Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Advent and Comfort

Today I am working from home. Our dog, Sophie, ruptured her ACL just over a week or so ago and had to have surgery on Monday to repair it. Living in a two-story home, with "outside" being down steps no matter how you look at it, I am her sedan chair for the next few days until she can put weight on her leg.

It gives me time to work on sermons, make calls, catch up on paper work and get to all the sundry things that priests do, while at the same time watching over a little dog that from time to time offers up a whimper, a shake of the head or a quiet look that says, "I want to go outside now, please."

These moments in life slow us down. When they happen to anyone, animal companion or otherwise, we are pushed to look hard at our priorities and sense of task, no matter if we are the patient-or the one offering care. For now, Laura and I are centered on this little pup who needs us as she heals.

I spent most of last night on the sofa downstairs, making sure that Sophie did not pick at her stitches, worry the surgical sight or try to climb the stairs. She started fussing early this morning, and so I moved down to the floor to offer some comfort-just by trying to be near.

As I work on this Sunday's sermon, the experience of being with Sophie last night put some new light on the passage from Isaiah 40- "Comfort, O comfort my people, says your Go." It is a phrase, spoken to the heavenly hosts by God with the intent that Israel-long in suffering and exile-is to be given comfort.

But what is comfort? What have we done to the word? Comfort has become something as close to "warm and fuzzy" that we can imagine. Comfort is garlic mashed potatoes. Comfort is your favorite desert offered as a surprise on a weeknight. Comfort is a leather interior and ultra-bass surround sound in your new car. Comfort is...not that, really, in the kingdom of God.

The comfort God is offering to the people is a more ancient and powerful experience. Comfort itself is a word that comes from a Latin root that means "with strength." God is coming to us with strength, with might and with mercy. God promises to hold and guide Israel like a shepherd holds, cares and guides his sheep. Even though we are like grass, says the passage; even though we are just passing through this life, there will be the assurance of a God who loves us and will guide us. It is only up to us to give ourselves over to that comfort, that strength with us (and not from us).

That is a challenge. I too often want comfort to be something that eases me in my life. I want the reassurance of control over the things around me that threaten me.

God doesn't promise that. God promises comfort on God's terms, not ours. God is coming with might, that is the promise. God is coming with the intent to comfort, to heal. Our part is to be truly open to and willing to embrace that love, that blessing, that power that flows from God.

As Jesus taught, "Not my will, but thine."

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