comfortI would like to play a game with you this morning. This is a game of word association. I will say one word and you will shout out the first word that you can think of that is related to that word.

Are you ready?

Fast.
Red.
Apple.
Bible.
Christmas.
Birthday.
Chocolate.
Comfort.

Comfort – Audio Sermon

Some interesting responses. When you hear the word comfort what do you think of? Some have said food,another hugs. Perhaps it is a warm blanket, or family and friends.

What does it mean to be comfortable?

Perhaps it is curling up in front of a fire with the one you love. Maybe it is a cup of hot chocolate after being out in the cold. A good meal, spent in the company of old friends. Comfort might be reclining on your favourite chair and falling asleep while the game is on.

When we visit a friend we are told to make ourselves comfortable. Which is to say, be at ease this is your home away from home. When we get home from work we get comfortable. We take off our work attire and put on something comfortable. At thanksgiving we wear our ‘Turkey Pants’ which is another way of saying we wear loose fitting and comfortable clothing.

When we think of the word comfort we don’t think of hard things. We think of soft things.

Which is interesting, if we were to study the etymology of the word comfort we would discover that it is derived from the Latin. ‘Cum’ which expressive intensive force and ‘fortis’ the word for strong. So the word comfort means ‘with strength’. Somewhere in the 17th century the idea arose as comfort being something which produced physical ease.

Let’s think about this word a little bit more. To comfort someone is to support them, to console, to provide them with strength that perhaps they do not feel in that moment. Yet, we can be comfortable in the sense that we are relaxed and at ease. Today, we think the opposite of comfort is to be uncomfortable which might include experiences of pain or stress.

So what does it mean to find comfort in the Lord?

The Heidelberg Catechism which was written in 1563 begins with this question:

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

The answer to the question is as follows:

That I am not my own, but belong –
Body and soul,
In life and in death
To my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

Friends, what does it mean to find comfort in the Lord? In God do we find an easy life? In God do we find rest? In God do we find strength?

What does it mean to find comfort in the Lord?

Our reading from Isaiah this morning begins with “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”

What does it mean to you that God offers you comfort?

Our lives are fragile aren’t they? A rollercoaster of emotions from birth to death. Our physical health changes from year to year. Our spiritual health under constant attack from sin.

What does it mean that God offers us comfort? How does that comfort change as we journey through the hills and valleys of life? We find ease in God. At other times is God our comforter and still at other times God is our strength.

At Christmas we want to be comfortable. We want to relax by the fire. How does the song go:

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at our nose,
Yuletide carols sung by a choir.

We long to be surrounded by family, enjoying a good meal and seeing the joy on faces as presents are unwrapped. These are some of the thoughts that come to mind at Christmas, this is what we think of when we think about comfort at Christmas time.

However, there is another aspect to our scripture lesson that we have not taken into account yet. It is the question what does the wilderness have to do with comfort?

In scripture the wilderness was not a safe place. Jesus was tempted after 40 days in the wilderness. The Israelites wandered with Moses through the wilderness for 40 years. John the Baptist was the voice in the wilderness, the one who would prepared the way for the coming of Christ. The wilderness was not a place that we would describe as comfortable. However, it is a place that with strength we could overcome. It is a place where we put our trust in God, where we acknowledge God as our comfort, God as our strength. In doing so we are with God.

We need to acknowledge that we all have our own wilderness. The place that separates us from God, the parts of life that we journey through, the times in life which I might kindly suggest should be all times, when we put our trust in God. When we say to God, you are my comfort and I am so thankful that you are here for me.

Today, each of us stands in our own wilderness. We listen to the voice of the one who would prepare the way. John the Baptist, the cousin of the baby we are all waiting for. He calls us to repent, to prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ. To accept the comfort that is made available by God.

As the passage in Isaiah reminds us: We are weak, full of folly. It is only through God and in God that we find strength. That might not be the message you want to hear during Advent. We would all much rather prepare for the coming of Christ by attending parties and decorating. By finding comfort in front of the fireplace and in the company of family and good friends.

But God says find your comfort in me. Listen to the voice of the one I have sent, the one who has come to prepare the way. John the Baptist is the opening act; he prepares us to receive the Christ child and we do need to prepare ourselves. This time of year can be so easy in some respects. At church we haul out all the old stories about the shepherds, the angels, the wise men and of course about the birth of Jesus. Wonderful stories, but sometimes I fear that we have heard them all one too many times. That these stories have become just a little bit too familiar. That in hearing them again we fail to see just what exactly is going on in them. That we fail to see beyond the birth of Jesus and what his birth represents.

His birth was the ultimate gift to us from God. We are so thankful for that gift, we romanticize this moment, commemorate it in art and in nativity scenes. We forget that Mark’s gospel does not even give us an account of Jesus birth. It starts with John the Baptist preparing the way. A voice in the wilderness and when the scene changes it is Jesus being baptised by John. Which is followed immediately with Jesus being tested by Satan in the wilderness for forty days.

Before we can get to the birth of Jesus. Before we can witness the Christ child, we must first navigate the wilderness. We must hear the voice of the one God sent. The voice says clearly to repent, to come before God who is our comfort.

Mark’s gospel reminds us that during Advent the focus is not on the shepherds, the angels or any of the other elements of Christmas that we would call traditional. Mark’s gospel reminds us that the real beginning lies in our preparation for Christmas. It’s a sobering message, the fun and pageantry has been removed from the story. It represents a different beginning than maybe we are used to hearing. However, if we remove this beginning then what we have is a story about shepherds, angels and wise men who visit a baby boy. Yes, the boy is the Messiah but without Mark’s gospel we forget why he needed to come in the first place. Mark points us directly about the Old Testament, to Isaiah and that promise of comfort in the Lord. Amen.

Text: Isaiah 40: 1-11, Mark 1: 1-8