“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
This year, I hear these words in a new way. They are not just words that set the stage for Jesus’ earthly mission. They are not simply a prelude to the gospel; they are a promise and a gift of comfort and joy, as we come to the end of a year that has been marked by strife and suffering. In some ways all of us have experienced captivity this past year. We have not been able to go where we wanted to go. We have not been able to spend time with those we wanted to spend time with. Some have been separated from family. Others have suffered financial strain. Many have been overwhelmed by worry and a growing sense of doom. And it is into this pain that God is sending good news. This will not last. We will experience the Lord’s favour.
But we are not just passive recipients who await this favour; we are also active agents of this favour. Our response to suffering makes the Lord’s favour a reality for ourselves and for others. We, who have been anointed by the Holy Spirit through baptism and confirmation, are asked to be the voice of compassion and comfort. We are asked to give voice to the Word that creates reality.
Even though we have listened to these words year after year, many of us have failed to see just how powerful our voice can be in the face of suffering. In recent years, however, modern neuroscience has begun to recognize that the voice of compassion is a primary source of healing. We now know that there are three basic things that are needed to activate the part of our brain that sooths us. The first is supportive touch. The second is warmth, both physical and emotional. And the third is the voice that “coos” comfort. – No matter what our age, if we are suffering, we need these same three things that a crying baby needs.
That can be a difficult concept in a world in which we pride ourselves on strength and endurance, a world in which comparing someone to a baby is a horrible insult. Perhaps that is why our lectionary calls us to be the voice of comfort only two weeks before we welcome the coming of God as a baby. If the almighty, all-powerful God can come as an infant who needs to be comforted, surely there can be no shame when we need to be comforted. If Mary and Joseph could offer comfort to the Son of God without embarrassment or resistance, surely, we can do the same for other human beings. This week may each of us practice being the voice of comfort. Place a gentle hand over your heart, feel the supportive touch and the warmth. Speak in the gentle tones you would use to soothe an infant. “I know this hurts. I know this is incredibly hard. We are going to get through it. Everything is going to be okay.” Notice what happens.