I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them and give them gladness for sorrow. - Jeremiah 31:13
This verse reminds me of the chorus of the Christmas song, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." You know it, don't you? Would you please sing that chorus with me right now? Here we go. What's that, you say? A Christmas song in July? Yes, I know it's hot. Just try it. Maybe it will make you feel cooler. Everybody sing. Ready? One, two, three: “Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy! Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!" Good job!
Perhaps you felt silly doing that (or maybe thought I was for asking you to do that). But I have a reason. I love the theme of that song, describing the angels' message to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus as tidings of comfort and joy. Current events and news about those events threaten our joy. We're quite uncomfortable with circumstances around us in our country and in the world. We need some tidings of comfort and joy right here and now, not way off in December.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote at a dark time in the history of Israel and Judah. He envisioned the time of the coming new covenant in Chapter 31 of his prophecy. When God kept his covenant promises and brought Messiah into the world, the good news of his coming and his kingdom would make people who received it dance with joy. Messiah would bring victory over sin and death. His people really would be merry, glad and comforted.
I wonder if we must experience darkness to truly appreciate light. When I was a boy, I would help my father in his darkroom. When we developed film (ask your grandparents, kids), we had to open the film cartridges and load the exposed film onto rolls and put them in the developer in total darkness. As in no light. No sense of your hand six inches from your face with your eyes wide open. It was unsettling, but I got used to it. And I was always glad when the lights could come back on.
Maybe it works that way with the darker experiences of life. We probably have a heightened appreciation for the blessing of comfort when we've been hurt deeply. We wouldn't take joy for granted if we knew it after a time in the depths of sorrow.
I am not suggesting you go out in search of pain or sorrow. Don't go borrow trouble just to know the gladness of relief. The truth is that you and I live in a broken, fallen world where Jesus assures us, "I have said these things to you that you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
We may wish the world wasn't so broken. We wish the trouble we face had never come. It’s ok to wish, but the reality is that the world is broken. We do face sin, sickness and sadness. We feel loneliness and loss. We suffer pain and even pandemics. There is strife and suffering all around us. The news is distressing and discouraging.
Into that dark, miserable mess, God promised a new covenant that would change mourning to joy and sorrow to gladness. Just as he spoke light into existence to overcome pre-Creation darkness, he can give comfort and joy in the place of agony and heartbreak. God has revealed some of his purpose for pain and trouble, but we may be left to wonder why and question how long about some things he allows into our lives.
It takes faith to see beyond the unpleasant present, and trust to believe in God's promise and power to make it better. While we endure difficulty, we can find comfort in the midst of our suffering, and trust that one day we will experience joyful relief.
When it's dark around us, when we're hurting and afraid, let's sing that chorus to remind ourselves of the tidings of comfort and joy. Memorize Jereimiah 31:13. Quote it to yourself. Sing the song, regardless of the calendar. I pray that God will grant you the gladness of comfort and joy.