner, after a hurried and chaotic run through.  We called everyone to a circle to pray over the food, and I just… started to cry.   “God, be with them all… be with us.  And God, I know you are big enough to be so present for all of this: the grief and devastation and shock and loss for the children, and the celebration and pure joy that I have to finally marry this wonderful human who helps me be ME, fully…”  Through tears, we all prayed, blessing the food and asking for mercy on us, weary humans in the emotional ruin of a shock so great.

Last year, on this day, I remember being so happy and so devastated all at the same time… Such a strange array of feelings across the board… it felt surreal.  Get the garlands hung in the hall, in the church, and remember the children.  The flowers will arrive at what time? ..and remember the children.  Darling, I love you so much, and today–our wedding day–, we covenant before the God and the world that you are mine and I am yours… and remember the children.

I remember weeping in the morning, while I was getting my hair done, for the babies and their families that would not have Christmas together, this year, or any year thereafter.  I remember holding tight to my brand new spouse, driving from the ceremony to the reception and feeling so happy and grateful, and yet painfully aware and sore for those families who probably are *still* in shock.  I remember happiness that overflowed so much it was contagious and hugs that lasted just long enough for the shadow of what was to retreat.  I remember people speaking of hope in those days of shock.

I remember our honeymoon, where the whole world grieved with CT, with those families, at their loss, at the whole world’s loss…  The tension of being half a world away, and people still having a moment of silence when they heard from where we had come.

It’s strange: I almost feel it more, at the anniversary. The two will always be connected for me, and each hold so many tears for two very different reasons.  The tears that overflow, though, and all that comes with each experience, is so deeply known by God almighty– elation, and mourning.

The scripture lesson we’ve just heard was written for people mourning, wondering, and whispering, “where is God?”  The writer assures us all of comfort through the ages.  We, as Christians in this time and place, must look at it through a few different lenses… (and you all know how I feel about glasses…).   With the original lens of context, and one that has a deeply valid meaning for Jews today, the writer of this portion of Isaiah writes to a people who have been exiled from their homeland, and wonder, “why, God?  Why did you destroy our temple and send us away to exile, to Babylon?” and God is written to say, “my lambs, come home,  the horror is over now.  You’ll be told: Comfort, comfort…. this was too much: double what you deserved.”  And the people will sniffle and nod and look homeward.

And with another, added lens of context years later, those Christmas stories echo through this piece so intimately, as Handel’s Messiah gives tune to the scripture and points so closely to He Whom We as Christians have Awaited, He Who Gives us hope, He Who comes wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a Manger… the tiny baby who will remind us all that death is not the end.  That life and love continue on so much further than a mother or father’s love for a child, or the wedded bliss cemented with a covenant and a kiss.  The babe who comes to this world surrounds us and gives us comfort when we need it most, today.  And more, the Lord your God will scoop his people up like a shepherd, carrying them close to the heart.  And we, the people, will sniffle, and nod, and look homeward.

The God we know is a good shepherd.  The God we know is a surrounding presence of love and light, beside us in our struggles and deepest grief’s.  The God we know is there, uplifting our celebrations at these moments of extreme joy and bliss.  The God we know is an expert at these tensions and in between places, because The God we know is a comfort in the presence of the vilest evil… for both those deeply wounded and lost, and also reaching in compassion towards those who are on the other side of the gun.  The God we know is big enough to do all of that, all of the time, for all of the people.

Because we speak together of a time where those weapons will be beat into plowshares, where we, with the God we know, work towards a more just world: where children are safe in homes and schools and in the plains and valleys.  Where people can marry whomever they fall deeply in love without fear of discrimination or persecution.  Where the color of one’s skin does not determine the way in which society and systems react and respond to their presence.  Where there are people who do NOT have to wonder from where their food comes, or where their children will sleep.  Where justice and righteousness flow forth like streams.

And here’s the Good News: The God we know is big enough to hold that vision, too, and gently turn, turn, turn ourselves towards it, each and every moment of each and every day.  God is big enough, my brothers and sisters in Christ, for your hurt, your joy, your struggle, your excitement, your pain, your creativity, your anger, your confidence, your embarrassment, your contentment, your grief, and your elation.   Just as Erik and I vowed, last year on this day, in the presence of God and our community that we’d love and stand beside each other in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow…. God has vowed the same to us, humans of God’s creation, all throughout the ages.  In joy and in sorrow, as long as we all shall live, and even beyond.  Through all of that wilderness: there is God!  Tenderly, so tenderly, speaking, Comfort, comfort ye my people.

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