The Second Sunday in Advent
December 10, 2017
Come, Lord Jesus…to Comfort Us
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. A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD, make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Have you started to feel it yet? Have you started to feel the stress and the pressure that all too often comes with Christmas? What are you going to buy for the kids? For the grandkids? For your spouse? For your parents? For those special friends in your life? How much are you going to spend? Can you afford to spend as much as you have in the past or should you consider cutting back a little this year? Has the stress and the pressure of the Christmas season perhaps pushed you to the point where you want to throw your hands up in the air and say along with Ebenezer Scrooge, “Bah! Humbug!”?
I’m not trying to be facetious here, my friends. Sometimes even God’s own children get so wrapped up in the world’s perspective on Christmas that the stress and the pressure can indeed bring us to a point where we just want Christmas to be “over.” On the flip side of that very same coin there may be some of you who were out very early on Black Friday, there may be some of you who got on the computer on Cyber Monday and right about now you might be thinking that you are well on your way to being “ready” for Christmas.
No matter whether you are feeling the stress and the pressure that often comes with Christmas or whether you are feeling pretty proud of yourself for planning ahead and purchasing your presents early, you need to listen closely to our sermon text for today. Here in Isaiah chapter 40 God the Holy Spirit focuses our hearts and our lives on what is truly necessary to be truly ready for Christmas. With that in mind let’s study these words of our God under the theme: Come, Lord Jesus…to Comfort Us. As we focus on the word “comfort” this morning we will look at three things. First we’ll look at God’s proclamation of comfort. Then we’ll look at the practical application of this comfort. Finally, we’ll look at the privilege which this comfort brings to us.
Isaiah chapter 40 marks a critical turning point in this book. The first 39 chapters of this book are focused primarily on a powerful message of Law. God’s Chosen People had forsaken the Lord their God. God’s Chosen People had forgotten His covenant. God’s Chosen People had turned their backs on the Lord, the one and only true God, and run after other so-called “gods.” Therefore, God proclaimed to His Chosen people that He was going to punish them for their unfaithfulness. First, He would punish them by allowing the Assyrians to conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel and devastate the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Then He would punish His people by allowing the Babylonians to not only conquer the beloved city of Jerusalem, but to completely destroy the City of God— including the Temple of the Lord. The Chosen People of God would learn first-hand what the writer to the Hebrews meant when many centuries later he wrote, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
The purpose of proclaiming such a strong message of Law is to till the soil of hearts that have been hardened by sin so that those hearts are “ready” to receive the glorious message of God’s Gospel. That’s precisely what the Holy Spirit led the prophet Isaiah to do. That’s precisely why our text for today begins with a beautiful proclamation of comfort! Listen once again to this glorious proclamation and let it wrap itself around your heart like a soft warm blanket, “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.”
As the faithful among God’s Old Testament children faced being conquered and carried away into exile this message of “comfort” was like sweet music to their ears. Note very carefully, however, that the “comfort” which God speaks of here in our text does not originate with God’s people, nor is it dependant on what God’s people do. This message of comfort is a proclamation— a proclamation from God to His people! And to help His people understand the kind of comfort the Lord is providing to them, the Lord uses three pictures here in our text— pictures which still bring comfort to us, God’s people today.
The first picture is found in the words, “Proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed.” To bring out the flavor of what God is proclaiming to us here let me ask you a question. Have you or someone you know ever been “pressed into service” via the military draft? I have. I have had men tell me what it was like to be 17 or 18 years old and put on a ship to Europe. I have had men tell me horror stories of what goes on in battle. I had one person describe for me what it was like to be in hand-to-hand combat with an enemy soldier— knowing that only one of them was going to survive. And I have had men tell me what it was like when they were told that the war was over and their “hard service” was now completed!
That’s what Isaiah is talking about here! That’s the “comfort” that the Lord proclaims to us! Satan declared war on us— a war that was impossible for us to win on our own. So our Brother stepped in to fight the war against Satan for us. Not only did our Brother fight that war for us, but He won that war for us— right there on the cross! We now have the “comfort” of knowing that His victory is our victory purely by grace through faith in what our God has done for us! Now we have the “comfort” of knowing that through faith in Jesus our “hard service has been completed.”
