While I was growing up, it was about this time every year that my sisters and I would camp out at church on a Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon, while my father rehearsed a giant choir (that my mother sang in) to perform the first section of Handel's Messiah.
If you are at all familiar with Handel's Messiah, then it must have been impossible for you to hear last Sunday's Old Testament reading - the opening verses of Isaiah 40 - without hearing a tenor's voice ringing in your head.
I was thinking today about the amazing choice that Handel made when he decided to open his oratorio with the words "Comfort ye." Here we have a major choral and orchestral work that chronicles the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Messiah, Jesus Christ...and the first thing that Handel decides you need to hear are the words "Comfort ye."
What a beautiful theological statement. For whatever else Jesus is, he is our comforter. For whatever else we look for Jesus to do and be, he is the one who will change the direction of the world, making the high low and the low high, making the crooked straight, making the rough places smooth. Handel lets the tenor be that "voice crying in the wilderness," to proclaim to all who might listen that God is about to do a new thing, changing the world, bringing comfort to aching souls and changing the fortunes of all humanity.
The purpose of the coming of the Messiah, as prophesied by Isaiah, as composed by Handel, and in the words of a number of social activists and religious leaders, might indeed be "to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable."
In this Advent, may you find comfort in all of your rough places, and may God shake things up for you in your comfortable places, that you may know the true good news of Jesus, bringer of both comfort and justice.
(And just so I can get a little Handel stuck in you head, here are two videos, one of the opening tenor recitative and one of the aria. You have to get over the fact that the tenor soloist looks a little like Woody Harrelson... But he has a beautiful voice. Worth the listen. Also, pay attention to the astute and beautiful commentary that accompanies the musical selections. Some great things are said in the way of introduction!)