Comfort and Joy
That phrase is usually sung during the Advent and Christmas Season. The season we are in is Lent and that is to be a time to reflect, remember, repent and return to the Lord. So, why do I title this blog post Comfort and Joy? This past week has been filled with lessons, from the Dorcas Ladies Group LCMS study title “Joy:full Lutheran” to the Ladies Bible Study at Faith Lutheran’s study for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, lessons that brought me comfort and joy.
In the one lesson, the writer spoke of struggling with recognizing they are a “poor, miserable sinner”, as the Confession in our Liturgy puts in, while in the other lesson it was a struggle to find the balance of justification and sanctification. This struggle ended with an element of “pride in what we have done or an element of doubt that we have done enough.” Both of these I could relate to.
In the one lesson, the writer struggled with their sins and not wanting to remember them weekly, as is the start of the Divine Service each week for Lutherans, and only wanting the “glory” and joyous or happy sentiments. Rather than focusing on the Cross, the sins Christ took upon Himself for the world, a world of sinners, some want to move past that to some type of happy-clappy Christianity or glory. Lutherans call this a Theology of Glory; heaven here below. Often, in more evangelical and especially Pentecostal and Charismatic styled churches the focus is on all the blessings (usually physical, monetary etc) and power to be experienced here below.
However, the Theology of the Cross (Lutherans tend to be the ones which teach this distinctive) means that we are a people who remember that we are still dust and slog through this sinful world battling our sinful selves, the world and the devil. The battle comes when the two theologies clash. Those who hold to the first will challenge Christians engaged in trials and battles saying they don’t have enough faith to get through. Those who understand we live in a sin-fallen and sad world, though their citizenship is truly in Heaven, recognize that Glory awaits us, but for now we are Ecclesia sub Cruces (The Church under the Cross).*
This week a little more of that Theology of Glory began to be erased in my own understanding of the life of the Christian. You see, the Christian life is not all polka dots and rainbows. Oh, there are times of true joy and happiness for sure; a child being baptized, a wandering Christian coming home to the fold, a bout with illness cured, a friend becoming a member of the LCMS. All of those are joyful times and we should celebrate them. But, for the most part, a Christian deals with tough times; Theology of the Cross.
Okay, so I titled this Comfort and Joy and I might have gotten some of you readers a bit depressed. Let me get this back on track.
Confession and Absolution. This is where Comfort and Joy are to be found.
In the Lutheran Divine Services, there are several forms of this prayer of confession which we make, together as a congregation, each Sunday:
Pastor: Let us then confess our sins to God our Father,
Congregation: Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have no loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.
Pastor: Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (John 20:19-23)
(LSB 167, Divine Service Two)
This last part is called Absolution. Our sins forgiven as the Pastor, a called and ordained servant, by God’s authority, forgives us our sins in the Triune Name. Absolution was one area that shocked me when first becoming Lutheran. However, there are two places in Scripture where Christ Jesus gives His disciples the authority to forgive sins; Matthew 16:19 and John 20:19-23. In both of these places Christ gives them authority to both withhold forgiveness; for those unrepentant, an example of which is Paul’s use of the keys for the impenitent man having sex with his step mother (1 Cor. 5:13) and opening up heaven with forgiveness; through the proclamation of the Gospel and declaring absolution for believers who struggle with sin daily.
Ah, comfort. I cannot tell you how it feels to hear, in your own ears, that you are absolved of your sins. It was indeed strange at the beginning but now each week I look forward to hearing it said to me and the congregation, that our sins are forgiven, heaven’s doors are open. Now I know both my evangelical and reformed friends will remind me that I can repent any time, any day for any and every sin. Oh, that is so true and yet, there is great comfort in hearing, from the man whom God has called and ordained, that your sins are forgiven in the Triune Name.
Joy. Oddly, the study the Dorcas Ladies group began this week was titled Joy:fully Lutheran. I found it interesting because there has been a song which we have sung each Wednesday service for Lent titled “The Lamb” (LSB 547). The one stanza which gets me every time is this:
He sighs, He dies, He takes my sin and wretchedness.
He lives, forgives, He give me His own righteousness.
As the last note rises we sing the Refrain:
Worthy is the Lamb whose death makes me His own!
The Lamb is reigning on His throne.
Read that one line again: Worthy is the Lamb whose death makes me His own!!!
This truth continually speaks to me each and every week we sing it. It has not become old or stale, repetition did not take its power away. Rather, that line brings me joy, joy unspeakable and full of glory, as Peter writes in his letter (1 Pet 1:8). Joy. His death made me His own. I belong to Him because He died for me.
I could get into the whole reformed error that Jesus only died for some, so then you have to figure out if you’re part of that “some”, but Scripture says Jesus died for the world and I wrote about that last week here (https://www.lutherangirl.org/blog/thursday-s-theological-thoughts-he-purchased-the-world), so I won’t rehash that.
Suffice it to say, knowing that Jesus died for all, and I’m part of that all, emphasizes comfort and joy. Comfort knowing that Jesus died for me and because of that my sins are forgiven. Comfort knowing that each week I can hear it spoken outloud when Absolution is given. Comfort knowing that when I partake of the True Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in with and under the Bread and Wine and when the Elder or Pastor says to me, “for the forgiveness of YOUR sins”. No greater comfort than knowing you belong to Christ, He has forgiven you ALL your sins.
Joy comes knowing that His death made me His. I was a wandering sheep, as Horatius Bonar the hymnwriter penned, but now I belong to Christ.
I was a wandering sheep, I did not love the fold; I did not love my Shepherd's voice, I would not be controlled. I was a wayward child, I did not love my home; I did not love my Father's voice, I loved afar to roam.
The Shepherd sought His sheep, The Father sought His child; They followed me o'er vale and hill, O'er deserts waste and wild; They found me nigh to death, Famished and faint and lone; They bound me with the bands of love, They saved the wand'ring one.
They spoke in tender love, They raised my drooping head, They gently closed my bleeding wounds, My fainting soul they fed; They washed my filth away, They made me clean and fair; They brought me to my home in peace, The long sought wanderer.
Jesus my Shepherd is: 'Twas He that loved my soul; 'Twas He that washed me in His blood, 'Twas He that made me whole. 'Twas He that sought the lost, That found the wand'ring sheep, 'Twas He that brought me to the fold, 'Tis He that still doth keep.
No more a wandering sheep, I love to be controlled; I love my tender Shepherd's voice, I love the peaceful fold. No more a wayward child, I seek no more to roam; I love my heavenly Fatherâ€™s voice, I love, I love His home!
My dear friend, Debby and I, have had many conversations about what we are learning in the Bible as plainly taught in our Lutheran churches. However, the characteristic we have found to stand out the most are these: Comfort & Joy.
These men and women do not wonder if they are saved because they know God did the work in baptism and that He who began that work will bring it to completion. Pastor Pauls, in his lesson from Joy:fully Lutheran wrote: “…by the grace of God, I came to appreciate how joyful, peace-filled and comforting Lutheran theology is…” I really could not have said it better.
Comfort knowing Jesus has forgiven and continues to forgive my many sins because I am a “poor, miserable sinner”
Joy knowing that Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, in His death “makes me His own”
This is true Comfort and Joy. He came to save us all from “Satan’s power when we were gone astray…Oh tidings of Comfort and Joy” Interesting to find a Christmas song becoming more real during Lent. I guess I found Comfort and Joy during Lent afterall.
For further study on the distinctions between the Theology of the Cross vs. Theology of Glory, pick up Gene Edward Veith’s book here: https://read.amazon.com/kp/embed?asin=B004T4X4P6&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_YTHPCbKC64N60