Saturday, December 06, 2014

Comfort Ye!

Student assembly address

The year is 540 B.C. 

Almost fifty years earlier, the Babylonians had destroyed what was once southern Israel, or Judah, and its capital city Jerusalem, the once-proud city of David. The Babylonians had been brutal, savaging women and children, and sending families into exile as slaves into cities far away, dividing parents from their children, siblings from siblings. All symbols of God's covenant with the Israelites were desecrated and then destroyed--the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple itself--leaving the Jewish people with little hope that the "promised land" obtained during Moses' time would ever be theirs again. The harsh judgment of earlier prophets-- Amos, Elijah, Ezekiel and others--had come true. It was clear to the Jewish people that God had punished them for their sinfulness, allowing Babylon to utterly crush them.

Imagine what it would be like to have foreign invaders destroy everything we regard as sacred and holy. Imagine being separated from our parents and siblings, never to see them again. Would our faith survive that? This was the plight of the Jewish people during the Babylonian exile. 

But at the peak of despair, when even the most faithful and holy among them had begun to lose hope, God sent his people a new prophet, Isaiah, speaking soothing words that they had not heard for nearly five decades: 

"Comfort ye, give comfort to my people. Israel's sins, her iniquities are forgiven, her warfare has ended." (Isaiah 40). 

A new age is soon coming, sayeth the Lord, when every valley will be exalted, and every mountain will be laid low. The Lord shall allow his people to return to their ancient city Jerusalem, where the Temple shall be rebuilt, families reunited, and the ancient faith of Abraham, David and their forefathers restored.

George Frideric Handel was a German composer who lived in the 18th century. Among his most famous works was the "Messiah: A Sacred Oratorio" which has become one of the most well-known choral pieces of all time--almost everyone has heard the 'Hallelujah' Chorus. But earlier in the "Messiah", Handel puts to music the prophecy of Isaiah, promising the redemption and restoration of Israel from exile. The Messiah is frequently played during Advent and the Christmas season.

Though we do not live in slavery, we do live in a world that seems to have less and less knowledge of and concern for the Lord, where people who try and live as devout Christians are often ridiculed. The theme of Advent is "Come, Lord Jesus." We are in need of hope, much like the ancient Jews, and we need to re-hear the promise of the Lord's coming, promise that God's kingdom will come again and a new order restored. 

I know this is not the type of music you'd have on your phone's play list, but one of the signs of an educated person is the willingness to consider new things, so I ask you for the next six minutes to listen with an open mind to this recording of a portion of the Messiah as performed by tenor Nicholas Sharratt in London, 2012. Try to place yourself back to the situation of the Jewish people some 550 years before Christ, in despair, listening to the words of Isaiah, telling them their suffering is finally coming to a close, and that their warfare is over.


Come, Lord Jesus. Make what is crooked straight and the rocky places plain, so that we may follow you more faithfully. Amen.

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