During a long automobile trip over the Christmas holidays, our family listened several times to a recording of Handel's "Messiah." The music and beautiful voices and the rendition of many familiar verses from the Bible made me think deeply about the message of "Messiah."
So, as we began hearing about the tsunami, the horrific experiences of thousands, and the immediate outpouring of sympathy and aid, both the very dark as well as the deeply consoling lyrics of the great oratorio kept coming to mind.
To me, the world's response to "Comfort ye my people" by donations of every sort mirrors the love of God. The more I've thought about this desire to comfort, the more it has become apparent that such a desire needs to be accompanied by another contribution - a deeper understanding and living of this idea of the Comforter, which is praised in Handel's work in the embodiment named Christ Jesus. This idea of divine comfort appears in different ways in the great figures of each religious tradition, as for example in the compassion of the Buddha and in the generosity of the prophet Muhammad.
Jesus' life offers a full definition of this comfort with its basic message of God's unconditional, constant care. His healing ministry and his own resurrection exemplify this presence of God's power to save and restore. The oneness with his Father, his divine source, shows us the way to live such a life that he described as living more abundantly. His invariable love enabled him to overcome hatred and even death itself.
More and more I am seeing that the real test of our love for others is our individual willingness, in the words of "Messiah," to break bonds and "cast away yokes" of self-interest and hatred that ultimately find expression in conflicts of all sorts and in the neglect that results in tragedies of all kinds. Then the "kingdoms of this world" may become "the kingdom of our Lord."
Many people have experienced overwhelming grief, despair, and agony. They know the feeling of helplessness when the best that love and money can do is insufficient. That's where the Messiah, the Comforter, comes in to help us face such darkness and find light. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light." The presence and power of mercy, justice, and peace, or even just the vision of these qualities, have been glimpsed by people in dire circumstances throughout the ages.
For example, the Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, who faced many forms of darkness over decades, wrote in a poem titled "Christ My Refuge":
And o'er earth's troubled, angry sea
I see Christ walk,
And come to me, and tenderly,
"Poems," pages 12-13
Her own writings and her biographers give a pretty good idea of some of the tender, divine talk she heard amid the shocks and tumult of contempt, sickness, and loss. A fundamental message of her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" is the comfort of God's ever-present, all-powerful love.
Anyone can hear this divine message. It may come in the form of a friend's words, a poem, or prayer. We may hear it in the verses of the Bible as Handel did and find ourselves singing as did the angels of God's power to establish goodwill and to deliver from sorrow and death. However it comes - and all sacred texts promise both its ever-presence and continuous coming - it contains the guarantee that all seek. It's not a guarantee that we or those in faraway lands will never face calamities; rather it is the one all-sufficient promise voiced in the Bible over and over in such assurances as, "Certainly I will be with thee" and "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Ex. 3:12; Heb. 13:5).
Our individual efforts to express the inexhaustible source of compassion more fully are an invaluable contribution to the welfare of others. These efforts bring inspiration and strength and even new joy to continue. They enable us to find the comfort with which we can "comfort [His] people." Then "the glory of the Lord" will be seen upon us all.