Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her.
Yesterday, as we were driving along, my wife and I witnessed the above photograph - credit to my wife for capturing the image on her phone. The small, slight rainbow amid the gloomy gray clouds. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I believe the above photo could summarize the whole book of Isaiah. Isaiah holds in tension the beauty and brokenness of life. He doesn't deny or dismiss the existence of the gloomy, gray threatening clouds of life. But he also poetically and prophetically says, "God is not finished with us yet." Isaiah's ministry before, during, and after the Babylonian exile.
Exile is an important spiritual image. Exile is that time you feel like a stranger in a strange land (perhaps that the Thanksgiving table this last week with family or at a new job or been shunned because of your sexuality or gender identification.) Exile is any time your life feels like it has been turned upside down (you or a beloved family member/friend gets sick or our brothers and sisters in CA dealing with ash where there was a home). Exile is any time you no longer feel comfortable in your skin...perhaps all of us know the feel of sticking out like a sore thumb or not recognizing the words falling from our lips. Ever said something you regret? I do...every day. In fact a good day is when I only have a few bone headed moments...most days I need at least both hands to try to keep track and count.
Isaiah ministered to people before, during, and after the Exile. These words about comfort are so powerful and profound...pastoral and poetic. Isaiah 40 might have been spoken to people right at the beginning of Exile. There were many people who would have thought there was no comfort. Remember how you felt when someone said something that hurt? Remember how you felt when you didn't get invited to the party or gathering? You don't always want to feel comfort. Sometimes the ache is so bad you just want to howl to get the pain out. It's like saying to someone, "Don't cry."
But comfort isn't saying we should not feel a certain way. Comfort is about flinging wide open our lives to God's presence in the pain. Not God who will magically take everything away...this isn't a musical where God will clear away the gray skies so we can put on a happy face. God's presence is that small, slight rainbow. It isn't either or...it is both and. God in the clouds and rainbow.
Comfort to those in exile...not that they immediate go back home and back to normal...but even in this strange land they didn't want to be in...God there. And if God is there...God can be here too. May there be a trace of God's grace...like a small rainbow every day in your life.