Comfort, comfort (Roland De Vries)

Worship on the Lord’s Day
Third Sunday of Advent
10:00 am December 12, 2021
Online & Onsite (Mixed Presence) Gathering
as a Worshipping Community
Led by the Rev. Dr. Roland de Vries, Principal, Presbyterian College, Montréal
Music director: Binu Kapadia           Vocalist: Linda Farrah-Basford
Children’s time: Lynn Vaughan
Elder: Heather Tansem

We gather to worship God

Music prelude

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you
P: and also with you

Welcome and announcements

Silent preparation for worship

Opening words
L: Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth
P: God’s steadfast love endures forever
L:  Lift up your hearts!
P: We lift them up to the Lord!

Opening praise: Hope is a star (vs. 3)

Joy is a song that welcomes the dawn, telling the world that the Saviour is born.

Refrain: When God is a child there’s joy in our song. The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong, and none shall be afraid.

Words: Brian A. Wren Music: Joan C Fogg © 1989 Hope Publishing Group For music and words. Reprinted with permission under ONE LICENSE, License #A735555​. All rights reserved Permission to stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE

Call to worship:
L: Joy is the celebration given by God.
P: Joy is the celebration at the birth of the Christ Child.
L: Joy is the celebration when the angels sing “Glory to God in the highest.”
P: We celebrate the joy of Christ coming again.

(The candle is lit.)

L: Let us pray:
P: Source of light, shine in our lives and in your world with your life-giving joy. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

Prayers of approach and lament

Lord Jesus, in you we see the face of God, uniquely on display.

Lord Jesus, in you we see the love of God, entirely on display.

Lord Jesus, in you we see the forgiveness of God, real and true and full.

Lord Jesus, in you we see the truly human way, embodied and alive.

Lord Jesus, in you we see our own renewal and resurrection and restoration.

This is our confession, O living Lord. It takes our breath away even as we make this confession, aloud. You O Lord are gracious and humble and strong and ascended to glory.

But we also confess, Lord Jesus, that even as we see you in all our glory, and even as we speak of your goodness and your beauty, we don’t really know how to receive you in our lives and world. There are doubts in our hearts and minds that mean we hold you at a distance from us. In our own hearts and minds we have built up the myth that we are competent, that we are just fine, that we don’t need to welcome you. Others of us have a deep sense that we must earn the right to welcome you – that we must show we are good enough and faithful enough and righteous enough before we can open our arms to you. For so many reasons we hold you at a distance.

Lord Jesus, break through to us this day, and grant us mercy and strength so that we may welcome you in complete freedom and love – that we may receive you with joy and gratitude. You are our Lord. You are our life. Lord Jesus, draw near to us that we may draw near to you, in glory and praise and love. We pray in your most holy name. Amen.

Response: I waited on you, Lord
I waited, I waited on you, Lord (x2)
You bent down low and remembered me when you heard my prayer

Words: Psalm 40; Music: J. Bell; © WGRG 1987 Iona Community, GIA Publications Inc. Reprinted with permission under ONE LICENSE, License #A735555​. All rights reserved. Permission to stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE

Assurance of God’s forgiveness

We are the people of God, through the coming of Jesus. His advent we celebrate. Through him God has comforted and redeemed us. Through him we receive the salvation and forgiveness and freedom of God.  Glory to God in the highest.

We listen for the voice of God

Jesus loves me

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong; they are weak, but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me (x3), the Bible tells me so.

Words: Anna Bartlett © Mrs. Cherie MGuire; Music: William Bradbury public domain. Reprinted with permission under One License, License #A735555. All rights reserved, Permission to stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE

Children’s time and Lord’s Prayer

Transition music: Reprise of Jesus loves me

Song: All earth is waiting

All earth is waiting to see the Promised One, and open furrows await the seed of God. All the world, bound and struggling, seeks true liberty; it cries out for justice and searches for the truth.

Thus says the prophet to those of Israel: ‘A virgin mother will bear Emmanuel,’ one whose name is ‘God with us’ our Saviour shall be; with him hope will blossom once more within our hearts.

Mountains and valleys will have to be made plain; open new highways, new highways for the Lord. He is now coming closer, so come all and see, and open the doorways as wide as wide can be.

In lowly stable the Promised One appeared;yet feel his presence throughout the earth today,
for he lives in all Christians and is with us now;again, with his coming he brings us liberty.

Words and Music: Alberto Taulé; Translation: Gertrude C. Suppe © 1989 The United Methodist Publishing House. Music © Centro de Pastoral Liturgica 1993 Reprinted with permission under ONE LICENSE, License #A735555​. All rights reserved Permission to stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE

Scripture readings                       
Isaiah 40:1-11                      OT(NRSV)
Mark 1:1-8                           NT(NRSV)

Response: Behold the lamb of God

Behold the lamb of God, behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin, the sin of the world.

