Third Sunday in Advent December 17, 2000
97, 114, 61, 647
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
Dear Friends In Christ Jesus, Dear Fellow Redeemed:
I can’t remember how long ago it was ( a year ago or so maybe) when I had a particularly interesting conversation with one of the members here. We we’re talking about the difficulties that some of our friends and relatives were having, and asking each other how the various people were handling whatever trouble they had. Some it seemed we’re doing better than others. There came a pause in the conversation, and then the member made this very true statement: “You know,” he said, “we’re not as tough as we’d like to think.”
Now those are words worth remembering! For even the most macho man, or the most well-adjusted and confident woman, is not so strong as they might appear. For beneath a brave-looking face you can often find a scared little child who isn’t quite so sure of himself as he lets on.
From little on we’re told, “You have to be strong.” “Be a man,” fathers say to their sons. “Pull yourself together” are common words of advice to those whose lives are unraveling at the seams.
God’s Word today gives us an entirely different perspective on life. It tells us we don’t need to be tough. What we really need is God’s pure, sweet, comfort. It invites us to look at ourselves, not as super men or super women, but as helpless children, totally dependent upon our Savior God for everything. It calls us away from a self-reliant proud ego into the arms of a God who loves us with of His heart. So how about this for a theme today:
Focus with me for a bit on the situation in our text. God is speaking to the people of Judah—the tiny kingdom surrounding Jerusalem—the only part then left of what was once the rather large nation of Israel. He is pointing them ahead to dark days—to the days when they would be held in bondage by the Babylonians. The inhabitants of Judah (the Jews) would experience the terror of war. They would see their homes burned and their loved ones killed. They would see their homeland conquered and humiliated. They would experience the harsh life of living in exile.
God would use this ordeal to purge His people of the sin of worshipping idols. But in our text the LORD is more concerned with something else. He wants to give His children living in captivity comfort. He knew they would break under the stress of living in a foreign land. He also knew they could not bear the strain of living with a guilty conscience—the guilt that as a nation they had been unfaithful to Him, as well as their burden of sin as individuals. To prevent their collapse He says: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
God gave them what they needed most—His mighty Word of comfort. He wanted to lift the burden off their backs and carry it for them. So He promises that though they had deserted Him, they were still His people. Though they were suffering in bondage, their servitude would come to an end. Though they had an un-payable debt of sin, God would take care of it—He would pay it for them. God, in fact, would take away their sins and would give them, in exchange, a double blessing: freedom from bondage as well as the privilege of returning to their homeland. God was calling His people, not to be tough, but to depend on Him in simple faith.
I’ve been pastor here for a number of years now. In those years I’ve seen and shared your troubles and trials. I’ve seen how much you need God’s comfort. You need it as much as I do, as much as the Jews did, as much as any Christian does. I’ve seen some of you struggle with the worry of being unemployed. I’ve seen others trying to deal with the stress of being employed as you face difficulties in your place of work. Many of you I have visited in the hospital, watching, in some cases, your slow and painful recoveries. Others I have seen saddened by the loss of loves ones. Still others have come to me with family and marital problems. Some have shared with me the pain of watching children or grandchildren stray from the Lord’s side. I’ve also seen you younger ones battle to remain true to your Savior as you are daily confronted with temptations at school.
Then there is something which I don’t see as often. Something, however, which I know is there. It is that invisible, but yet all too real burden of guilt. Sins of the past rise up to haunt you. Trespasses of the present cause you to shake your head in despair. You live with the agony of knowing you have failed your Savior time and time again. “How absolutely terrible I am,” you confess in your inner soul. “There’s nothing good about me.”
It’s a wonder that with all the outward and inward turmoil we experience that we don’t break. Well, some of us do. All of us, in fact, do to a certain extent from time to time.
I once saw a play by Tennessee Williams called “The Glass Menagerie.” It was about an extremely introverted young woman who collected little glass animal figures. Her favorite was a tiny unicorn. In the story with her was also her brother and mother. These two characters had problems of their own as well. None of the characters, in fact, were very well adjusted. I don’t remember much about the play, but I do remember that toward the end the unicorn was accidentally dropped, shattering in several pieces. Now I’m not much on figuring out the meaning of Broadway plays, but in this case the meaning seemed rather simple and obvious: That, when it comes right down to it, people are like fragile glass figurines, extremely breakable.
The season of Advent and Christmas is a special time of year for those of us who know we aren’t so tough—who have learned to be dependent upon the LORD—who see their desperate need for a Savior from sin. For we know of a place where there is shelter from the storm. With the Word we are led by the Spirit into the sanctuary of the Bethlehem stable. It is cold and cruel out in the world. But here it is warm and safe. For our God is here, come down from heaven to give us peace and joy. We are not so strong, but we lean upon Him who is all powerful. We are not so wise, but in His face we have light to guide us through all the dark confusion. We are not worthy whatsoever to come into His presence, but He invites us still. For He is our God, and we are His people. He is the one who died for us and nailed our every last transgression to His cross. And so we come. And in exchange for our sins He gives us the double blessings of forgiveness and everlasting life!
There is no lack of comfort in the Christ-child. Like the people of Judah we are in exile. We are foreigners in a strange country longing to get home. But Christ goes with us all the way, bidding us always to put the load on Him. We think we have to be tough, but we do not. God knows we cannot begin to carry the weight of our earthly and spiritual burdens. Nor does He want us to try. “Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you,” He urges us in His Word (1 Peter 5:7). He wants us to stop being tough, and let Him be our toughness, our strength, our stability and our power. He wants us to put away our pride, which tries to convince us we can get along all by ourselves. He wants us to humbly repent of self-dependence so that He may enter into our hearts with His cleansing love—so that He Himself may be our confidence, our courage, our self-esteem.
He also wants us to make His Word and Sacraments our dearest treasures in life. For it is through these channels where he meets us directly with His comfort. It is here in church, as we hear the Gospel preached and receive it in the Holy Supper, it is at home, as we privately read and meditate upon it, where He buoys us up for life out there and prepares for life up there.
So hear the words again. Let them wrap around you like a warm blanket against your sorrows and your sins. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard serve has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. Those are God’s own words to you. Words of absolute and powerful comfort. Words to make you tougher than you really are! AMEN!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.