In the name of our God, creator, redeemer, sustainer.
Today and tomorrow there are special gatherings to mark 80 years since the day that Grafton mourned the loss of 13 children. An upsetting event, even now, 80 years later. So, as we reflect on Scripture this morning, may our focus be on the comfort it brings, and the great love for children that is seen in Jesus.
In fact, our Old Testament reading for today is filled with words of comfort.
The opening words come to a people who have been separated from their homeland, in what is called exile, but perhaps today we’d use the phrase, refugees or more accurately in this case, occupied peoples, forced to cross borders and separated from their home.
And the words our readings start with, are “Comfort, O Comfort my people.”
We hear about being stuck in the wilderness, or in the desert, and the promise of a highway, a bypass if you like, to God, an easy path with no hills or uneven ground.
That sounds comforting, doesn’t it.
Most especially when our life has been derailed, when grief has struck, to be inspired by a path without obstacles to God.
And in this metaphor, of a highway to God, what might you say when you reach God?
You might have an immediate answer there, or perhaps you’re stuck on mute.
Somewhat like our prophet who hears a voice say, Cry out! And his response is, What shall I cry?
Many other parts of scripture tell us a common cry: How long o Lord? How long till you set things right? How long do we have to face this persecution, this discomfort? How long?
And yet, the response in scriptures to “What shall I cry” is this:
Get up to a high mountain and speak with strength, without fear, of good tidings, saying Here is your God!
Those words echo the message of the Angels later on, don’t be afraid, I bring good tidings of great joy, a child is born who will be known as Emmanuel, God with us.
These are words of great comfort.
Where is God in our griefs, in the sudden grief of 80 years ago?God is with us.
Gathering the lambs in his arms, carrying them close, gently leading the mother sheep.
Isaiah doesn’t always sound so comforting, but this is one of those times, its almost like a comfort blanket for those living without freedom all those years ago and for us when we lose control of our world and tragedy hits. The balming comfort that we are not alone, God is with us, God who in the person of Jesus also knew loss, who mourned the death of his friend Lazarus, who knew physical pain and the loss of control. That God is with us.
In Godly Play we use a phrase, for every beginning there’s an ending, and for every ending there’s a new beginning. And at this time of year, our beginning of the church year in Advent feels odd because we are in the end of the year in terms of our calendar system and for schooling.
There is something pretty comforting about this - that there is no ending so final that we don’t somehow find in it a new beginning.
And this is especially true when it comes to loss and grief. For in the endings of lives, so much changes, and whether we like it or not we find ourselves in new ways of living, new beginnings that we must adjust to with a world without that person in it.
John the Baptist invited people into new beginnings, not only the promise of a new beginning with baptism, but also the promise of God’s presence with us in the person of the tangible immanence of the holy spirit.
So, at this time of year, as we enter Advent, I know there will be many parts of our lives crying out for new beginnings or solutions. Relationships that are messy. Health challenges. Stressful finances. Unknown future moments.
And we have the promise of a new beginning, of a new year starting, of a new heaven and a new earth, of the comfort of companionship with God who wipes away tears and gathers us into an embrace. All these pictures are in the bible, indeed in our readings today.
So while the commemorations this weekend might feel very heavy, especially for those with connections to those families, or for those who feel things deeply, and for those with children in your lives, let us lift up our hearts with hope for a straight path to God even through our deserts and wilderness.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs”... And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them and blessed them.