Words: public domain. Music: Iona Community (Scotland) © WGRG the Iona Community, 1988. G I A Publications. Reprinted with permission under One License, License #A735555. All rights reserved, Permission to stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE

Message: “Comfort, comfort”

It was a long walk back to the main town where we were staying. For a couple of days our group had been out to a small village for a visit, but now we were making our way back to the larger town. To get out to that smaller village we had travelled in the open back of a coffee truck – it had wound its way through coffee plantations on rough and winding roads. On the way out to the village we passed other coffee trucks that were loaded, not with visiting Canadians, but with large sacks of harvested coffee beans. In the backs of those trucks were men armed with shotguns and rifles – wielding their weapons as a show of strength against potential thieves.

The trip out to the village of San Augustin wasn’t exactly comfortable, but it also didn’t put much of a strain on us – the coffee truck did all of the hard work.

But after our visit, and on our way back to the larger town of La Union where we were staying in Mexico there would be no coffee truck to carry us. On the way back we walked. For many kilometers one foot went one in front of the other in ruts that had been worn a foot or more deep – ruts worn down over years by the feet of local villagers and by horses they led or rode. It was odd to find my feet forced into those ruts, carved across fields and over hills – so unlike walking on our open sidewalks.

It was a long walk back from the village – several hours by foot. It was one of those long walks when you expect and hope, around every corner, to find some sign you’re almost there. Not only was the path a winding one, it was at times treacherous. I was wearing a half-decent pair of hiking shoes – many of the villagers we passed on the way went bare-foot or in flimsy flip-flops up a rock-strewn mountainside. Those villagers had to walk for days or hours along those same paths and steep hills for the most basic of healthcare, which we of course access with little inconvenience.

Toward the very end of our walk, we had to pass over one small mountain that lay just beside the town that was our destination. As we climbed up the steep trail, I had to rest more times than I could understand way. I was winded and exhausted like I had never been before. I had never before been in a situation when I felt I just couldn’t keep walking. In fact, shortly after that trip to Mexico, and shortly after that walk from San Augustin to La Union, a blood test found that I was anemic. I have no idea why. But on top of my general lack of fitness at the time, anemia meant I couldn’t get the oxygen I needed – making the walk much more difficult than it would otherwise have been. Making it almost impossible to climb the small mountain.

Let me not make more of that walk than I should, as if it was some great feat. Many in our world today, perhaps including villagers in San Augustin, still make such walks daily or weekly. But that experience from years ago sticks in my mind because I remember so clearly what an impossible hurdle that mountain was to me.

We read in Isaiah chapter 40:

Comfort, O comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for her sins.

A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”

Here we have, first, a beautiful, double affirmation of God’s desire for his people:  “Comfort, O comfort my people says your God.”

The people of God are in exile. They are in Babylonian captivity. The temple, the city of Jerusalem, and the armies that defended them have been wiped out. And those who survived the onslaught are in exile.

Isaiah does says that this exile and this imprisonment are the just punishment of God for their earlier sin. Yet it also becomes clear here that it is enough. Enough already.

  • Enough of the exile.
  • Enough of the punishment.
  • Enough of the homelessness.
  • Enough of the refugee camps.
  • Enough of the exhaustion and the suffering.

Comfort. O comfort my people, says your God. Say to her that she has served her term, the penalty is paid. Find this straight and easy path home.

Which brings to the voice crying out in verse 3. A voice that from somewhere and nowhere and everywhere all at the same time. A voice and words suspended in the air. “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”

A voice suspended in every time and every place; a voice that comes to anyone and everyone; a voice that echoes across geographic expanses, and through time zones, and down through the centuries. God is coming to his people. And when God comes to his people, there is a highway – a straight and wide path opens up before us – there is a way that is flat and clear and straight.

  • The valleys will be lifted up – we will walk freely.
  • The mountains will be made low – no more exhausting climbs.
  • The uneven ground will become level – no more losing our footing.
  • The winding path will be made straight – we won’t get lost any more.
  • The way will be open – people in all places will walk in freedom and joy.

Comfort, O comfort my people.

The prophet does something amazing in this text, in verse 5, by uniting God’s comfort with God’s glory. We are used to thinking of God’s glory in an abstract kind of way. The greatness and glory of God are usually made comprehensible to us though language of light and of power and of royal prestige. But here in Isaiah, glory and comfort are brought together.

  • God’s glory is revealed precisely as God brings comfort. 
  • God’s greatness is revealed precisely as God speaks tenderly and brings us home.

