"Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem."
As we approach the feast of Christmas, it can be a busy, tense, and sometimes heart wrenching time. Emotions are heightened -we want it to be special, we want it to be right, and often the mountains and valleys can seem even higher and deeper during this time.
For example, decorating - decorating the house can become a mountain! As I was decorating the rectory this year, I asked some of my friends & family to help. I went to Nied’s farm to pick up the tree. The owner, Greg, always gives us this huge tree that goes to the ceiling of the rectory, it’s like 15’ tall. Driving back, the snow was falling and it was a beautiful winter day. As I pulled up to the rectory, I saw the families arriving with hot chocolate & donuts in their hands, and smiles on their faces. This was going to be so much fun!
I love children, but it takes me about two hours with them to remind me once more what a wonderful gift celibacy is.. And I praise God and thank Him for the gift! What I mean by that is that I don’t realize how parents make it 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Don't get me wrong, children are great, but they are non-stop; "Fr. Michael, Fr. Michael, Fr. Michael… what can we do next?" When you give them something worthwhile to do, they either don’t really want to do it, or get bored half way through -quit and walk away. Or you give them something else to do and they totally mess it up. My brother Jim and I were putting the lights on the tree -and the kids wanted to do the lights so bad, so we told them that when we got down lower they could help. Excited, they began preparing the lights -and by preparing, I mean tangling them in this huge knot that would become a challenging puzzle for Jim and I to spend the next 20 minutes undoing. I watched and laughed as they took their hot chocolates out and Jim said, "you better drink that in the kitchen", knowing that they were spill prone. After a couple of hours, we were nearing the end; the floor had to be vacuumed and the boxes taken down. At that very moment, one of the little girls did exactly what I then wanted to do myself - she lay on the ground and threw a fit! She had had it - and so had I!. I wanted them all out! Don’t get me wrong this was a blast - love, laughter, music, beauty - but you can only get so much of a good thing.
In the moment of all of this chaos, I see something beyond wonder -a moment so precious and gentle and beautiful. As she lay there on the ground upset, Jim humbles himself and lays down right in front of his daughter. His face is inches away from hers. And he begins to speak so gently to her, tenderly, playfully, tapping her nose and telling her “come on, were almost done.” It was a much different approach than I was ready for and it brought an ease and gentleness to the whole situation.
The words that we hear today are very easy words to hear and to take in, but so often they are very difficult to carry out:
"Comfort, give comfort to my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end..." (Isaiah 40:2)
This is how we are to treat each other as we approach Christmas - comfort those who are struggling, those who are lonely, who have lost a loved one, or are frustrated by life... and allow yourself to be comforted by God. As we hear in the second reading, He is so patient with us, and He speaks these gentle words to us, "And to those you love, speak tenderly." It’s that simple, but it can be so difficult at times. So often we are the most rough, hard, and impatient with those we are closest to. Let these words guide you this Advent as we prepare the way of the Lord, "Make straight our paths and give comfort. Speak tenderly to those that you love."