Comfort, Comfort Ye My People
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Advent hymn before us today (tonight) presents us with the spiritual discomfort involved in receiving the Advent message of comfort. The hymn “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” is the work of Johann Olearius, a German court preacher and chaplain to a duke. He originally wrote this hymn for the Festival of St. John the Baptist. In the third stanza of the hymn, the writer speaks about Advent “calling sinners to repentance.” In the same stanza the writer lifts his finger: “Oh, that warning cry obey!”
These phrases of the hymn present us with an unpleasant task. Despairing of our own power and our cleverly conceived plans about saving ourselves, we humbly wait for the true word of comfort our Lord speaks to us: “I forgive you all your sins. I have paid the price for you.” We have to admit that we human beings are weak, even powerless. We need a healing within that we ourselves can never provide. It’s tough to admit, “I can’t do it myself.” Few things in life make prideful human beings feel more uncomfortable than such an admission. Advent sweeps away all our pride.
In Holy Baptism, we die to sin with Christ, and then rise with Him to new life. Our Lord has remade us: body, mind, and spirit. St. Paul the says that God in Christ has made each of us “a new creation.” This message of salvation during the season of Advent—and of Christmas, Lent, Easter, and the rest of the year—delivers sweet comfort to hearts that were bound by sin. Living in this comfort, we are moved to speak this comfort to our neighbors. Love generates love; faith yields fruit. Advent prophets like Isaiah call us to be engaged constantly in the activity of comforting through human care.
In other places, Isaiah sings about the eyes of the blind being opened and the ears of the deaf being unstopped. He talks about the poor and thirsty and needy being satisfied. Our Savior does such things. For sinners who do not have the power to heal, our Lord leads us to use the gifts He gives us. He urges us to bring comfort to our nightbor. Sharing such a message can be hard work. It’s hard to speak this message to people who don’t want to hear it. It’s hard to speak this message even to people who are willing to hear it. Even pastors and missionaries, people who earn their livelihood by sharing the Gospel, often find the work of sharing the Gospel to be difficult. Speaking the Gospel to people who are comfortable in their sins; speaking the Gospel to people who think the pastor himself is a waste of time or money; going into the homes of the sick, the lonely, the depressed, the dying, and the mourning; traveling thousands of miles to bring the Word to people who have a history of murdering Christian missionaries—it can be uncomfortable, exhausting—even a dangerous task.
Speaking the comfort of the Gospel to hurting, broken people is rarely comfortable. Seldom is it convenient. Certainly it is not something done quickly or easily. But it the work our Lord has called us to do: to deliver the comforting news of salvation in the cross of Jesus Christ—the same good news our Lord has delivered to you. The Holy Spirit strengthens you with the Word and with Christ’s body and blood to do the uncomfortable work of comforting, for our Father has made you a partner with Christ Himself as He carries out His ministry of love in the world. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.