A Bracing Comfort

Andrew Errington reflects on the making of our common home through the coming of God to Jerusalem in Messiah Jesus.


For our seventh Advent 2023 devotional, Andrew Errington reflects on the making of our common home through the coming of God to Jerusalem in Messiah Jesus.

A Bracing Comfort


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.’

A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
   And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
   their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
   when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
   surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
   but the word of our God will stand for ever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
   O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
   O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
   lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
   ‘Here is your God!’
See, the Lord God comes with might,
   and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
   and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
   he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
   and gently lead the mother sheep.

Isaiah 40:1-11



The comfort offered by the good news of the Messiah is not the comfort of familiar places and things, but a bracing comfort, a comfort that in the same movement lifts us out of complacency and all the ways we make-do and settle-for, and throws us into an embrace both terrifying and safe, into the arms of a God whose power is perfect, and so free to be gentle.

Look closer at this famous Advent text of Isaiah, so well known to many from Handel’s Messiah, and you discover a message that is in many ways uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable, first, for its insistent particularity: the good news proclaimed is good news for Jerusalem, for Zion, for ‘the towns of Judah’. There is no mistaking it; this was a message for the Jews, for the redemption of Israel. And this redemption promises disruption for everywhere else: the other places that come into view – the very general ‘wilderness’, ‘valleys’, ‘mountains’, and ‘rough places’ – are due to be disrupted: uplifted, levelled, turned into highways.

In the second place it is uncomfortable for its insistent realism. ‘All people are like grass’. The Hebrew deprives us even of the softening effect of the English ‘like’: ‘All people are grass’. The likening of people to the most impermanent of plant life is designed to deprive us of, to wrench us out of the instinctive hope we put in human beings, their efforts and achievements. Isaiah asks us to stare hard at the truth of our mortality, our finitude and weakness: ‘Surely the people are grass’.

Yet just here is the beginning of the passage’s true comfort. For this realism is no longer particular. The transience of human beings is not just Israel’s condition, but the human condition. In our transience and finitude Israel stands alongside all humanity, united in need and dependence.

Which is why Israel’s comfort can become humanity’s comfort too. The coming of God to Jerusalem is also the coming of God to humanity. ‘Salvation is from the Jews’, as Jesus would later say (John 4:22); but it goes out to the ends of the earth. ‘The glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together’.

Our comfort – our common comfort – is found in the coming of God to Jerusalem. It was and is a coming full of both wrath and mercy, power and might, on the one hand – or arm, as Isaiah would say – and also arresting gentleness. ‘He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart’.

For by this coming, the Lord has made a place, a home, for all people – a common home. For our common home is made, in the end, by the powerful and gentle presence of God. 

And so what John sees, at the end of the Bible, is ‘the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God’. And what he hears is the voice from the throne declaring, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them’ (Rev. 21:2–3, NRSV).



Andrew Errington is the rector of Newtown Erskineville Anglican Church, a Christian ethicist, and a lover of the ocean.



This devotional is the seventh in a series of daily email devotionals for Advent 2023. This year's series reflects on the longing, hope, and beauty of God’s ‘Common Home’ being realised, revealed, and renewed through the birth of Jesus.

Would you like to receive the rest of this email series?

Sign up here to receive this daily series delivered to your inbox.

Advent: Common Home