This is one of my favorite Advent hymns. I like the danceable tune and the strong message. The words are based on a passage from Isaiah, a wonderful combination of comfort and triumph.
Comfort, comfort ye my people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load;
speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.
For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
bidding all men to repentance,
since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise to meet him,
and the hills bow down to greet him.
Make ye straight what long was crooked,
make the rougher places plain:
let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits his holy reign,
For the glory of the Lord
now o’er the earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that his word is never broken.
The tune was written by Louis Bourgeois, who was jailed at one point for changing familiar tunes.
The words were written in German by Lutheran pastor and prolific hymnodist Johann G. Olearius in 1671 and
translated by the equally prolific Catherine Winkworth in 1863.
Of course, we know that the kingdom is not here, that the wars are not over, and that we can’t effectively comfort all those who mourn. If human history shows us anything, it is that we can’t end conflict and suffering on our own any more than we can make hills bow down. Like Advent itself, this song is about looking toward the future.
We can, however, let our hearts be true and humble. We can repent of our own sins and provide such comfort as we can to our fellow human beings.
Yesterday my husband pitched a fit. I had told him that I had helped the boys out with the deposit on their new place. Whether this angered him or just made him think about the fact that #1 son is moving to Colorado with his brother or what I don’t know. I had just gone through a difficult afternoon with #1 daughter and a new person working with an old client and added three more meetings to my already overfull week, so I was not in the mood to hear his fit. However, he had a temper tantrum.
He works every day and has nothing, he said. I asked him what he wanted that he doesn’t have. He had no answer.
He works ten or twelve hours a day and then comes home to work five or six more hours, he said. This referred to putting the dishes into the dishwasher, a chore which he does. I told him to leave them, pointing out that I’m still working when he gets home. I’ll work twelve hours and then do the dishes, I said. I went in and did all the dishes, probably not with a good grace.
He feels as though he lives alone, he said. I’m always working, or if I’m not working I’m reading a book. I got my knitting and sat with him while he watched TV in his native language. No book. He said no more than five words to me all evening. This was my only evening home this week.
I was filled with anger. I was angry first at the client who had been unpleasant to my daughter, even though I understand his frustration — and that of the other frustrated clients I had spoken with during the day. Black Friday sales were down this year by 11%. People are not happy.
Then I was angry with my husband for his temper fit, even though I don’t want him to feel lonely or that his work is pointless. But I thought to myself that I was completely filled with anger, like a bottle filled with water.
I was talking with #2 daughter about the fact that I had appointments and events of one kind or another nearly every day in November and was looking at a week just as full for the first week in December. They can be good meetings or lunches with friends or parties or concerts, but they’re all group events. It is, I told her, as though you had six weeks working all alone in your home and saw no one. That would be stressful for her as an extrovert. For me as an introvert, the opposite situation is stressful. It may be eustress, and I may be changing my habits, but it is stressful.
I can make sure that there are no dishes in the sink when my husband gets home. I can sit and work on the Christmas sweaters in the same room with him instead of reading or going to another room to watch marathons of Netflix shows while I knit. Both of those are reasonable desires on his part. I don’t know if I can comfort him about his kids moving away, or about my being gone so much and working so much. I don’t know if I can comfort myself about having so much hurly-burly in my life, especially when I know that it is unreasonable of me to find it as stressful as I do. I can work toward a true and humble heart in this Advent season.