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But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

 

Isaiah 40:1-11
December 18, 2016
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Comfort for God's People"

The Advent Season is a stunning pilgrimage – of sorts… A spiritual  journey in which we together approach the quiet hills of Bethlehem… the serene, humble stable… the Holy Family… the unpretentious manger -- the Blessed Christ Child!  And the fate of the world rests upon this newborn Baby!

The pathway leading there is not easily traveled.  Hills of pride... mountains of arrogance must be leveled.  Deep valleys of remorse... ravines of gloom must be filled.  Briars of sin must be cut and cast aside… 

  

And in some places we only make headway when kneeling close to the ground in humility... crawling beyond the thicket of self-will… its grasping arms of greed… its long clutching fingers of covetousness.  In other places, nettles of sloth must be trampled underfoot… the meandering trail of apathy made straight…

Each inch of the way, however, brings us closer to the indescribable well-being we find in the presence of the Christ Child on Christmas Day!  A warmth that heals and strengthens our souls.  Not one step of our venture is in vain.  

All who complete this demanding pathway find themselves flooded with the overpowering impact of Isaiah’s oracle, of old…

 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Everyone needs comfort -- even the Gadarene demoniac of Jesus’ day.  Comfort is an indispensable aspect of life.  We need not be reminded what a killer stress has proven to be in our day.

We should note first of all these words of comfort were written originally for the exiles in Babylon – 150 years before they ever were ever deported there.  Isaiah calls upon them to flee their exile and return to the Promised Land!  

John the Baptizer, 700 years later, as the forerunner heralding the coming of Jesus Christ, applied them to our Lord!  When asked by the religious leaders of his day just whom he was, he replied, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.  Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”  A clear reference to this morning’s text!

The Early Church took these words and included them in their service books (just like our missal on the Holy Table) as part of the Advent Bible lessons.   And this has come down to us.  We are no different!  The Christ Child may be found!  And we are to travel that same path as exiles to such an holy place!

Second, note the verbs are plural!  You (plural) comfort my people!  God is addressing His heavenly court... His prophetic messengers... all who would be His heralds and set forth His good news!  It is an APB (All Points Bulletin)!

In childhood there is the soothing comfort of a mother’s voice.  To the burden bearers of the earth the comfort of a warm meal... and a peaceful sleep!

I recall a dear saintly woman on her deathbed years ago who derived profound comfort at the end of her days in just a clean pillowcase under her head… the smell of a fresh sheet tucked under her chin…

These all pale into insignificance, however, when compared to the comfort that warms and heals the soul… lightens the step… quickens the pace… cheers the way of all beleaguered saints from ever of old…

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

As strange as it may seem, there have always been those in God’s family who actually resist – refuse – push away this comfort offered by the Almighty – in favor of self-inflicted pain and dis-comfort!  

Hermits… ascetics… monks… who all too often believe they are actually paying off debts they owe to their Maker through self-mortification… self-flagellation… Some do not forgive themselves of their sins... thinking this somehow atones for them.  But our LORD’s kind words this day are...

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

 

If we would represent our Heavenly Father as He truly wishes His children to represent Him, we would be the happiest… most joyful… most pleasant… contented… peaceful of all who walk His earth – finding our greatest joy in the boundless comfort He lavishes upon all of His Own…

…comfort ye my people…

This is certainly a comfort which the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve do not possess… For they look for it in all the wrong places!

This world offers much in the way of comfort… but delivers none.  For the world has none to give!  Look at the headlines each day – they never seem to change!  Sorrow… despair… misery like the restless waves of the sea!

A former famous National Hockey League defenseman had it all, as they say!  Incredible talent… great career… beautiful wife and family… popularity… money… possessions… 

But in his biography, he describes his elusive quest for what?  Comfort!  Comfort from the many hockey injuries which constantly nagged him.  He first turned to pain killers… then without satisfaction, he turned to alcohol… and then once again without satisfaction, he finally turned to drugs… And guess what?  No comfort… No. Bigger problems!  He was trapped in the world’s way!

His wife and family left him.  His coach informed him his career was over – unless he could straighten out his life.

It was then he realized he was alone… without a single thread of comfort in his dark, cold world.  He had hit rock bottom…  

Then he remembered God!  Falling to his knees, he humbly confessed his failures and weaknesses – seeking relief… begging comfort from the unbearable weight of a ruined life... God heard… God forgave…

He found peace and comfort in the Christ!  His life was restored… as was his marriage and his family…  It is quite a story!  His name – Blake Wesley – if you would ever like to read about it!  

God’s comfort can guide us through the most severe challenges!  One of the favorite book titles I ever ran across came to me as a child – speaking of the courage of Christians undergirded by God’s comfort -- Giants in the Land!

During Advent, we repent of our follies!  We confess our misdeeds!  We amend our ways!  We travel light!  We leave behind our madness, our infatuation with this world.  Our focus is on Christ.  His pardon.  His comfort.

Can we feel God’s purpose for us in these famous words?  Do we get it? 

…comfort ye my people…

Is it not enough to know that we are even in His thoughts?  That He has preserved for over 2,700 years this His purpose for us -- that it might once more come into our ears... enter our minds and hearts this morning? 

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

These words are given to comfort all who remember Him and quietly make their way to the silver-draped hills of Bethlehem in worship!  No entertainment!  No posturing!  No self-proclamation!  But with all His angels... only love and adoration for the Christ Child!

Comfort from the sun’s first rays…

Comfort till the end of days…

Comfort from heaven’s rich store…

Comfort for evermore…

We are almost to Bethlehem.  We are almost to the stable.  

We are almost to the manger.  We are almost to the Christ Child!  

Know and cherish the comfort He gives. 

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Amen.




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