I wrote a Christmas newsletter back in November and mailed it out with personally designed Christmas cards. In the letter I stated that I would write a post here about the card art by the middle of this month. You might notice that it is now very much the end of this month (not to mention the year). I can only hope that either nobody was very much interested in the card art (although I guess I don’t really hope that, to be honest), or that everyone was just as busy this month as I was and forgot to head over here and check. Anyway, better late than never, as I frequently say. (I frequently say it because there’s a pun on my surname in there.)
This fall in the OSFGroup we tried out what turned out to be a not-very-well-planned or administered study on the book of Isaiah. (Isaiah is what I call a “chewy” book, and as I had originally planned not to have a fall OSFGroup and then changed my mind at the last minute, we probably should’ve gone with something simpler, but…we didn’t. I’ve done my homework for the Glory study coming up on New Year’s Day, however. Just in case you were worried.) The first half of Isaiah is particularly challenging, as God does a whole lot of ranting there. Although there are prophecies of hope in that first half, too, there’s also a whole lot of war and smiting, and it was a pretty rough slog for most of the autumn. But Isaiah turns a corner in chapter 40, which blows in like a cool breeze during a hot summer, or (since it’s currently beyond frigid here in New England) is like coming into a warm kitchen out of the cold.
Shortly before we encountered that chapter as a group, I was going through an old disintegrating Lutheran hymnal of my maternal grandmother’s, looking for Christmas card ideas, and found an Advent hymn based on Isaiah 40. I think I have heard this hymn before, but I wasn’t quite as familiar with it as I am with, say, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I recognized Isaiah 40 as the inspiration right away, but the arrangement of the words, as well as the tune itself did something gently forceful to my heart, and I knew that this was the hymn that needs to color our hope for the return of Jesus and for the coming new year.
I suppose most people on either side of whatever aisle anyone happens to feel somewhat invested in, have felt a little roughed up by this year that is closing out. I’d like to hope the coming year will bring an end to that, but I guess I’m not personally convinced most of us have reached the individual or societal transformation that we need to have, for the current conflicts to be over. (I’m also not very good at pretending to think so, I’m afraid.)
I do, however, believe that God’s joining us in the turmoil of the world, through His Son Jesus Christ, is not only a source of comfort now when the turmoil is still happening, but also a foreshadowing of a final fulfillment of this comfort and a true end to our internal and external warfare. I also believe that those of us who identify ourselves with Him through Jesus’ sacrifice (humanity’s violence against God) are called to do what the song says: speak comfort and bring comfort to those around us who are feeling the brunt of the warfare. (Sometimes that’s ourselves. Sometimes, though, it’s the “other.”)
I have other things to say sometime in the new year about the scribble-painting I did over the hymn itself. I imagine some have questions, like, “You call that art?” or “Why are the people red and blue?” “Is this some kind of political statement?” (Short answer to that last one: no.) For now, though, close your eyes and listen. Take heart. Comfort, y’all.