I am always here. I cannot escape it, like the perpetual bondage of the present, I exist here. In the past or future I might be there but presently I’m always where I am and where I am is here. You might be there. God might be there. Only when we are together are we all here.
When tragedy strikes in a family member’s life, where you are geographically in relation to the other person matters. I remember a few years ago my phone buzzing in the middle of a Sunday church service. Glancing down at my lock screen, I saw a bit of the text from my mom, “Grandma had a stroke and it’s really…” I swiped the phone open to read the rest of the message. “… bad. I’m trying to get out there ASAP.” My grandma lives three states away, and in that moment I was thinking of all the friends I have in the airline industry who might be able to get me out there fast.
Because you can’t send comfort from afar. You send sympathy. You send condolences. Comfort requires closeness. To hug and to hold. To be here.
Here, then, is a lot less about geography and way more about the comfort of proximity. It’s a word of nearness, of knowing, of connection, of presence.
Along the parade of prophets announcing the coming of the Messiah were also the pronouncements of comfort for the people of God. Isaiah is one of these prophets who announces the physical restoration of Israel out of exile back to their homeland. And amid the reassurances of restoration, he prophesies about the spiritual restoration of the people.
For the Israelites, Here was a world of warfare. Here was a place of iniquity. Here was a place of spiritual poverty. Livinghere was like living in a wasteland. Yet Isaiah gave hope, specifically the thought that when the Lord brings his long-awaited comfort, he will bring peace and forgiveness and abundant blessings and prosperity. If that could happen, all who live here would want to live there.
There is a term the Israelites used to describe this hopeful expectation, this renewal of the earth and the Israelites to their former blessings and special relationship to the Lord. They labeled it the “Consolation of Israel.” At the core of this hope lay the sentiment, “God, would you come down here?”
People today are torn over the state of the world, the state of the country, the state of society. It won’t take long in your imagination for you to conjure up some recent tragedy we all wish weren’t so, and some politician who did x idiotic thing, and some business that has y scandal. On a much more intimate scale, our families have our own pains and hurts and concerns. We utter nonsense like, “In a perfect world,” and “it is what it is.” We long for here to be like it is with God there. In many of the same ways we are people living in exile, just like the Israelites. We feel that here is a place to improve, perhaps even escape. Our systemic issues run so deep we might even ask, “God would you come down here? We need you here!”
Advent is a glorious reminder that God came down here. Not just to us, not just in our direction, but to our location and our dysfunction. He came to earth. _Here_is not an abstract realm to God. He knows the geography and climate and geology of our earth. He knows the structures of our society. He knows the challenges of running a small business. He knows the wickedness among us. He knows the systemic injustice found in our governance. He knows what it is to be here. Here’s a beautiful byproduct of God coming here: he knows, sees, feels, and has walked the road with us here.
In coming down here, Jesus indeed consoled God’s people. Simeon was an elderly Jewish man living at the time of Christ’s birth. Luke records his story in Luke 2:25, and as Luke introduces us to Simeon, he says Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Simeon groaned for better days. He desired the Lord’s righteousness to abound around him. Upon seeing the eight day old baby Jesus, Simeon took the baby in his arms and praised God, saying “I have seen your salvation. You prepared it in the presence of all people.” Few had the privilege like Simeon to wrap their arms around the one who came to us to comfort us. It was so moving for him, he literally says, “I’m finally able to die in peace.” God is here!
As Jesus would grow, he would hint at his mission to bring comfort to the world. In one of his most famous teachings, Jesus promised, ”Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). And later in his life, as his disciples were learning what Jesus was all about, they asked him to teach them to pray. So he prayed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, (here) on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
So much of the life of Jesus was tied up in the restoration and consolation of God’s people to himself, and not in ways where we have to wait to go there to where God is, but to see God has come here to where we are!
Rejoice. Ponder. Reflect. And find rest in the fact that our God sees us here. He is bringing about his peace and comfort to us, which he initiated those centuries ago in Bethlehem… On earth as it is in heaven.