One of my Advent traditions is to listen to the Messiah. I’ve been doing this since high school. The overture is one of my favorite pieces of music. I love the part where all music ceases and then the violins break into song. It’s much like the poetry of Isaiah where all creation is silent before the coming of the Lord and then breaks forth into song; trees and hills clap their hands in delight. Is it any wonder that Handel went to Isaiah for the lyrics to his masterpiece?
The opening lines of the Messiah are the opening words of the book of consolation, second Isaiah, chapter 40:1. It is a poem announcing the coming of the Lord. God tells the prophet to comfort his people, to speak tenderly to them and tell them that their time of trial is at an end. “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated.” (1-2)
God is making a way for them in the wilderness. “In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.” (3-4) Where before they were brought as captives to Babylon, now God himself will carry them on his shoulders. “In his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.” (11)
The prophet reminds the people that even though the grass and flowers die, God’s word will stand forever. “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever.” (8) In exile the people no longer had the Temple as the center for their religious focus and activity, so they had to rely on the word, the Torah, to unite them as a people. But this word will never fail them. Buildings may be torn down, but God’s word lasts.
God comes with power and majesty, “Behold the Lord God comes with might,” (10a) yet this same God is tender and gentle, cradling the people in his arms.
Thus the prophet announces a change, something new is about to happen. These are powerful words of hope to a people in exile with little hope. Words of comfort reminding us that yet again, as Mary states in the Magnificat, God will raise up the lowly and bring down the mighty; God will make a path where there is no path. These are words of hope to each generation. Our God is doing great things for us, we need only get out of the way and let God be God.
Sometimes we have to wait a long time before this occurs. The Israelites had to wait many years before returning from exile, some didn’t live to see it, but their children and grandchildren did.
Advent is about waiting in hope. What are you hoping for? Will it come in your time, or not till the next generation? What do you do in the meantime?
As for me, I’m hoping those who are meant to read what I write find their way to my website or find my books, preferably in my time. 🙂