An Advent message from the Secretary of the Methodist Conference
In many churches and concert halls at this time of year there are performances of George Frederick Handel’s masterpiece, Messiah. A short orchestral overture (the ‘Symphony’) gives way to the tenor voice’s thrilling opening words, ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people’. There are those who argue that Messiah should be performed at Easter (and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be) but that clarion call from Isaiah chapter 40 is the message of Advent. God calls on God’s messenger to comfort God’s people.
‘Comfort’ is a powerful word. It can, like all words, be misunderstood. Isaiah’s call to preach a word of comfort is not simply about making people feel better, either by ignoring or shutting out the reality of their situation. The comfort that is offered is a combination of sympathy and strength; it is established on God’s continued identification with God’s people; it recognises that rough places need to be made smooth; it speaks from love to give confidence and hope.
‘Comfort ye my people’ is a proclamation to an oppressed and depressed people that God is with them and that God will act for and through them.
I don’t think that there has been an Advent in my lifetime when that message of comfort has been so desperately needed. The political uncertainty of the UK’s impending exit from the European Union has been compounded by a General Election campaign conducted in the darkest days of the year. For many, the political climate is one not of hope but of despair; the old certainties are gone and it is not yet clear what realignment will replace them. New forms of media bombard us with information whose veracity cannot be established and accusations of untrustworthiness abound.
Members of minority groups voice their fears about the future and some no longer feel welcome in the places they have lived for many years. We live under the shadows of knife crime and terrorist violence which serve to perpetuate the divisiveness of our society. The need for urgent action in the world to tackle climate change is all too apparent while in this country the number of children living in poverty continues to grow.
In that context, the Church proclaims the message of comfort that was given to Isaiah. God loves and cares for God’s people; God enters into God’s world not with bluster and false promises but in vulnerability; God experiences oppression and suffers with the despairing – and God allows neither oppression nor despair to have the final word. The curious juxtaposition of polling stations in schools producing nativity plays will be an inconvenience for many an Head Teacher on 12 December, but it is a powerful proclamation that beyond and within the current situation God is with us and we can experience true comfort.
The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler
Secretary of the Methodist Conference
A prayer for General Election week
From The President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference
God of all wisdom and truth
this week we pray especially for
those who stand for political office
those who vote
those who are afraid of change
those who need change
We pray for MP's and a government
that will challenge poverty,
support the weak,
uphold the fainthearted
and be courageous
on behalf of the most vulnerable.
In this time of Advent waiting
guide us not by self-interest
but by the Way of Jesus
the gentle leader -
bring him to birth amongst us
as Mighty God, Everlasting Father
Prince of Peace