It’s the Advent Season. Growing up Pentecostal and then becoming Dutch Reformed (Calvinist) the first did not celebrate this season and the latter, while it sort of remembered it, did not encourage us to celebrate it since it’s not found, specifically, in the Scriptures. However, as a Lutheran, I have found great freedom in celebrating the Seasons of the Church year and all the traditions that come with it. From the O, Antiphons, to Advent hymns which remind us of the First Advent of Christ as an infant in the womb of Mary and a babe in the manger and calls us to remember that the Second Advent, the Return of the King, is nearer than it was last year. I read the Scriptures with renewed vigor and delight as I read over and over that God is our Father and Christ is the source of our salvation.
As I was reading from the Treasury of Daily Prayer for today (12/19) a few things struck me, which happened to coincide with a conversation I had with our pastor’s wife and a dear friend at Tuesday’s Ladies Bible Study.
In discussing the differences in a theological approach I shared how when I first was becoming Lutheran (before our Confirmation on 9/10/2017) I looked for “systematic theology” texts at Concordia Publishing House’s website and did not find them. Instead, I found Dogmatics. My pastor shared that Lutherans prefer to simply teach what the Word says instead of trying to “systematize God” in order to fit Him into a nice and neat box. What I found is that the whole approach to God and Christ is that while Calvinists begin with the Nature of God, Lutherans begin with the Love of God in Christ. How comforting! Lutherans focus on the love God has shown to a fallen, sin-sick and often sin-loving people rather than us trying to figure out the nature of God. What a difference it is indeed!
When I think of Comfort and this Scripture text this hymn comes to mind:
"Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People" by Johann Olearius, 1635-1711 Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878
1. Comfort, comfort, ye My people, Speak ye peace, thus saith our God; Comfort those who sit in darkness, Mourning 'neath their sorrows' load. Speak ye to Jerusalem Of the peace that waits for them; Tell her that her sins I cover And her warfare now is over.
2. Yea, her sins our God will pardon, Blotting out each dark misdeed; All that well deserved His anger He no more will see or heed. She hath suffered many a day, Now her griefs have passed away; God will change her pining sadness Into ever-springing gladness.
3. Hark, the Herald's voice is crying In the desert far and near, Bidding all men to repentance Since the Kingdom now is here. Oh, that warning cry obey! Now prepare for God a way; Let the valleys rise to meet Him And the hills bow down to greet Him.
4. Make ye straight what long was crooked, Make the rougher places plain; Let your hearts be true and humble, As befits His holy reign. For the glory of the Lord Now o'er earth is shed abroad, And all flesh shall see the token That His Word is never broken.
Speaking of comfort, the Old Testament Reading began there today:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned…Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news;…He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom , and gently lead those that are with young….
(Is. 40:1-2a, 9 & 11)
Comfort! Comfort! Not once but twice as if to make sure WE hear the message of salvation of forgiveness and that our enmity, as St. Paul says in Romans, is over and our iniquity, our sins, our trespasses are pardoned. Comfort! Comfort!
We should begin our reading of the Bible with this message of the love of God in Christ. The promise to Eve was that even though she sinned, and led Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, the promise is that from her womb, from her seed, the destroyer of sin, the deliverer, the savior of the world will come. What incredible consolation. Eve was not told the nature of God as a source of comfort, though granted much about God and His Nature is comforting (i.e. his steadfast love endures forever) rather she was told what she needed to hear: The one to crush the serpent will come from your seed in the womb. She didn’t need a diatribe on the ontological aspect of God. Eve, and YOU and ME, need to hear “Comfort! Comfort” over and over and over and over, again and again and again.
What is this comfort? Your warfare, your enmity against God is gone and your sins are forgiven and now there is peace between you and God. In fact, God tells us that while we were still enemies of God (at enmity) He reconciled us to Himself. In Genesis 3, when God tells Eve of the deliverer he flips the table:
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
That enmity is no longer between God and us but now between sin, death and the devil and us. Comfort! Comfort! Over and again, God grants us comfort as He tells us of His love for us, of His provision because of His love for us in a deliverer a Savior, who, as the angels said, “Is Christ the Lord.”
But, it doesn’t stop there. Yes, you and I have been forgiven via the Sacraments, baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the preached/read Word it’s true. However, we aren’t to settle in and stop. We have a task set before us. We have an assignment, after all, we are ambassadors for Christ and have a job to do: Get you up….herald (vs. 9).
Let’s read it again
Get you up to a high mountain….
A noticeable spot, one that will help carry our voices and by that the message that those who believe will be comforted, their sins pardoned and that enmity destroyed between us and God.
This is not a metaphorical or allegorical term. Zion is YOU and ME. Zion is the people of God from all times. It is not just those who in the old nation of Israel believed but it is you and me and all who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and were baptized for the forgiveness of our sins. YOU are Zion!
Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength…
You and I are the heralds, the messengers of good news. Comfort. Remember, it’s about Comfort! God is pardoning iniquity and bringing once haters of God into the Kingdom of His Son and forgiving them of their sins. We get to tell them of this comfort. We get the honor and privilege of sharing the very personal message from God the Almighty, through His Son Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit that in Him there is forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, peace and comfort! Even as I write this my heart leaps that I get to share this message of hope and comfort. Me, who once despised God and His forgiveness, who once was blind, deaf and dumb, who now sees, hears and can speak, gets to tell others of this great love of God.
I’m not told to tell them of God’s nature (after conversion and baptism they can learn about them) but I am told to HERALD THE GOOD NEWS. I’m supposed to do that with my voice with strength. I’m supposed to be shouting it from the highest point I can find. That excites me. That frightens me. Yes, and I know some of my friends find that hard to believe that heralding the good news to others still makes me shake in my shoes, but it does. However, God invites us to do just that: herald the good news to those who do not yet know this comfort.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms;
He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with you.
I don’t know about you, but this is an incredible picture of comfort. He, that is Jesus, will tend his flock, that you and me, like a shepherd. Shepherds care, feed, guard and yes, even discipline their sheep because they love them. He gathers the lambs, that’s the little ones, which is you and me, in His arms. Wow! Comforting the wandering lamb when He brings them back home. Comforting the scared, tired, lonely and fearful little lamb. That’s us. He carries them and gently leads us. That’s His nature. LOVE!
Back to a little heavy theology. When you begin with the love of God in Christ, that sets the whole scene for you with regard to God. In Christ, God is our Father and He loves us so much that He offers us the great comfort in the universe: Your sins are pardoned. If you begin with the nature of God, you just might miss this. I did for years…actually decades. The result was having a picture of God with a 2x4 ready to smack me at every mistake I made. When you begin with the understanding that all the Bible begins and ends with Christ, with the love God has had in and through Jesus Christ, you begin to lose a picture of a mean, austere God and find that He is a Father who loves the world which includes you and me.
Comfort! Comfort! Say it over and over. In fact, shout it from the rooftop, herald it to your neighbors, your family, your co-workers and those you meet with throughout the week. Maybe, just maybe, they’ve never heard of this incredible comfort; their warfare can be ended, peace with God brought to them and their family and their sins forgiven.
Christ’s first Advent brought this comfort to the world! Herald the good news to everyone you know and meet before His Second Advent comes!
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