December 7, 2008
Comfort, comfort you my people.
That sounds nice doesn't it?
Think about comfort.
A soft, worn pair of slippers.
Chocolate chip cookies and cold milk.
Snuggling in a warm blanket in front of a blazing fire.
Comfort, comfort you my people.
Mmmmmm...cozy, warm, safe, content.
We all need comfort.
At some time in our life, every person here needs comfort.
A parent dies, or a child or a friend.
A loved one is lost through a misunderstanding, a conflict or anger.
A job is gone, a career, destroyed or a reputation ruined.
An illness is diagnosed.
Increasing age and growing infirmity takes away hope.
Failure of broken relationships eats away any joy.
Souls grow sad from violence, poverty and destruction.
Let's face it. We all suffer, we all hurt,
we all experience pain sometime.
And when we suffer we find it annoying, meaningless, tiresome.
We want to end it as quickly as possible.
When it doesn't end quickly we become cranky and bitter.
We want everything to be OK again.
So we minimize our suffering.
We deny it.
We stay busy and try to ignore it.
Or we suck it up and grin and bear it.
And it is not just our own suffering we avoid.
We try to get rid of the suffering of others around us as well.
I know your wife died but she is with God now so don't be sad.
I hear your husband left you, well you are better off without him.
Oh come on, it's not that bad, you are just fine.
There is nothing to be afraid of.
We can deny it.
We can ignore it.
We can try our darndest to make it go away.
But we will suffer.
We will experience pain.
And the issue isn't whether or not we have the experiences
but rather what we do with them when we do.
We cannot prevent pain and suffering.
We can determine how to live through it.
Six centuries before the birth of Jesus,
God's people were suffering.
The Babylonians had defeated their nation;
devastated their holy city, Jerusalem; leveled God's temple;
and driven the people across the desert
to live in Babylonian captivity, exiles.
In Babylon, God's people longed to go home;
they remembered how it used to be in Jerusalem.
They sang the old songs.
They told the old stories to their children every evening.
(John Buchanan, Comfort and Joy of Home)
And then a letter arrived in the exile community,
written by a prophet who remained back in burned-out Jerusalem.
The letter he wrote begins with this morning's Old Testament reading.
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
The prophet paints a vivid picture:
a highway will be built across the desert,
every valley will be lifted up,
every mountain and hill made low,
the rough places will be smooth-and over that highway,
a procession will move.
Banners and trumpets will announce the coming of the king, returning to Jerusalem. ‘Here is your God!'"
The words of that letter brought comfort to the people in exile. Men stood tall again, mothers told their children "Our pain is over. Here is our God!"
The good news came in ancient words:
Comfort, comfort my people-
The Good News of Advent comes in those same words.
Comfort my people- here is your God.
In your pain- here is your God.
In your suffering- here is your God- and here is your comfort.
The promise of Isaiah is that God is here
The Lord God comes
he feeds his flock like a shepherd
and gathers the lambs in his arms.
The Lord God comes into our difficulties and we find comfort.
He calls us to be part of something larger than ourselves
and to know that whatever we suffer, we suffer it with all of humanity.
Others share our suffering and Jesus shares our suffering.
We never suffer alone.
He calls us to let go of whatever we've been hanging on to-
let go and brave the emptiness.
Only when we let go of that person, or possession, or plan
will we be able to grab hold of the new life that is waiting for us.
Let go of fear. Grab onto the shepherd and his love.
Comfort, comfort my people.
Here is your God.
When we become aware of God being born in our lives,
we are changed.
we sense joy even as others nurse complaints,
we experience peace while the world conspires in war,
and we find hope even when headlines broadcast despair.
(Henri Nouwen, Turn My Mourning Into Dancing)
This is the promise of Advent.
This is the one for whom we wait.
One is coming who speaks tenderly
and gathers up all who stumble and fall,
all who are sick,
all who labor and are heavily burdened,
all who are weary, sad,
all this morning who are ill and frightened,
all whose illness is critical and final,
all who are anxious and worried,
all who are discouraged and depressed,
all who are alone and lonely and homesick.
One is coming who gathers them all up-
all of them, all of us-
Comfort, comfort, you my people.