Sunday, December 4, 2016

Comfort- sermon on Isaiah 40:1-11

Rev. George Miller
Isaiah 40:1-11
Dec 4, 2016

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

Fires in TN, shooting at Ohio State, and standing firm at Standing Rock.

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: a family arrived at a local establishment to have a meal, it may have been Dot’s, it may have been Dee’s, it may have been Marley’s or Don Jose’s.

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 chubby baby hands on the highchair tray. His eyes crinkled with laughter; he 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 a pair of sorry-lookin’ shoes.

He waved to the baby. “Hey there, baby. Hi there, big boy. 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 stench. 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 sorry-old 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 a problem…

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

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

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

They thought that God had forgotten about them. Their lives were a series of trials in which they felt beaten up by life, stuck in a spiritual wilderness, 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 going to be delivered, God was going to make a way out of no way, in which obstacles would be overcome and their emptiness eradicated.

God’s word came to them, filled with mystery and hope- “COMFORT.”

“Comfort, O comfort my people.”

Not comfort based on high hopes or wanton wishfulness, but comfort based on God’s eternal love.

Comfort based on the covenants 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 sorry and ragged as they may feel, God has claimed them as God’s own.

This is an intimate bond that no human-caused drama could ever erase.

These words of comfort are words that are spoken again and again, because they are words that are made forever true by God’s promise made long ago to our ancestors.

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

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

This Advent, as we wait with joyful anticipation, we also prepare for the gift of comfort, of experiencing how through a child born on Christmas morn, God claims us as God’s own.

That even though we have our own share of wildernesses, worry and woe, 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 story.

We are gathered, we are fed, and we are carried gently by the Great Shepherd, to experience the forgiveness of our sins and the freedom that comes from such awareness.

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

The gift of a child, the promise of a King who will govern over a spiritual kingdom where we are seen, we are fed, and we are loved.

That is the meaning of this season

Advent reminds us that through God there is always 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.

Fires still burn, people still protest, shooters will still shoot.

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 the Holy Spirit has gathered us together, and in Jesus Christ we are each compassionately embraced.

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

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