Summary: ADVENT II, YEAR B - Divine Comfort comes in response to Human Repentance. When we breath deeply in sorrow for our sins, God breaths deeply in providing the divine comfort of His presence.
On Thursday a member of our church received three visitors at her travel agency. But not quite the visitors you might expect. They hadn’t come to sign-up for a cruise to some warm tropical sea. The weren’t there to buy plane tickets or to make plans for a future vacation. The had stopped by to ask for a hand out. They had driven up from Florida for Thanksgiving, they said, and had been stopped by the police for not wearing their seat belts. That all sounds pretty familiar, It’s happened to me. But here is were the story began to get strange. Finding a knife in their thanksgiving turkey the police had impounded their car. Ok.... With no means of transportation they had stayed the night at the Y, but were told that one night was all they had. And with the shelter in Torrington full and no money to their name they had no place to stay. What would you do after hearing such a story? Now be honest, haven’t there been times after you’ve heard one sob story after another when you have longed to say (Rubbing two fingers together) “Do you know what this is? It’s the smallest violin in the world playing, ‘My heart bleeds for you’”
But we can’t say that can we? We’re Christians, we are suppose to show compassion and offer comfort, Aren’t we? Didn’t God proclaim through the prophet Isaiah “Comfort, comfort my people”. Hasn’t the apostle Paul declared, “Praise be to the God who comforts us every time we have trouble, so when others have trouble, we can comfort them with the same comfort God gives us.” Yes we are to show comfort, but comfort as God defines it. And that comfort can be a real surprise to those who want an easy touch. The Hebrew word Isaiah uses for comfort is not what one would expect. While it can mean ‘comfort’ it can also be translated “repent.” The word is nâham, and its root has the idea of breathing deeply or sighing. It can therefore mean to breathe deeply with sorrow for your sin, or to breathe deeply when you have found comfort or when you comfort and console someone else. Translators use the word comfort because the full message that came from God to Isaiah was, “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” Yes, offer comfort, because they have been redeemed, the price has been paid.
But within that Biblical context is the idea that God’s comfort comes as a result of the people’s repentance. The people have done a lot of sighing in Babylon. They have lamented the cause of their captivity and recognized the source of their woes. And because they have breathed deeply in repentance, God has breathed deeply as he consoles and comforts them, for God is always merciful and gracious. Divine comfort comes in response to human repentance, the act of confessing how sin has broken our relationship with our Creator and how much we long for God’s healing presence. And in response to our deep felt repentance God’s responds, “I am with you.” God tells his messangers to proclaim good tidings the joyful word, “Your God is here!” Isaiah 40 through 66 is called the book of comfort, because it begins with this keynote of comfort and repeats that theme over and over. God allowed Isaiah to see into the future so he can offer hope to the nation in exile. But God also allowed Isaiah to see farther down the corridors of time and history. Isaiah saw the future day when there would be ulitmate deliverance from sin itself by one called Emmanuel, a name which means “God with us.” He saw how God would prepare for the coming of this messiah by sending a messenger ahead of him to prepare the way for his coming. It is to this promise that Mark opens his gospel with these words, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” And so to comfort, to offer God’s nâham, is to call one another to repentence. It is through the act of repentance that we prepare ourselves for the coming of God. It is how we make straight the paths in our lives for God’s abiding presence with us. It is from this understanding that John says in the gospel of Matthew, “Bear fruit that befits repentance.”
God’s comfort is tough love, a love that calls us to personal responsibility for how we have lived our lives. And to repentence, the act of turning away from the direction we were headed and turning towards to the ways of God. We have such a hard time with that concept. We think that it means groveling. We think it means coming back from total depravity the sense of ‘wretched soul that I am.’ We think, “well that’s not me.” Maybe it isn’t, maybe it is. But repentance is simply one thing. Turning around. Turning from the direction you have been going and find a new way. Repentance is the married couple who in the midst of everyday life suddenly realize something just isn’t right and something has to change. Repentance is the parent who understands that the kids are acting wild because they don’t know how to handle this age, or this problem, or this phase that they, Mom or Dad, are going through. Repentance is the cry of the heart that says, “O God, I need your help.” And God will be there to offer you comfort. The comfort that says, “I am here.” The comfort that will say, “Make straight the path for the coming of the Lord.”