Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for Second Sunday of Advent

Comfort and Strength from God to and through Us
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -

"Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid ... " Those words which lead our first or Old Testament lesson this weekend are from the prophet Isaiah, written to people suffering in exile in Babylon. They seem no less urgent now than they did when written over 2700 years ago.

If ever there were a world in need of comfort, we are that world.

Political disunity in our country has reached toxic levels almost unparalleled in modern American history. And then there is global climate change and the morass surrounding health care. Add to all that ISIS, missile testing in North Korea, genocide in Syria, and the reality of Russia seeking to interfere with the political and economic affairs of democratic nations around the world. And I haven’t even mentioned wildfires and growing revelations of sexual misconduct and abuse by entertainment, political and business leaders.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem..." If ever there were a time when we need God's comfort, if ever was a time for God’s tenderness, that time is now.

According to Isaiah, frequently the comfort we need arrives not so much through philosophy or politics or even theology but through what we call in church “incarnation,” a wonderful churchy word which means “God in human form” or even better “God comes to us in human form,” God is incarnated, God comes to us, in a human being.

In other words, comfort comes when someone brings it to us.

How many times have we all experienced that? You are out of work with an injury or extended illness. You lose a loved one. Some tragedy arrives at your doorstep.

But, fortunately, tragedy is not the only thing that arrives. Likewise, in those moments, people arrive. Kind, concerned, caring people with handshakes and hugs and prayers and tears and cakes and casseroles and phone calls and e-mails and all sorts of reminders that whatever you face, you do not face it alone. Their presence may not immediately solve whatever problem you are experiencing, but they do give you just enough light in the darkness to keep moving forward until you find life again. Comfort comes when someone brings it to us.

Isaiah referred to himself as "the voice of one, crying, 'In the wilderness, prepare a way for the coming of our Lord'." John the Baptist described himself in exactly that same way when he promised that Jesus was coming to people who felt hopeless and helpless on their journey.


Isaiah spoke to Israel suffering under Babylon. John the Baptist spoke centuries later to Israel suffering under Rome. But each shared the same message, that in both cases the people of Israel would find their hope and their comfort not through politics or militarism or economics, not through their political party or their brute strength or their possessions, their stuff, but through the One who would arrive at their doorstep, the One who would come to them in their own "desert places," the One who would be with them and for them in the midst of their weakness and pain.

"Make straight in the desert a highway for our God" who is coming to you, promised Isaiah. "The glory of the Lord will be revealed," he wrote," and all of you struggling, suffering people will see it together ... God will tend his flock like a shepherd, and gather the lambs in his arms. God will carry them close to his heart, and gently lead those that are with young." It was the promise of hope in what appeared to be a hopeless situation, and it was Incarnational. "Someone is coming to you."

Centuries later a group of worried third-shift shepherds in occupied Bethlehem heard a similar promise: "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior," a Deliverer, One who comes to your doorstep in the midst of your pain to give you the strength to survive.

That's what the Bible promises - the strength to survive. The Bible never promises that God will wave a magic wand and make all the bad things in life go away. The Bible promises, instead, that there will be "highways in the desert" - places of our lives where God will come to be with us, to comfort us, and eventually even to deliver us. And God almost always does that incarnationally, there’s that wonderful word again, God will come to us through a human being.

For the Israelites in Babylonian exile, God sent King Cyrus of Persia to liberate them and grant them a way back home.

Centuries later for the Israelites suffering under Rome, and twenty centuries later for all of us suffering in countless ways under the dominions of darkness, God sent a person named Jesus who said, "right here in the middle of all the things you're going through, I have come that you might have life, and have it in its fullness." That's what this season is about. That's what our faith is about. When we feel like we are at the end of life's road, God sends Someone to walk the road with us and to reveal new pathways toward life that we did not even know were there.

Winston Churchill is perhaps most famous for his simplest quote, "Never, never, never give up!"

And why should we never give up? Because God has a history of coming to us on our desert highways, and of doing there what was considered almost impossible to be done. History clearly teaches that when we stumble in deep darkness, God comes to us - almost always through some specific person or persons who help us find light where there had been none.

Our faith says that whatever we face in a given moment is, in fact, momentary - but God is permanent. Furthermore, God is more powerful than whatever we face or fear. God comes to us on our "desert highways," so that wherever we travel, and whatever we experience on that road, we are never alone.

And, if God's love is incarnational, then you and I are divinely called not merely to receive God’s love when we need it but also to extend it when others need it, too. That's what following Jesus is about. God's love always comes to us on its way to somebody else.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." In the midst of our pain, God comes to us with comfort usually through the people God sends to our doorsteps. And then, God sends us out to comfort others. God comes for us through others and then God calls us to reach out to others with God’s love and comfort.

We are God’s love for one another, for each other, for others. We are God’s love incarnate, in human form. This Advent we pray that God will send God’s love to us and that God will send us to share God’s love with others.

Amen.

 

(With thanks to the Rev. Dr. Michael Brown and the “Day1” radio ministry).

 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Dec. 9 & 10, 2017


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