–By Elizabeth Ahlman
This week’s hymn is Lutheran Service Book (LSB) 347, “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People,” and was chosen by Globally Engaged in Outreach (GEO) Missionary Sarah Berta-Somogyi, serving the Lord through The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in Hungary. Sarah teaches English as a Foreign Language to students at a Lutheran High School in Győr. Sarah says of the hymn: “I really enjoy the last sentence of each stanza, as they communicate the reason that Jesus came into the world and what will happen from the time of His first coming until the time of His second coming.” Stanzas 1-2 and 4 of the hymn were again played and sung by Rev. Dr. Christopher S. Ahlman.
“Comfort, comfort ye My people
Speak of peace,” thus saith our God:
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning ‘neath their sorrows’ 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 everlasting gladness. (LSB 347:1-2)
This hymn is based on Isaiah 40:1-8. At this point in Isaiah, Jerusalem is in relative peace. King Sennacherib had recently attempted to capture Jerusalem, but had failed because of Yahweh’s deliverance. Then, King Hezekiah was ill and recovered, again by the Lord’s hand. However, immediately before this prophecy, Isaiah prophecies to Hezekiah that a time will come when the treasures, sacred things, and people of Jerusalem will be carried off to Babylon. Yahweh tells him that nothing will be left. And certainly this time came for the people of God. They were carried into exile and captivity in Babylon, all of their treasures were stolen, and their land laid waste. They languished in this captivity for hundreds of years, never believing that they would return. Never thinking their warfare would end. The way seemed dark, the time seemed dark.
Darkness. We have our own darknesses with which to struggle. Individually, we struggle with the darkness within ourselves. The good that we want to do we do not do, but the evil we do not wish to do, we do (Romans 7). We struggle with a short fuse while we deal with our children after a long day. We yell and scream and lose our way. We struggle with the desire we have for our girlfriend or our boyfriend, how to keep it at bay. We justify to ourselves why we are living with our fiancé before we are married. After all, it just makes more sense financially. But deep down inside, we struggle. We detect the darkness in our thinking, and try to push it aside. As Sarah said, “I think of ‘warfare’ as referring to that which is in ourselves, as we war against the sin in us.” And this war within becomes a war without as the darkness in us makes us enemies of a God Who is all light. Then there is the darkness without which also causes us struggles: the little things in the day that add up to make it all harder, the stress from the loss of a job, a diagnosis of cancer, the unspeakable sadness of losing a child. The darkness threatens to overtake us. This is part of the warfare of which the hymn speaks, certainly.
As the Body of Christ we also struggle with and war against the darkness corporately. The world makes war on us. Here we struggle with a world seemingly losing all trace of the Light. We struggle with the darkness of watching fellow Christians in faraway places martyred for the faith. We struggle with the darkness of watching as the Gospel Proclamation seems to fall on deaf ears. As the world mocks and twists and undermines and dances upon that which is precious. The world carries off our treasures only to desecrate them — the treasures of the one true faith handed down by the saints, the Word of God in its truth and purity, the preaching of the Gospel, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper. It wars against us: “Give up your faith! You Christians can’t think for yourselves. There’s nothing good about tradition! The Bible is just a book! I’m a good person; what do I need Jesus for? Baptism doesn’t do a thing; it’s just a silly superstition. What are you, a bunch of cannibals,” they say in explicit and not so explicit ways. Even when there is not the warfare of total disdain, there is the warfare of total apathy. Words of truth, Words of life, swept aside like so many unimportant ideas, almost fairy tales.
We pine, as the hymn says, in sadness, for the coming of our God and Lord, on account of the darkness and the warfare.
But not in vain! There is a promise here. A promise which speaks both to our individual warfare and our corporate warfare. Into this darkness God sends His messenger to speak “peace! Comfort!” to those who mourn the darkness within and without. Our sins are covered by God Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. And because of that, our warfare with the darkness within and our warfare with the righteous God without are over. The hymn-writer affirms the final phrase of the first verse in the second verse’s opening: “Yea, her sins our God will pardon, blotting out each dark misdeed.” That which was a cause for God’s anger is no longer “heeded” by Him. More than that, He moves us from sorrow to “ever springing gladness.” As Sarah noted, the final sentence of each stanza of this hymn points to the way in which God ends our warfare: the way for God, the Son, was prepared (v. 3) so that He could come into the world to seek and to save the lost and penitent. By so doing He proved that God’s promise of an end to warfare and the forgiveness of sins was really true: “And all flesh shall see the token/That his Word is never broken.” While the tangible reality all around you this Advent season may say, “The darkness is here, you are sinful, the warfare goes on,” God’s Word, which is never broken, says that the hidden reality is light, forgiveness, life, peace, and comfort…so much comfort in Him Who died for you.
Let us Pray: Holy Spirit, You are the great Comforter. Grant that peace and comfort to all who struggle with darkness and warfare, that they may know that in Christ, their warfare is ended. Help us to cling to the promises of God and to remember that His Word is never broken; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- Did you miss last week’s devotion on “Savior of the Nations Come.” You can still read and hear it here.
- Learn more about Sarah’s work with students from Hungary.
- Be sure to return next Wednesday for the next in this four part Advent series on favorite hymns from our missionaries in the Eurasia Region!