Turning Our Eyes to the Source of our Comfort
The people of the first reading had hit the wall. They had bottomed out. In their worst nightmare, they never thought their lives could get so bad. They really did it to themselves. Although the were the Chosen People, and although they celebrated their deliverance from Egypt every Passover, they still pushed God aside, even out of their lives. They had become wealthy. They thought they had less need for God then ever before. It was almost as though they forgot about Him. Certainly, they were too proud to recognize their own weakness. The nations around them saw them as an important military ally. Full of themselves, they made treaties with the pagans. They worshiped the pagan gods of these nations. They diluted Yahweh’s faith and profaned the Holy Land.
Then, they bottomed out. First the Northern Kingdom, Israel, was defeated and taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Then the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom, Judah. The people were led off into slavery, literally bound together with hooks in their noses. The Temple and the Holy City were destroyed. They wanted to be like the pagans, and now they were forced to live in a pagan land and serve pagans.
But in their poverty they became rich. They refused to become pagan. Having their identity stolen from them made the people more devout followers of Yahweh, even though they were in Babylon, far from the land He had given them. They had no power except their faith in the All Powerful One. And they realized that they had more power than the could ever need. God witnessed their conversion. He heard their prayers. And He sent His prophet to preach consolation for Israel.
“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to them that their service is at an end, their guilt has is expiated. Indeed they have received double for their sins. But , now a voice cries out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’”
Over and over in the history of God’s people as well as in our personal histories, the events that led to Babylon are repeated. But when we put our complete faith in God, we also receive deliverance from our enemies. We think that we have it all. Then we allow evil into our lives. We allow something to destroy us. Actually, we destroy ourselves by relying on our own abilities instead of the Power of God. But then we bottom out. We find ourselves completely alone. Through the Grace of God, through the prayers of others, we come to the Wisdom that we are only alone if we forget about Him who said He’d always be with us. We are people of faith. We realize that no matter how bad a life might have become, no matter how deep we or someone else may have sunk, there is no depth that God will not descend to in order to pick us up and grasp us to Himself. In fact, some of the greatest Christians, some of the greatest saints, have been people who have hit the bottom and then experienced the mercy and compassion of the Lord. The rest of their lives are spent proclaiming His Mercy to the world.
There is no such thing as a bottom To our Loving God. There is nothing that we might have done which excludes us from His compassion and consolation. “Give comfort, comfort to my people,” the prophet is instructed. What is it that we have done that has been so terrible. Have we destroyed others? Have we taken a life? Have we destroyed our own lives? Are we tempted to think that our sins are too great or too habitual for God to have compassion on us? Do we feel this way? Do we know others who feel this way? “Give comfort to my people,” the Lord says. There is nothing that the Lord does not want to forgive.
So often we underestimate God. We think that maybe God can help us a bit, but to get Him to solve our dilemma, well that’s asking too much. And to request over and over again to that He forgive the same problem, well, that seems to be way beyond the limit of His compassion. We forget that God set no limits to His Love. Perhaps we think that we do not deserve His mercy and compassion. We are correct there. We don’t deserve Him, but that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t give Himself totally for us. Look at the cross. How can I look at the cross, how can you look at the cross and underestimate what our God will do out of Love?
“Prepare the way of the Lord,” both the prophet of the first reading and John the Baptist in the Gospel proclaim. Prepare the way of the Lord. Help others to realize that they are loved by their God. People need to hear from us: Yes, sometimes we bottom out. We are human. Sometimes we may crash. But we are not too depraved for God to cry tears over us just like He cried over Jerusalem. There is no limit to God’s love.
In the last century a devout Christian, Helen Lemmel, wrote a very simple little hymn. It’s called Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full into his wonderful face. And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim. In the light of His Glory and Grace.
In this season of gift giving, we can give a wonderful gift to ourselves and to others. This gift is the reassurance that Jesus loves us and loves them. “Comfort, give comfort to my people.” Turn to Jesus. Trust in our Merciful Lord.