By Mary Abrahamson
“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.
Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger
He no more will see or heed.
She hath suffered many a day;
Now her griefs have passed away.
God will change her pining sadness
Into ever-springing gladness.
Hark 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 earth is shed abroad,
And all flesh shall see the token
That His Word is never broken.
Comfort, Comfort ye, My People, ELH 102, by J. Olearius, tr C. Winkworth, alt.
After the fall into sin, God consistently reaffirmed His promise of a Savior; someone who was to come; someone who would redeem God’s people by paying the ransom price for sin.
Over and over again, God repeated this promise.
Over and over again, God’s people forgot His promises. They forsook His precepts. They gave into their sinful passions. They turned away from God and His Word. They served the false gods of their heathen neighbors.
Wait, this sounds like all of history. It sounds like all of humanity.
And this sounds like me. Over and over again, I turn away from my Lord and Savior.
Throughout the Old Testament history, over and over again, God called His people back to Him. Sometimes they responded to His gentle calling. At other times, He needed to be more firm.
This, too, sounds like all of history. It sounds like all of humanity.
And yes, this too sounds like me.
At the time of prophet, Isaiah, God allowed the northern tribes to be overcome and dispersed. Some were carried here, some were carried there, throughout Assyria and its vassal countries. The southern kingdom continued to fend off the enemies, and continued the pattern of sin and repentance. During the reign of the God-fearing King Hezekiah, God worked through Isaiah and King Hezekiah to return the nation of Judah to the worship of the true God.
It was during this situation, the dispersed northern tribes and the southern tribes who had for the time returned to God, that God gave Isaiah the following words of prophecy. God told Isaiah to comfort His people with the blessed words of forgiveness of their sins. And He told of the forerunner, His messenger who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah, the Glory of the Lord revealed.
Isaiah writes in chapter 40, verses 1-5,
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”
Says your God.
“Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her,
That her warfare is ended,
That her iniquity is pardoned;
For she has received from the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough places smooth;
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
What comfort to a sinful nation! God has pardoned the iniquity of His Jerusalem. Their warfare is over. The Savior is coming!
What comfort, too, to sinful individuals. Those dwelling in Jerusalem of old were again assured that Messiah would come, and their redemption was sure.
We of the new Jerusalem, the spiritual Israel, can look back at the promises of God, and their fulfillment. We can see God’s faithful compassion.
We rejoice with the saints of old in the coming of the forerunner of Christ, who paved the way for the Savior. We rejoice with the both the old and new Jerusalem in the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. And we rejoice in the comfort of pardon through that Savior who took the form of a man for us.
The above hymn, “Comfort, Comfort, ye My People,” was written by Johann Olearius, and appeared in his Geistliche Singe-Kunst, in 1671. Olearius originally wrote the hymn for use on St. John the Baptist Day. Because the both the Third and Fourth Sundays in Advent in the historic lectionary use texts about John the Baptist, this hymn is often used during Advent.
The translation above is altered from Catherine Winkworth’s original translation.
There are a couple of other noteworthy tie-ins that add to the appreciation of this hymn. George Frideric Handel used this same text for Movements 2, 3, and 4, of his Messiah oratorio. And the Psalm for the Third Sunday in Advent, Psalm 85, contains similar themes of praise for God’s faithful compassion and prayer for continued deliverance. In several places, even the phraseology is common.
May God’s messengers speak comfort to you this Adventide.