December 6, 2020; Isaiah 40: 1-5; 9-11; Second Sunday of Advent
The words in today’s first reading come to us as a soothing ointment: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” All of us need comfort at one time or another. Perhaps you need comfort today. Perhaps you need comfort from the fear and the frustration of the coronavirus. Maybe you need relief from the anger you feel about our country’s political situation. Perhaps you need to ease the pain of a sickness or find freedom from the discouragement you feel in a family situation. Whatever stress or trouble we experience, God promises us comfort. But comfort comes with a condition. If we want to receive peace, we must trust the giver of peace. If we want comfort, we must be willing to place our lives in God’s hands.
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy was the mother of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the thirty-fifth president of the United States. When she married her husband Joe, they were at the top of the world. Wealthy and privileged, they were confident that they would raise an ideal family. In 1918, Rose gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. But it soon became clear that the child had intellectual disabilities that would demand she spend her life in an institution. Rose was devastated. She was filled with anger toward God. She could not understand why she had been given this child. She became more and more isolated, seldom leaving the family home. This went on for a good deal of time.
Then one day, a maid that worked in the Kennedy home spoke up. She said: “Mrs. Kennedy, I have watched you now for several months, and I know how angry you are. But if you don’t do something, that anger is going to ruin you.” Then the maid made a suggestion. She said, “I think you should say this prayer: O Lord, make my heart a manger, where the Christ child can be born.” Rose Kennedy dismissed these remarks as a kind of impertinence and went about her daily routine. But that night, she could not sleep. The simple prayer that the maid had given her kept tossing around in her mind. Finally, in the middle of the night, she knelt beside her bed. With a deep surrender, she prayed: “O Lord, make my heart a manger where the Christ Child can be born.” Her prayer was answered. Her surrender was accepted. Her anger was gone. She was comforted.
If we wish to be comforted, we must surrender to the Comforter. We must realize that it is impossible to comfort ourselves. Therefore, we need to ask God to change us, to make our hearts a manger where we can receive the gifts that only God can give. If we seek relief from fear, we must give ourselves to the Prince of Peace. If we want our anger to dissipate, we must ask God to soften our hearts. If we need relief from suffering, we must open ourselves to God’s love. If we want our family to be whole, we must believe in the God who can make all thing new.
As Christmas approaches, what better prayer could we say than, “Lord, make my heart a manger where the Christ Child can be born.” The only way we can find true and lasting comfort is in the arms of the One who once laid his head in a manger of Bethlehem.