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 all 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. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
—Isaiah 40:1-5 (NRSV)
But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
—I Corinthians 12:24b-26 (NRSV)
Dear sisters and brothers,
In the last six months I have had the privilege to be with WCRC member churches in some of the most troubled parts of our world—in Colombia, North and South Korea and Lebanon and Syria to name just a few—all witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ in situations of war and violence that are amongst the worst and most protracted on the entire planet. We all know how troubled, broken and turbulent the world is, and I saw how great the burden and suffering in those contexts, but the churches are implacable in hope and work for justice, peace and reconciliation in the face of it all. One can’t overstate the enormity of the suffering, human tragedy, displacement and pain, nor the yearning for peace.
There is also no minimizing the persistent, stubborn resurrection hope rooted in faith in God that leads our churches—with other churches, other faiths and other people of good will—to insist on ending the spiraling military violence and seeking dialogue and peaceful solutions based on justice and reconciliation.
The classic Advent text from Isaiah lands in the midst of the yearning and suffering, grounding the hope that restoration, healing and peace are coming. And the suffering need that word of comfort. They need to know in this outrageously troubled, violent, death-dealing world that God’s peace and justice are at hand.
Standing in the pulpit of the National Evangelical Church in Damascus, Syria, the need for the suffering to end was palpable—but so was the hope. I stood in a new pulpit, replacing the one destroyed by a missile two years ago. God’s promises of comfort, peace and reconciliation felt real because members of the same Body of Christ had remembered this church in their prayers and sent funds for a new pulpit and new pews—but what they also sent was a renewal of hope; the certainty of God’s presence through the love and solidarity of others in the same family. They witness for peace in a desperate situation without any doubt that they are NOT alone. That Jesus Christ in and through and with the WCRC family are with them. They know the truth and hope in the words “…when one suffers…”
This sense of solidarity and hope was also present in September, worshipping with two congregations in North Korea. And God’s transforming presence in the midst of war shone forth in Colombia when the Presbyterian Church there boldly supported the peace process accompanied by other members of the WCRC family.
Thanks be to God! And may the peace of our Lord be with you in this very special season where we commemorate the birth of our Saviour.