31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
When Julie Andrews sings: “Raindrops on roses; And whiskers on kittens; Bright copper kettles; And warm woolen mittens;” she is singing about her favorite things, but the song could just as well be entitled “my comforting things” because just the thought of her favorite things makes her happy when things go wrong.
What are your favorite things? What are the things that always bring you comfort? I invite you to get up from your seat and find someone you have not come to worship with today, introduce yourself, and share two of your comforting, favorite things.
Like many, some of my comforting things are food: chocolate, my Mother’s meatloaf, mashed potatoes, hot apple cider, a cold Diet Dr. Pepper. And it won’t surprise you that my son, Jack has a favorite blanket that is a must have when he’s anxious, upset, or settling down to sleep. I myself love to wrap up in this velvet covered down comforter we have. It brings me comfort – and warmth.
But not everything that brings us comfort is a thing. The touch of another human being showing their support and care can bring us great comfort. I have a magnet that says, “Hope…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will rise up like eagles.” Hope brings me comfort. And so do Paul’s words from Romans that nothing in heaven or on earth can separate us from the love of God, made known in Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Comfort. These words are comfort.
The people of Israel, the people of Jerusalem, needed comfort. They had watched as their sister cities were conquered by the Assyrians, and they had felt relieved to have escaped such a fate. But that relief was not long lived because in time, they were conquered by the Babylonians. They were carted away in chains to a foreign city, to work and live as outsiders, a captive and conquered people. The people of Israel, the people of Jerusalem, needed comfort.
They dreamed of the day when God would allow them to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem, and as they looked out at the geographic distance that separated them from their home, it looked like a wilderness, a desert, an insurmountable hurdle. Would they ever be allowed to return home, to return to their former lives, to return to what was comfortable and known? This land between Babylon and Jerusalem embodied their feelings of hopelessness and despair.
And into that despondency, the prophet Isaiah spoke God’s word of hope. “Comfort, O comfort, my people..Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid…In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:1-3)
Isaiah’s words may have brought to mind a majestic return for the exiles, made them think of the highways created for the conquering Babylonian kings, or of when God led the Israelites out of Egypt with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. Isaiah’s words may have led the Israelites to believe that they would be returning to Jerusalem with all of the fanfare of a ticker tape parade.
But the desert, the wilderness, God is speaking of is not a geographic place. It is an emotional place. The people are in exile in Babylon, but the people are also in exile from God. They have turned from God and God’s ways. Their hearts are a desert, a wilderness. And God’s comfort to them, God’s comfort to us, is that God will prepare a way through the wilderness of our hearts; God will make a highway in the desert of our souls. “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” (Isaiah 40:3-4).
The obstacles and challenges of life will be overcome – not because God will magically make them disappear. The obstacles and challenges of life will be overcome because God will be with us. Immanuel. God with us. God is coming into our lives, coming into our world through a Messiah, a Savior.
The season of Advent is a season of preparation. A season to prepare our hearts to receive the Messiah, the Christ, Immanuel, God with us. Whether our hearts are feeling like desert wildernesses, dry and empty, whether they are feeling wintry, grieving, and in pain, or our hearts are just feeling full – full of too many things that overburden and exhaust us, we all need some comfort from God.
We could all benefit from the reminder that God comes into our lives to love us, to be with us, to walk with us up those mountains and through those valleys. We can all benefit from this season of preparation, this season to transform our hearts into a way for the Lord.
God says, “Comfort, comfort my people.” And comfort us, God does. Not with food, not with sweets or meat and potatoes or blankies or whiskers on kittens. God comes to comfort us with God’s own presence. God comes to wrap us in loving arms, showing us that love is vulnerable, mutual, unconditional.
God’s love is a love that will not let us go. God’s peace is a peace that passes all understanding. God’s comfort soothes us to the depths of our souls.
The Messiah is coming. The Messiah is coming to bring us comfort. The Messiah is coming to bring us peace.
Let Jesus into your hearts this Advent. Let him take your hand, take your heart, and journey with you over that uneven ground, through those rough places.
Let the Messiah into your heart and life, and then “when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when you’re feeling sad, simply remember Immanuel and then you won’t feel so bad”.
God loves you forever and always.