An American soldier is comforted after learning of the death of his friend.  

Korean War 1950

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. 

                          – Isaiah 40:1-11 

“I can’t
sleep,” I would say, turning to my husband in the early years of our marriage.  

Half asleep,
he would raise one arm and gently caress my hair, his hand warm and calm.  

he sang, a simple song of three notes that repeated over and over and the
simplicity of touch, of repetition and love fell like a blanket over me, a
tender comfort that held me to the present enabling me to pass through the
small, dim doorway to sleep unafraid.  


When the
twins were coming my husband stood at my side and repeated
the words of Julian of Norwich over and over again, “All shall be well, and all
shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  This, in front of the four nurses, midwife
and two doctors, the anesthesiologist and doula who crowded the room.   

Eyes locked
on his, I listened and breathed into the unknown, relaxing my body to make way
for new life.  

“All shall
be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  

Baby A came
so quickly like a match bursting into flame and Baby B was wrestled feet first
into the light and I could not stop bleeding and my husband was so simultaneously exhausted and thrilled.  

I lay awake
all night, in pain, in fear until the angel came in the morning in the form of
a nurse full of bustle and command.  “Do
not be afraid,” she said, “you won’t need surgery.  You’re going to be ok, let’s try to get you
sitting up.”  

Weeks later
I did need surgery, but the angel’s words and the words of Julian of Norwich
carried us, carried me, like the shepherd who gathers the lambs, who gently
leads the mother sheep.  


The panic
attacks came fast and furious like the longest, hardest labor I’ve ever known,
wave after wave of fear and anxiety that cut me off from my own center,
from the ability to relax and surrender.  My husband’s body offered a tangible comfort as
I leaned back in his arms, his flesh connecting me somehow to the present which
I felt otherwise unable to access. 

When the
worst was past I lay in bed fearful but exhausted, desperate to rest, and he
sat beside me stroking my head, my arms, offering comfort as one would to a
trapped and wounded animal.  

Eventually I
asked him to repeat this phrase, “You are floating in a sea of love,” and he
did so over and over as I drifted, finally, into a shallow peace. 


“Comfort, O
comfort my people,” God told Isaiah, “Speak tenderly, that the worst has passed.”  

Yet work was
still to be done – the making way for the One – the great upheaval that
precedes all new life.  In the midst of
this, the prophet Isaiah murmurs like a husband to fearful Israel and the pain
of the present agony is placed in the context of God’s constancy, the presence
that does not wither or fade.  

This tender
comfort is what allows Israel to lift her weary head, to look up, climb up to
the heights and find her voice returned with the renewed strength of one who
has passed through the night and survived. 


“Do not be afraid,”
the angel tells us at Advent; tells Zechariah, Mary and the shepherds.  

“Comfort, O
Comfort,” Isaiah is told.  

And these words of
tenderness fall upon our weary heads like a warm and gentle hand.  


Christ has
come and yet the tumult continues as the whole world trembles in labor for the
kingdom which is already and not yet. 
And we, Christ’s followers, must go like Isaiah, to the rough, desert places of fear and pain, must offer our hands, our whispering voices to carry
each other through the night.  

“Do not be

“All shall
be well.”  

“Lift up
your voices,” the Lord has come and is coming still.

I’m grateful to be joining with authors Winn Collier and John D. Blase to reflect on a lectionary reading for each week of Advent. Stop by their websites for another angle on Isaiah’s text – Winn is pastor of All Souls Church in Charlottesville, VA and John is a poet and author of the beautiful book, Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas.

This post is also linked with the Unforced Rhythms community.

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