December 1. “Comfort, Comfort Now My People” by Johann Olearius, (1611-1684); translated by Catherine Winkworth (1829-1878)
Comfort, comfort now my people;Tell of peace!” so says our God.
Comfort those who sit in darkness, mourning under sorrows’ load;
To God’s people now proclaim That God’s pardon waits for them!
Tell them that their war is over; God will reign in peace forever!
For the herald’s voice is crying In the dessert far and near,
Calling us to true repentance, Since the Kingdom now is here.
Oh, that warning cry obey! Now prepare for God away!
Let the valleys rise to met him, And the hills bow down to greet him!
Straight shall be what long was crooked, And the rougher places plain!
Let your hearts be true and humble, As befits his holy reign!
For the glory of the Lord Now on earth is shed abroad,
And all flesh shall se the token That God’s word is never broken.
This lesser known Advent hymn is a paraphrase of Isaiah 40:1-8 which is a popular passage for the Advent season. It is the focus of the opening 3 movements of Handel’s Messiah.
The hymn was written in 1641 by German hymn writer Johan Gottfried, better known by the Latin version of his name, Johannes Olearius. In addition to being a hymn writer, Olearius was at one time a court chaplain, a professor of philosophy and the author of a commentary on the entire Bible. He published “Comfort, Comfort Now My People” along with 300 of his other hymns in one of the most important German hymnals of the 17th century. Almost 2 centuries later the English scholar and educator Catherine Winkworth translated the hymn from German into English.
The hymn follows closely the text and meaning of the Scripture text of Isaiah 40:1-11. It represents the turning point from the theme of sin and judgment which dominates the first part of Isaiah to the theme of blessing and salvation that characterizes the latter part. The passage speaks in rich poetic language of the advent of the Messiah, the salvation he brings, and the glorious effect upon Israel and the world.