God’s glory and greatness are not just abstract. God’s glory and greatness are not alien to us. The glory and greatness of God are not in some religious flight from the everyday. Rather, God’s glory and God’s greatness are revealed precisely in the comfort he brings, and which we experience.

As we think generally about this text we have to ask: Is it any surprise that in the New Testament we find Isaiah 40 linked with John the Baptist, and ultimately with Jesus, as in the Gospel of Matthew? From the perspective of the New Testament, it is through Jesus that Isaiah’s words are actualized in our world and in our lives. It is through Jesus that the double comfort, the overflowing comfort of God comes to his people. In Jesus, this glorious double-word is realized, God does what God proclaims: “Comfort, comfort my people.” It is a gift and promise of Advent and Christmas, that this double comfort is revealed and given.

In this assured and double comfort, there is also, I would want to say, a double ambiguity. There are two mysteries or ambiguities in this assurance of comfort.

The first ambiguity lies in the obvious realization that

  • the valleys have not been raised up
  • the rough places have not been made smooth
  • the crooked paths have not been made straight.

As we live in this particular advent, and as we endure these pandemic days, we know well that the fullness of God’s comfort is not here. There remains anxiety and fear and isolation and grief. As we approach winter and increasing case counts, there is worry. We face the reality and pain of loss—of the death of loved ones and community members. More broadly, of course, the comfort of God is distant from the lives and experiences of many.

In many parts of Mexico and other parts of the world there are still well-worn paths travelled by impoverished villagers. There are still millions of refugees displaced from their homes by violence and civil strife, victims of uncaring or vicious leaders. There are still refugees held unfairly in a detention centre in Laval, north of Montreal — increasing numbers now that international travel is increasing. In universities and colleges, including here at McGill and the Presbyterian College, students need comfort and compassion as they struggle with life and studies. Those who serve women and men living on the streets remind us that this vulnerable population continues to face mental health challenges, and need comfort and shelter more than ever.

The comfort of God has been promised and it has been given—Jesus is our comfort, and the comfort he brings is real. The promise of a final and decisive comfort has been given, yet it remains future. The straight way of God in our world and our lives has been promised – but the treacherous mountain paths remain.

There is a second ambiguity in this passage from Isaiah 40. But this ambiguity is what I would call a beautiful ambiguity. It lies in the fact that we do not know who is being commanded. Who exactly is on the receiving end of this double command to extend comfort? Who exactly is on the receiving end of this command to make the way smooth, the path straight?

In the original context of Isaiah’s prophecy, it is perhaps the company of prophets, or perhaps an angelic host, that receives this command—either group is commanded to speak words of promise and compassion and healing to God’s people.

Whoever the original recipients, the beautiful ambiguity lies in the fact that we all may find ourselves on the receiving end of this command. “Comfort, comfort my people.”

The Apostle Paul writes these words “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Each of us in our own way has had some experience of God’s comfort. Yes, we wait for the final comfort of God, and even in this particular moment we may feel a deep need for comfort. Even so, we can recall instances in the past when God has extended comfort to us. Perhaps there have even been surprising moments of comfort that God has extended to you through the past months and almost two years of this pandemic. And as we recall God’s comfort, we are encouraged to imaginatively and graciously extend that comfort to others. God’s comfort is for us, in Christ, certainly – but it is a comfort that extends from us to others as we hear the command and invitation of God.

We come back finally to a theme I touched on earlier—something wonderful and astonishing. We know that when comfort is shared in our world it is a deeply human, and truly human encounter. We are at our best when we extend comfort. God’s comfort is shared when we comfort others.

But then the something more, the something astonishing: When comfort is extended in our lives and in our world, the glory of God is on display. When we extend comfort to someone who is in pain; when we extend healing to someone who is broken; when we share friendship to someone who is alone—this is the glory of God in Christ. Look no further. And when we receive comfort; when compassion is shown to us; when healing is experienced in our hearts and bodies—this is the glory of God in Christ. Look no further.

The church, then, is and may be a community of glory as it inhabits the comfort of Christ, extends the comfort of Christ, receives the comfort of Christ. Dayspring is a a community of glory as you inhabit the comfort of Christ, extend the comfort of Christ, receive the comfort of Christ—by the grace and presence of the Holy Spirit. I pray that you are and will be a community of comfort and glory.

And now to the one God be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, now and always. Amen.

