Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sermon on Isaiah 40:1-11; Dec 4, 2011

Rev. George Miller
Isaiah 40:1-11
“Words of Comfort”
Dec 4, 2011

In our world there is so much uncertainty. Everything can hang on such a thin, breakable string: finances, health, family dynamics, government.

With so little to be sure of, the season of Advent brings with it the assurance that through it all, a child will bring hope to the hopeless, and rest to the restless.

In other words, comfort.

But first, a story: at Dot’s Diner, a family arrived to have a meal. As the mother placed her son, Erik, in his highchair, she noticed how everyone else seemed to be eating and talking quietly.

Suddenly, Erik squealed with glee and said “Hi!” He pounded his fat baby hands on the highchair tray. His eyes crinkled with laughter and his mouth was a toothless grin. He wrinkled and giggled in merriment.

The mother looked around to see the source of his joy: it was an old man who had clearly seen better days: his shirt was dirty, his hair uncombed, his toes poked out of would-be-shoes.

He waved to the baby. “Hi there, big boy. Hey there, baby. I see you buster.”

The mother and father exchanged looks, not knowing what to do. Erik continued to laugh and say “Hi!”

When their meal came, the parents ate as fast as they could. The old man continued the conversation with the baby: “Do ya patty cake? Do ya peek-a-boo?”

At this point everyone in the restaurant was glaring at the man; nobody thought this man was cute. Nobody that is, except for Erik.

With their meal finished, the parents headed to the door. The father went to get the car. The mother took Erik to meet him at the door.

The old man sat poised between them and the exit. “Lord,” she thought to herself, “Just let me out of here before he speaks to us.”

As she drew closer to the man, she turned her back so she could avoid breathing in his smell. But as she did, Erik leaned over her arms into a baby’s “pick-me-up” position.

Before she could stop him, Erik had propelled himself into the old man’s arms.

Suddenly a ragged man with would-be-shoes and a young child with a face full of giggles were in full embrace.

The baby, in an act of total trust and love, laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder.

The man’s eyes closed, and tears hovered beneath his lashes. His aged hands, full of grime and pain, cradled the baby’s bottom and stroked his back.

The mother stood awestruck.

The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms and he looked at the mother and said “You take care of this baby.”

Somehow, she managed to say “I will.”

He handed Erik back to her and said “God bless you, ma’am; you’ve given me my Christmas gift.”

She could say nothing more then muttered thanks. With Erik in her arms she ran to the car, crying “My God, my God, forgive me.”

That day, the mother and the patrons at the diner had witnessed God’s love made known through the innocence of a tiny child.

A child who showed love with abandon, who passed no judgment, who saw a person while all the others saw raggedness and stench…

“Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God.”

These words speak to us today, just as they did to the people of Israel almost 3,000 years ago.

These are words spoken for people who had experienced great shame and uncertainty.

They were sure that God had forgotten about them. Their lives had become a series of trials in which they felt beaten up by life, stuck in an eternal wilderness of loss and anxiety, punished for their sins.

But in this sense of spiritual darkness, comes a voice. A word of hope and encouragement; a powerful proclamation that God was about to do something new.

The people of Israel were about to be delivered, God was going to make for them a way in their wilderness in which obstacles would be removed and their emptiness filled in.

This word that came filled with mystery and hope was “comfort.”

“Comfort, O comfort my people.”

Not comfort based on high hopes or wishful thinking, but comfort based on God’s promise of steadfast love; a covenant given to Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Moses; a promise enthroned with King David and enlarged to include all of the people.

God speaks words of comfort that assures them that as ragged and worn-down as they may appear, they have been claimed as God’s own, an intimate bond that no bit of human drama can erase.

And these words of comfort are words that are spoken again and again, because they are words that are eternal; they are words that are true.

For us, as Christians, these are words that find their ultimate manifestation in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us.

So although these words were spoken to others long, long ago, and far, far away, they speak to us today.

This Advent we prepare for that gift of comfort, of experiencing once again how God claims us as God’s own, through a child born on Christmas morn.

That though we each have our own share of wildernesses, shame and anxiety, we know that our restoration rests in Christ our Lord.

And that although comfort may not be instantly experienced or solve all of our dilemmas, we realize that through Christ, God has entered into our wilderness.

Together we are gathered to be fed and lead, to be carried gently by the same one who has embraced us, to experience the forgiveness of our sins and the freedom that comes from the awareness.

Advent is about us hopefully waiting for the promise to be fulfilled (as it will be) in a savior who begins as a baby, meek and mild.

That is the meaning of this season: the gift of a child, the promise of a King; one who will feed the flock, one who will govern over a new kind of kingdom where we are seen, and we are loved.

Advent is about the fact that through God there is yet again hope for the world, and that hope comes in the comfort of a child who will reach out to us with laughter and giggles, who will offer us joy and give us rest.

And yes, it does not stop our world from being filled with so much uncertainty. Everything may still seem to hang on a thin, breakable string.

Yet even with so little to be sure of, this Advent season brings with it the assurance that through it all, a child, a babe, will bring hope to the hopeless, and rest to the restless.

In other words, comfort.

Comfort in knowing that God has not forgotten us, that in the Holy Spirit we have been gathered together, and in Jesus Christ we are each compassionately embraced.

For that we can all say “Hallelujah!” and an “Amen!”

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