May You Have a “Comfortable” Christmas!
“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.”
A popular story during Christmas is Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. This story is so popular, no less than 45 movies have been produced based on it. You have the black and white movie called Scrooge starring Alistair Sim to a musical version starring Kelsey Grammer to a Barbie Christmas Carol, the Flintstones Christmas Carol, and the Muppet’s Christmas Carol.
But have you actually read the book? I like to read a small section to you now. It comes from the scene when the ghost of Marley visits Scrooge in his room. The ghost had a long chain that represented the greed and uncaring attitude Marley had in his lifetime. “‘You are fettered,’ said Scrooge, trembling. ‘Tell me why?’ ‘I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied the Ghost. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?’ Scrooge trembled more and more. ‘Or would you know,’ pursued the Ghost, ‘the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!’ Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable; but he could see nothing. ‘Jacob!’ he said, imploringly. ‘Old Jacob Marley, tell me more! Speak comfort to me, Jacob!’ ‘I have none to give,’ the Ghost replied.”
I don’t know if Charles Dickens is Christian or not, but he does capture a reality for all mankind. What kind of chains are we forging in life and how will they affect us after we die? But God tells us, “Don’t worry. I have a message that will bring you comfort.” So I hope you hear and believe these words from Isaiah 40. God comforts us with the promise of complete pardon.
I. Comfort with words of complete pardon.
Often newspapers will report on the latest trials and the verdicts rendered by juries or judges. Well, Isaiah is such a public announcement. God has rendered a verdict on his Old Testament people. In the opening chapter of this book, God describes his people. “Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.” Sounds like Marley speaking to Scrooge, only worse. At the end of chapter thirty-nine God promised to send the Babylonians who would carry them off into captivity. The promised land would be pillaged. Their beautiful temple destroyed.
This is reality. And there is no doubt they deserved it. But what does God say right after announcing the verdict? In the very next chapter and with his next breath God promises, “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.” “Hard service.” I like the older King James Version translation better. It says, “warfare” because this word speaks of armies and war. God promises their warfare will be over. Thursday, December 7th, was the anniversary of our entrance into World War II. But on September 2, 1945, Japan signed the surrender papers. With one stroke of the pen, the killing stopped. A war that claimed over 72 millions lives ended. No wonder there was dancing in the streets and church bells ringing. It was known as VJ Day, Victory over Japan.
We are at war. No, we are not talking about the war against terror. It is a war between God and man, and mankind is losing the war. Just look at all the cemeteries for the wages of our sin and warfare is death. But now the Lord comforts us with the promise that our warfare is over. Peace with God is established.
And he does this by forgiving our sin. We are about to celebrate the miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, but there is another miracle. That miracle is seeing God sit on his hands while his son was tormented, nailed and endured hell itself on the cross. Earlier God told the people that they had forsaken him. Well, God saves us by forsaking his Son on the cross. Now his innocent death and blood washes away our sin. I remember a letter I read by Martin Luther to a fellow pastor who was depressed. He shook him up by asking him why he thought he was the only one for whom Christ did not die. In other words, we have no reason to be down. Our warfare is over. We celebrate another VJ Day, Victory in Jesus Day.
This is the message we need to hear. Ever since the Garden of Eden, man has been uncomfortable. It is called sin. Why did Adam and Eve hide when God came? But God made them comfortable with the promise of the seed of the woman crushing the head of the devil. David felt uncomfortable when Nathan exposed his sins with Bathsheba. But God through Nathan spoke comfort to him with the simple phrase, “You are forgiven.” You are uncomfortable with your sin, or you should be. But what does God say to you? Your sins are forgiven which we heard earlier. The war between you and God is over. You are now comfortable with God. And we don’t want anything getting in the way of that comfort.
II. Comfort to encourage proper priorities.
“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.””
We can build highways through mountains. Just drive I-70 through the Colorado Rockies. But it is not perfect. It must wind and twist and turn with the mountains. It is steep at times, so steep that four cylinder cars lose speed. Going down hill is dangerous, too, with runaway truck ramps every few miles. It doesn’t take much to close the road with a snowstorm or a rockslide. Every year someone dies on that road. It would have been easier if they could simply remove the mountains. But there is not enough dynamite in the world to do that.
You catch the picture in our text. God is describing a road construction zone. If there is a mountain in the way, don’t try to build a road through it; remove it. If there is a valley, fill it in. If the road is crooked, tear it up and make it straight.
How? We can learn a lesson from John the Baptist. To the man who had plenty he said he should give some to the poor instead of hording it. To tax collectors he told them not to collect more than they should. To Romans soldiers he said they should no longer steal. John came preaching repentance. And what happened? “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” He destroyed the mountains and straightened the crooked roads with a message of repentance and forgiveness. That is how he prepared the way for Christ.
Do we see the mountains our sin produce? I read a book a while back about the end of World War II, when American GIs and British Tommies were pushing across western Germany. They couldn’t believe their ears. In every German town or village, the people kept asking them why they were invading their land. All that time the German people were not told the truth about the war or the concentration camps or Hitler’s agenda. They thought they were the victims.
That’s how the Israelites felt. They didn’t think they did anything wrong because they were hiding behind church. They were like the boy who cleaned his room by shoving everything under the bed and then couldn’t understand why mom and dad are upset at him. Listen again to chapter one, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” They went through the motions of worship, but their hearts were far from God.
It is not fun to face our sins. It is outright uncomfortable. It is like Scrooge before Marley. But what we need most is to have every excuse we could offer, every reason for the sin we commit, to be dynamited. Then a straight path is there to hear the greatest words you will ever hear, “Your sins are forgiven.”
And we need this every day. Garbage collectors always have garbage to collect and we always have garbage to take out to the curb. And we always have sins to take before the Lord. This is why we preach daily repentance. In your evening prayers, be honest. Look at your day and the sins you committed. Ask your wife or parents or kids for help to remember them. Pile them up and then dynamite them with God’s promise your sins are forgiven.
But there are other obstacles and mountains and valleys before us. What about time? Is there some commitment, some thing that is between you and your Savior? Tear it down. You’ve been meaning to start up a home Bible reading program. What is stopping you? Demolish it.
You will get Christmas cards. Some will say, “Merry Christmas.” Others will say, “Happy Holidays.” But God sends you a card wishing you a “Comfortable Christmas.” Not comfortable in sitting on the sofa with the lights down, wrapped up in a warm blanket with a cup of steaming hot chocolate (and for you adults, a dash of peppermint Schnapps). I mean “comfortable” in the sense Christmas is simply a message of comfort. A Savior being born to us makes us comfortable with God as we receive pardon for our sins. And we enjoy being comfortable so every day we look for and demolish any obstacles between us and our God. So, I wish you a Comfortable Christmas. INJ Amen.