This tenor aria from Handel's Messiah is just about the prettiest thing I've ever heard, and it is one of my favorite Christmas season songs. Or anytime songs. "Comfort Ye" comes right after the orchestral overture, so the first line of this aria is the first vocal line of the entire oratorio. I especially love the way the second "comfort" just floats in the air like a leaf borne on the wind.
The text comes from Isaiah, and although I had always interpreted this text to be about John the Baptist, I recently learned that its meaning also applies to the exiles in Babylon who had been carried off when Jerusalem was destroyed. The text in Isaiah that follows the "Comfort Ye" lines, the text of the next tenor aria "Every Valley Shall Be Exalted", can definitely be interpreted as a hope for homecoming on the part of the exiles, a dream of a clear path back to their city, temple and homeland.
My favorite voice for "Comfort Ye" is Paul Esswood, the soloist on the 1995 Mormon Tabernacle Choir recording. The choir's recording is phenomenal, truly stunning. But alas ... youtube yielded many other tenors, but not Mr. Esswood. However, this soloist will have to do.