Isaiah 12:2-6 CEB
God is indeed my salvation;
I will trust and won’t be afraid.
Yah, the Lord, is my strength and my shield;
he has become my salvation.”
You will draw water with joy from the springs of salvation.
And you will say on that day:
“Thank the Lord; call on God’s name;
proclaim God’s deeds among the peoples;
declare that God’s name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, who has done glorious things;
proclaim this throughout all the earth.”
Shout and sing for joy, city of Zion,
because the holy one of Israel is great among you.
Is there anything like the feeling of coming in out of the cold into the warmth of home? When the heat begins to tingle the cheeks and pulls the feeling back into your fingers? This is a season of travel for many, and while I love seeing family and friends, there is almost nothing as good as coming in through the door, setting down your bags and just sinking into the feeling of being home. For me, that just about defines comfort. It’s a place where you can let all the tension and worry drain from your bones and just be yourself. Comfort and home seem synonymous in our minds, for how can you be home without being comfortable? God also has a home for us, a place of comfort and joy. During this week of Advent where we light the candle for joy, it seems in my mind that just as being home seems to be necessary for comfort, so is being at home with God necessary for joy. Like all things with God, this home will be more than we could have hoped for and with more comfort and joy than we could imagine. The coming of Jesus is a call to all of us to come home, to find a place where we belong and all are welcome.
I think all of us have experienced comfort, but what about the kind of life changing comfort that God provides? Do any of us know the joy that comes from true comfort? I do not know if I can say that I am able to. Can I imagine the Hebrew people, exiled and separated from the place God promised to be with them, coming home for the first time? Can I imagine the news to a slave that they are no longer property but free for the first time in their memory and the memory of their parents and generations before them? Can I imagine a prisoner free after so many years beneath the shackles of addiction? Can I imagine the parent certain that their child is lost finding them unharmed? When God speaks of comfort, it is this kind of comfort, the kind that saves us from pain and distress that we have no answer for in this world. I share this because in the beginning verse of chapter twelve of the book of Isaiah, we are told that God brings comfort to God’s people, and again this will be echoed in chapter forty where we are told to make way in the desert for the coming of the Lord because God plans to bring comfort with the Lord’s coming salvation.
The prophets, keen on calls to repentance and listing out the wrongs of a nation, also are quick to provide words of comfort and compassion to those in pain and those who are weary. Isaiah is no different, and in fact, he delivers one of the best promises of comfort during this Advent season with: “You will draw water with joy from the springs of salvation.” Many of us like a good call to repentance, especially when it is aimed at someone else, but we must also be just as quick if not quicker to offer comfort. My friends, it is easy to see wrongs! It is easy to point out all the flaws of our world! Have you ever noticed how quickly people join in when a conversation turns toward criticism and complaints? Isaiah’s words are why I love prophets because prophets do not simply criticize, they seek to change and correct what is broken! They see a world that we cannot fathom! They see a world where God will bring us home, where the suffering will find comfort and call out in joy because of their deliverance!
Can you imagine a spring of deliverance? Can you fathom the depths of God’s grace? It is not some hidden pool found only by a lucky few. This gift of salvation is one that surges forth! It springs out from the rock and waters the ground and quenches thirst! In a world where nothing is free where we often seemingly need to fight and struggle, here is something that cannot be earned. This good gift of God does not run out, salvation and grace are not in short supply. You do not need to worry that you will show up in pain and distress, only to have God turn you away because comfort was only available to the first one hundred customers. During this season of gift giving, God is the greatest gift giver of all time! When God gives, God wins and we win! When God gives, there is an overabundance that can never be emptied and can never run out.
I cannot say this enough, God bless the prophets! Isaiah especially, for I think it is no wonder that in scripture where Jesus reads in the synagogue, it is from Isaiah. Jesus declares Isaiah’s words as fulfilled, that in his birth there the captive will find release, there freedom for the oppressed, there understanding for those who have closed their hearts, and there good news to the poor! Do you feel it in your hearts? Do you feel the weariness leaving? Do you feel the load lessing? Do you feel the joy creeping into your very soul? This is good news! This is God’s call to come home, to dwell with our Lord. You might say it is the strangest homecoming ever because instead of God waiting for us to show up and knock on the door of the Lord’s heavenly house, God left the throne, left the house, left the splendor to bring home to us. God’s homecoming is a tiny babe in a tiny stable who will bring us comfort and bring us joy.
My friends, there is an invitation here as well. Jesus is coming and has already come. My friends, the church, all of you, are our attempt to show this world what this home looks like right here and now. Tell me, is this a place where comfort and joy can be found? If the captive, the oppressed, the grieving, the lonely, and the tired entered our doors, would they find rest here? Would we do everything in our power to ease their burdens and give them the joy and the comfort they so desperately crave? I hope and pray and work to make this so! I am distressed when I have heard some say, “Why should I make it any easier for them, when it wasn’t easy for me?” “Why should I ease their pain, when I am suffering too?” Are those found anywhere in the words of Isaiah? No! Here we are reminded that the Lord is our salvation, and we'll all drink deeply of it! To do the opposite seems absurd, for what grows in hard ground except dust and thorns? What can grow in a hard heart except for apathy and ignorance? Where can compassion come from in a hard heart? Where can joy or comfort spring from when the soil won’t give way to the surging springs of life giving water from our God?
During this season of Advent, on this day of joy, let us remember the promise of Isaiah which is found in Bethlehem. It is a promise that the shepherds will hear and Mary will treasure. It is a promise of salvation, of a God that cannot wait to bring us home, so our God brought home to us. There we will find true comfort and unsurpassed joy. Rather than a call to repentance, let me ask you a question today: who among you would give a serpent to a child who asks for bread? Who among you would give dust to a person dying of thirst? If we know what this home is like and if we know what kind of joy and comfort can be found here, shouldn’t we be asking how we can share it with this world, with this nation, with this community, and with our neighbors? How can we make this place, this taste of home, be a place where people can be themselves, find ease from their pains, and experience the love and grace of our Almighty God? Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman