Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice cries:
“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.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said,“What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young. (IS 40:1-11)
The students of the Hope-Western Prison Education Program at Muskegon Correctional Facility file into the classroom. The walk across The Yard is an exercise in self-control as they absorb the barbs of others, their backpacks and textbooks targets of derision.
“Who do they think they are?”
Their state-issued clothing is worn and patched and hangs loosely on their bodies. Their environment is a crooked place.
A shadow-filled valley
A place of uneven ground
The world offers them no comfort.
And yet, smiles and rumors of smiles fill the classroom. Their professors break open
Their shackled imaginations
Their trauma-twisted lives
Their imprisoned hearts
And some, perhaps many, begin to see themselves as God’s. As made in God’s image, and by God’s love. And in God they are
Forever. Living witnesses to Advent. And the glory of the Lord is revealed anew.