Song: Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear.
Refrain: Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Oh come, oh come, thou Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height, in ancient times didst give the law in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

Oh come, thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh; to us the path of knowledge show, and cause us in her ways to go. Refrain

Oh come, thou Key of David, come and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high and close the path to misery. Refrain

Words: John Neale, public domain. Music: Healey Willan © Michael Willan, for the estate of Healey Willian. Reprinted with permission under CCLI, License #3095377​. All rights reserved. Permission to stream the music in this service obtained from CCLI

We respond to serve God

Prayer of gratitude

Response: Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;, praise him all creatures below; praise him above, ye heavenly host; praise Father Son and Holy Ghost

Words: Thomas Ken; Music Genevan Psalter1551;last line, Ravenscroft’s Psalter 1621; both public domain

Reflection on giving

We have been giving faithfully since the beginning of the pandemic and we are committed to continuing the ministry and mission that define Dayspring – using the various ways described on the screen and in Dayspring Weekly News. Thank you all for your support of our shared vision and mission. For those in the sanctuary, if you have offering envelopes with you, simply put them in the offering plate at the back of the sanctuary as you leave the service  today.

Transition: Be still and know
Be still and know that I am God (x3)
words and music: anonymous. public domain. arr. G. McCrostie

Prayer for others and ourselves

Lord God, let everything with breath praise you – every creature that draws in air and oxygen to give life and energy and cell growth and thought. Great blue whale, spouting with a grand woosh – let everything that has breath, praise the Lord. Birds trilling and singing from a tree branch – let everything that has breath, praise the Lord. Dog panting after chasing squirrels round and round in the snow– let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Women and men and kids singing songs of joy and gratitude and celebration – let everything that has breath praise the Lord. With our breath and with our singing and with our words of prayer we praise you this day, O living God. We offer our praise in the name of Jesus, the risen one. We offer it through your living Spirit, who is as close to us as our own breath, who draws us faithfully into your presence, through Jesus.

O God of relationships and of covenant, we thank you that you give us life only with others, in community and friendship and family. Without others, we are not. We thank you for the encouragement and love we receive from others, and for the privilege of offering encouragement and love in return. We thank you for relationships in which honest words may be spoken and forgiveness may be extended. We thank you for Jesus, our brother, our Lord, our friend, our Redeemer.

We remember before you O God, this good creation that you have given through Jesus Christ your Word. And we acknowledge that individually and collectively we have not treated it with respect and care that it deserves. We have asked the earth simply to serve our needs; we have exhausted so many of its resources; we have polluted and despoiled the its rivers and oceans. Forgive us and lead us into a relationship of respect and care for the world you give as a gift.

God of compassion, there are so many ways in which darkness touches our world and our lives. We pray for those among us or known to us who are experiencing anxiety or depression; we lift before you those who struggle with addiction; we ask for the presence of your Holy

spirit with those who are dying; we pray for a sense of purpose for those who feel like life is pointless. We pray for those who suffer in the increasing cold of this season. O God, provide for each one, and meet each one in the grace of your son Jesus, and in the grace of the Holy Spirt.

We pray for the nations of the world. We pray for those countries of the world, particularly thinking of those on the continent of Africa, who do not have access to vaccines or Covid-19 care in the way we do. We pray for health care workers, for political leaders who plan, and for a. just sharing of resources. This morning we pray for the Uyghur people of China amidst reliable reports of hundreds of thousands detained, many in work camps, and many abused. We pray for their protection and for the protection of their rights and dignity. We pray today for migrants in Belarus, on the border of Europe, people exploited and manipulated for political purposes—we pray for the hundreds and thousands who came with the hope of a new life in Europe, as they face a lack of health care, hunger, and detention. We pray for their care and freedom and wellbeing and for those who are supporting them.

Gracious God, in the length and breadth of the earth, we pray for the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ—his compassion, his righteousness, his goodness, his justice. And we offer these prayers in his name. Amen.

Song: My soul gives glory to my God

My soul gives glory to my God. My heart pours out its praise. God lifted up my lowliness in many marvelous ways.

My God has done great things for me; yes, holy is this name. All people will declare me blessed, and blessings they shall claim.

From age to age to all who fear, such mercy love imparts, dispensing justice far and near, dismissing selfish hearts.

Love casts the mighty from their thrones, promotes the insecure, leaves hungry spirits satisfied; the rich seem suddenly poor.

Praise God, whose loving covenant supports those in distress, remembering past promises with present faithfulness.

Words: Miriam Therese Winter © Medical Mission Sisters, 1978, 1987. Music: Anonymous, public domain

Sending out with God’s blessing

Response: Sing amen ! (X2)
Sing Amen, Amen, we praise your name, O God!
Sing Amen! Amen, we praise your name, O God!
Sing Amen! Amen, amen. Amen, amen.
Amen, we praise your name, O God

Words: Xhosa, S.C. Molefe © Lamko Institute,1991. Music: S.C. Molefe © Lamko Institute,1991

Music postlude

““I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” –Jesus

Roland De Vries retains the copyright on the prayers and message presented in this service except as noted in the text. Unacknowledged use of copyrighted material is unintentional and will be corrected immediately upon notification being received.


Posted in Recent Sermons.