Comfort for God’s People
December 7, 2014
We’re in the thick of it now. The planning, the decorations, the stress, and the headaches of preparing for Christmas is in full swing. While Christmas time is often portrayed as the happiest time of the year, for many people it is the worst. The loneliness from missed loved ones. The sorrow of seeing everyone else appear happy and not feeling the same way. The pain of conflict within families and friends. To such people, to such a nation during Isaiah’s time, who was wrapped up in sin and its effects, God spoke comforting words to those oppressed and guilt ridden because of their sins.
“Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that he warfare is ended…” Do you see the passive verb? “is ended.” Nothing the people have done, but something done for them has ended their warfare. They could not pay their own debt. They could not free themselves from the burden of their slavery to sin. And neither can we.
Someone else had to do that for us. Attempts to justify oneself only compound the guilt. Iniquity, the guiltiness of sin, can only be pardoned. And Isaiah leaves us with no doubt who this is: the Lord has done this thing, giving us double for all our sins. We have received the gifts of His undeserved favor: forgiveness, peace, and eternal life. And this comes through the Suffering Servant, who will pay for the sins of all so that their iniquity is forgiven solely because of His atoning sacrifice.
Because of Christ, our warfare is ended. Our iniquity is forgiven. Drink deeply and firmly believe, for this is the heart of our Christian faith. The war is over. We need no longer fear that God will hold our sins against us. The warfare by which we tried and tried to make ourselves acceptable to God is over. We’re already acceptable, made so by grace through faith in the Savior of the world, in His advent to HIs people.
The coming of Christ offers a joyful homecoming to all who have been exiled from the Father because of their sin, and He levels the road into our lives. He flattens the mountains of unbelief, the barriers that our sin puts up separating us from God. He fills up the deep valleys in our hearts of loneliness, of sorrow, of pain with His overflowing grace and mercy.
For many, especially at Christmas time, those mountains and valleys seem insurmountable. "The best answer to seasonal depression is the voice crying in the wilderness. Turn not to some quick fix or easy answer, but to the Church's joy, to the angels' joy, to Mary's and the shepherds' joy. That joy is joy in the midst of poverty and hardship. It is joy at the birth of Jesus Christ, of God becoming flesh, pleased to be a man and to go to hell for men, that men would not pay for their sins or die eternally. It is the answer to the curse, the end of our rebellion, and the pledge of the reunion to come." (an excerpt from God With Us: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Sermons by David H. Petersen)
How easy to receive, but also how easy to forget to share. How else will the glory of the Lord be made visible to those who are not yet receivers? In only one way, through the witness of God’s people. Salvation is not for Jerusalem so that they can just bask in God’s mercy. Rather, it is for the sake of the world. This tasks begins as Zion, seeing the Lord’s approach, shouts the good news to all around them. We must boldly announce the good news: “Behold, your God!” Who else is to go up to the top of the mountain so that all may hear the good news but “Zion” and “Jerusalem”? Who else but those who have tasted and seen the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
The message is not to behold just any god, but to gaze upon your God. A god who is powerful but unloving would have little concern for us. On the other hand, a god is loving but not powerful would not have the ability to help us. But our God, your God, is both sovereign and saving! He is now here for us in grace in the person of Christ, in the Word of Christ, in Baptism into Christ, and in the Holy Supper of Christ’s body and blood.
This is where comfort comes for the troubled conscious, the only place in fact. The Lord has bestowed His comfort upon you. There is victory over sin! Victory over death! We are at peace with God, our sins no longer being held against us. Comfort is ours through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His death wins our forgiveness. His resurrection assures our rising from the dead. His life assures our life, eternally.
What greater comfort can there be? Our warfare is ended, our iniquity is pardoned. We have received from the Lord’s hand double for all our sins. Yes, double! Double the comfort, that is. “Comfort, comfort my people.” A comfort so wonderful, a comfort so nice, God tells it to us twice. A comfort that comes only through Jesus. In His name.