The second picture is found in the words, “Proclaim to her that…her sin has been paid for.” The Hebrew word that is translated here as “sin” carries the picture of a “debt.” Our sin is indeed a debt that we owed to the Almighty— a debt that we could never repay on our own. So again, God stepped in and paid that debt for us. The apostle Peter reminds us of what God was willing to do in order to pay the debt of our sin when he writes, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed (bought back) from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (I Peter 1:18-19). The “comfort” that we have in knowing that our debt to God has been stamped “Paid in Full!” with the precious blood of His Son is a “comfort” that goes far beyond priceless!
The final picture in God’s proclamation of comfort is found in the words, “Proclaim to her… that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” As terrible and as difficult and as humiliating as the Babylonian Captivity would be— especially for the people who had remained faithful to the Lord— God promises His people that the grace He would pour out on them would be in “double” proportion to the punishment they deserved to receive because of their sin.
The comfort here for you, my friends, is astounding. As you look back over the course of your life, as you remember the multitude of sins you have committed against God, in your heart you know that what you deserve to receive from God is His punishment— both now and in eternity. But through the power of His holy Word and through the power of His holy Sacrament God proclaims to you that because of what His Son has done for you (Pointing to the cross) instead of giving you what you deserve, God overwhelms you with a “double” portion of His grace— both now and in eternity! Now that’s a proclamation of comfort!
Right about now some of you might be thinking, “Didn’t he say there were three parts to this sermon?” Don’t get nervous. We’ve spent a great deal of our time on God’s proclamation of comfort to you because that is what lays the foundation for the other two parts of this sermon.
With God’s proclamation of comfort playing gently in the background it is quite easy for us to see the practical application of this proclamation to our hearts and to our lives as we prepare to once again celebrate Christmas. In verses three to eight of our text, Isaiah describes for us the ministry of John the Baptist. As we are preparing for the Advent of the Lord’s Christ, God’s proclamation of comfort leads us to take a long hard look at ourselves and see if there is anything in our heart or in our life that might hinder us from properly celebrating the birth of the Christ-Child. If our heart or our life is cluttered or twisted because of “pet” sins, if there are valleys of greed and selfishness, if there are mountains and hills of pride and conceit, if there are rough patches of apathy and coldness— either toward God or toward our brothers and sisters in the faith— now is a very good time to get our heart and our lives filled in, straightened out, leveled out and smoothed out. How do we do this? We lift up our eyes to the cross, we come to the altar of the Living God to receive His holy Supper and we listen to the Lord’s proclamation of comfort to us! The comfort that we receive from the Lord our God is what both motivates us and empowers us to make whatever change are necessary to prepare ourselves for Christmas.
With God’s proclamation of comfort playing gently in the background, and with God’s proclamation of comfort applied to our own hearts and to our own lives then we are able to boldly and confidently exercise the privilege that God’s proclamation of comfort gives to us! What is that privilege? Look at the closing verses of our text, verses 9-11. We have the privilege of bringing the “good tidings” of Christmas to others! This is an excellent time of the year to not only share the true meaning of Christmas with others, but it is also an excellent time of the year to invite others to come and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas with you!
I put together some bookmark/invitations last week. They include the information for our Christmas Day worship service. Take a few moments before you leave church today to think about the people in your life who don’t have a church “home” or who don’t have a clear understanding of Who the Christ-Child is and why He came into this world. Then take as many of those invitations as you need so that you can exercise the privilege that God’s proclamation of comfort has given to you!
Have you started to feel it yet? Have you started to feel the stress and the pressure that all too often comes with preparing for Christmas? If so, my friends, I encourage you to sidestep that stress and preempt that pressure by turning to your God and saying, “Come, Lord Jesus… to Comfort Me.” Listen as your God proclaims to you His glorious message of comfort through His holy Word and through His holy Supper. Apply that glorious message of comfort to your own heart and to your own life. Exercise the privilege of sharing that glorious message of comfort with others.
To God be the glory!