Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Let us pray. O Lord send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives in Jesus’ name, Amen. What’s at the top of your Christmas list this year, the very top, the one thing you want more than anything else. Is it electronic, some kind of gadget, maybe. Maybe it’s clothing, a specific article of clothing that you want, or maybe it’s an experience, not a thing at all, a vacation, trip to Disney, or cruise, maybe a week on the beach and an all-inclusive resort. Maybe it’s not a thing at all. Maybe it’s a person maybe it’s people, maybe it’s having your whole family gather together under one roof to celebrate together. Maybe it’s that child or grandchild or niece or nephew who was deployed, hoping to get returned home safely. What’s the top of your Christmas list this year? But maybe we should think a little bit bigger than Christmas. Maybe it’s not just what’s at the top of your Christmas list, maybe it’s what’s the one thing that you’re lacking if you had it would make all the difference in the world to you. The one thing. Everyone could use a little extra income, pay down some debts, save a little more for retirement. But I’m guessing it’s more fundamental than that. I’m guessing it’s some sort of relationship, maybe you’re missing a parent that’s gone to be with Jesus, maybe you’re longing for a godly husband or wife, maybe you miss your adult kids, maybe you wish you had kids of your own, or maybe you have kids of your own and you just want a break. Maybe you need to know that you’re not alone in this life, maybe you just want to know that there’s someone there to help, someone to walk with you, someone to be with you to share life experiences, someone to give you hope for the future. Maybe hope is at the top of your list this year. That’s what Israel wanted Israel wanted, hope, especially in the days of captivity. That’s what they needed, even if they didn’t know they needed it, even if they couldn’t put it into words. They needed hope, they needed to know they weren’t alone, to put it another way they needed comfort. You see Israel had seen itself as God’s chosen people for generations. God had chosen Abraham, God had blessed his descendants, God had delivered them from Egypt and established them in the promised land. He had protected them from the Philistines and other enemies in the days of the judges, He’d established them as a kingdom in the days of Saul, and they flourished under David and Solomon. More than that, Israel had the temple of the Lord. They had the priests who regularly performed sacrifices on their behalf, and they traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, to celebrate Pentecost. They had no reason to doubt that they were God’s people, and that He was their God. In fact, they were so confident of this, that they began to take it for granted. The kingdom split in civil war. They built a new temple in the north to mimic what was happening at the temple in Jerusalem. They set up a new capital city, a second palace for the second king, but they still saw themselves Abraham’s descendants. They still saw themselves as the people of God. They welcomed in the idolatry of the neighboring nations, setting up altars to Baal, setting up the Asherah poles, worshipping Dagon, or Molech, or whatever other idols were popular at the time, but they still saw themselves as Abraham’s descendants. They still saw themselves as the people of God. They adopted the economic practices of the neighboring nations; they stopped treating each other as the chosen people of God. Instead, the rich oppressed the poor, their judges took bribes, their kings and their queens were corrupt, their priests were corrupt, the official prophets that worked in the palace were corrupt. Through it all they still saw themselves Abraham’s descendants. They still saw themselves as the people of God, until the captivity, until the Assyrians, until the Babylonians, until their temple was destroyed, until their homes were destroyed, until they were taken off in chains, forced to live in a home that was not the Promised Land, forced to live in a land that did not belong to their God. They were lost. They lost their confidence that they were God’s people. After all, how could they be God’s people if they didn’t have their temple anymore? How could they be God’s people if they didn’t live in the land God promised? How could they be God’s people if God did not deliver them from their enemies as he had once delivered His people from Egypt? They lost their identity. They lost their hope. The prophet Jeremiah wrote about the plight of Israel in the book of Lamentations. This is what he says, “How lonely sits the city that was once full of people! She has become like a widow, she who was great among the nations. She who was a Princess among the provinces has now become a slave. She weeps bitterly in the night with tears on her cheek. Among all her lovers, she has none to comfort her and her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.” Did you hear it? Jeremiah says Jerusalem has no one to comfort her. In fact, five times in the opening chapter to Lamentations, Jeremiah laments the fact that Jerusalem has no one to comfort her. She has been conquered because of her sin. Her inhabitants have been carried away into slavery. The people of God are people in need of comfort, but they have no one to comfort them. So they begin to ask themselves “Has God abandoned us? Have we gone too far in our sin. Are we still the people of God?” Questions which the Lord heard. Questions which he had already answered to the prophet Isaiah a century earlier. “Comfort, comfort my people,” says the Lord, and the word comfort there is not spoken directly to the people to soothe their worries. No, it’s an imperative, this is a direction. “Go comfort my people,” says the Lord. It’s a direction given to another. One who was to speak God’s word, and that word is comfort. And don’t miss the fact that God tells the speaker to comfort my people, even though they’re still in Babylon, even though they’re taken away into captivity, even though they don’t have their temple, even though they don’t have their homes, they are still the people of God, at least from His point of view. And so He sends a messenger to speak a word of comfort, a comfort not based on the righteousness of Israel, no comfort based on the faithfulness of God. In the midst of captivity, God speaks comfort. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. She has received double. Double what? Double judgment. No double comfort. “Comfort, comfort my people.” What a beautiful message of our Lord. What a beautiful picture of our Lord’s faithfulness. In the midst of Israel’s sin, in the midst of her idolatry, her injustice, her indifference to the Word of the Lord, in the midst of all of it, God remains faithful. He is their God. They are His people, and when they think they have no hope, when they think they have no comfort God sent His prophet to speak comfort. To tell her that her warfare is ended, even though they’re still in Babylon, even though they can’t see it yet. So, we have a picture here of how our Lord deals with us His church today. For like Israel of old, our lives and our behavior do not well reflect our calling as the people of God. We are quick to absorb the idolatry of our neighbors, we’re not as charitable as we could be with those who are in need, we’re prone to taking bribes, maybe not of money maybe it’s just the bribery of a boost in reputation, of being liked and accepted by the world around us. Like Israel of old, we live in captivity of sorts. We soldier through our days in this fallen creation, knowing that this is not the way things are meant to be, captive to broken relationships, captive to broken lives, captive to disease, captive to death, captive to people who hurt each other. And like Israel of old, maybe we wonder at times if God has forgotten us. Has He abandoned us here, just left us to our own devices. To use the words of Lamentations once more are we just like Zion, stretching out our hand for comfort, but finding no one there, finding no one to comfort. No, we’re not. In a word, no we are not, we do have someone to comfort us. We have the Word of our Lord’s comfort and the Word of the Lord stands forever. The glory of the Lord has been revealed. It’s been revealed in His Son. Jesus has come. Jesus has reconciled us to the Father. Jesus has made all things new. Jesus now tends His flock like a shepherd. He gathers His lambs into His arms, He carries them in His bosom, and He gently leads those who are with young. Jesus speaks words of comfort to you, His church to you, His people. He is here to forgive your sin, to the voice of one He has given for your comfort. He is here to feed you heavenly food, to comfort you, to strengthen you, to nourish you for life’s journey. He surrounds you here with your brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for you, to encourage you, to cry with you, to laugh with you, to remind you that you are never alone. He is here to comfort you, to remind you of the hope that is yours through Christ Jesus, our Lord. Here with comfort. So, I don’t know what’s the top of your Christmas list, and truth be told, I don’t really even know what’s at the top of mine. One thing I do know. The Lord is here for your comfort. You are still His people. He has not forgotten you. He has not abandoned you, and He never will. You have hope, for you have Jesus. So may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace and believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Sunday, December 10th, 2023