Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent Strength

I hung a little sign in my kitchen for the holidays that says "Comfort and Joy." I love that phrase because it's cute and it seems sort of kitchen-y (you know, like comfort food). But as I was washing dishes the other day, I realized that there's a lot more weight to those words than the cute, jolly meaning we attach to them when we slap them on a little wooden sign.

In Hebrew, the word for comfort, nacham, is translated "strength." Comfort is more than just some feel-good emotion, more substantial than a bowl of mac and cheese or twice-baked potatoes. Comfort is strength from the Lord.

Dr. Eakin was the first to define the word for me in these terms. He did so in our Hebrew Prophets class, when we talked about Isaiah 40: "'Comfort, comfort, my people,' says your God...He gives strength to the weary" (vv. 1, 29). That was years ago, my junior year at Richmond. But this Christmas, the idea of "comfort (strength) and joy" has special significance.

It's been a hard year for our family. With Grandma Russell's passing in October and Grandpa Russell's chaotic bout of kidney cancer and his passing in August, there have been so many tears and so much grief. When I was home for Thanksgiving, I was struck by how different things feel, and that's tough, especially around the holidays. My mom, in particular, is just now fully able to grieve. As I thought about all of that, I did a little word search (how I love thee,!) for "comfort and joy."

In Jeremiah 31:13, the Lord declares, "I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow." What a promise! I'm claiming it for my family this Christmas.

The beautiful thing about Isaiah 40 and Jeremiah 31 is that both point undeniably to the coming of Jesus. He, God incarnate, is the ultimate source of strength. In Isaiah 40, the prophet declares the word of the Lord: "Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her...that her sin has been paid for" (v.2). Then he proclaims the words that John the Baptist will fulfill, "A voice of one calling: 'In the desert prepare the way for the LORD'" (v.3). And Jeremiah 31 is one of the most significant passages in Hebrew Scripture, in which God promises to make a new covenant, to write the Law on his people's hearts (vv. 31-33). Obviously, this is a promise that can only be fulfilled by Jesus, the Word (Heb. "Law"--See my October 2008 post on Simchat Torah for more on how modern Messianic Jews understand this connection.) In the Incarnation, we find a resource to help us face every hardship.

As we sat by my Christmas tree over wine and good conversation Thursday night, some friends encouraged me to let the tears come this Christmas, to sit in the grief for a while, to put aside any expectations of how Christmas is supposed to be--all happy and jolly and light. This verse lends the encouragement needed for that different kind of Christmas, a Christmas where I may cry and be sad. I don't have to manufacture joy or strength--God has promised them to me, in His timing. In Jesus, He will turn my mourning into gladness.


Erin said...

Wow! I just found your blog and it is really rocking my world! It has already blessed me more than I can say! Thank you!

Chelsea said...

Thanks so much, Erin! Do we know each other?