Thursday, December 25, 2014

John 1:1-14; Christmas Day; December 25, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1–14, ESV)

(From a devotion by Ed Grimenstein)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is Christmas morning. From last night to today we have gone from the dark candlelight of Christmas Eve celebrating the newborn babe in the manger, to the brightness of Christmas morning. Last night we stood around the manger in awe that to you a child is born who is Christ the Lord. Born in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This morning we are left to ponder what it means that God the Word who created all things has become flesh to dwell among us.

How is it exactly a word becomes flesh, anyway? We don’t usually think of words as physical things. We think of them as ideas or symbols. A word is something that is said, it forms on the lips and the tongue and is projected through the air. It is heard by other people and interpreted. It isn’t something hard and fleshly, but ideas and thoughts. And yet here John’s Gospel says that The Word becomes flesh. And it says that this Word was the author of creation and life. God spoke the universe into existence by the power of this Word. And this Word is now a baby lying in a manger.

I think the text from Hebrews this morning helps fill in what’s going on. Listen again:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV)

The Word that created the world is the 2nd person of the Trinity, the Son, Jesus Christ born in the flesh in the manger. Long ago, and bit by bit (a more literal translation), God spoke to people through his prophets. But the relationship was one of distance and separation. He spoke of his promises to remove the distance and separation, to set right again everything that was broken by sin. God didn’t want to speak in a long distance relationship forever. He wants to be very close to his creation and his creatures. He doesn’t want his words just floating in the air. So God became flesh and dwelt among us. God’s Word actually walks on the ground, touches the sick, opens blind eyes, weeps at death, and speaks life back into dead friends. The Word become flesh speaks a final word at the cross, “It is finished!” The Word become flesh also becomes sin.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

Jesus on the cross is God’s Word of promise fulfilled. God’s sacrifice for sinners. God speaking forgiveness into human sin. God didn’t just become flesh to be close and have a conversation over coffee. He became flesh, one of us, so that he could pay for our sins through his death on the cross and restore our relationship to God.

And the Word become flesh is still present here with us. The Word made flesh is presented every time we gather in his name and hear the Bible read. He is present every day as his baptized children live out their calling in the world according to the Word of God. He is present as he speaks the wonderful Good News of forgiveness of sins through a simple, sinful pastor. Jesus is still coming to you to heal, and to forgive, just as he came in the Bible. Jesus wants to be near you, not just words in your ear, but in your heart and life, as you live every day holding on the promises God has made to you in Holy Baptism.

God’s Word becomes flesh every time a pastor speaks the wonderful word of release to you, the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus on the cross. God’s Word becomes flesh every time water is splashed on a sinners head and he becomes God’s own child, given God’s very name. The Word becomes flesh every time a believer receives forgiveness through the very physical body and blood of Jesus, in, with and under the bread and wine in Jesus’ supper. And God’s Word becomes flesh as Christians faithfully live out their vocations every day. Bakers baking bread, teachers teaching, farmers farming, parents parenting, and grandparents spoiling their grandchildren.

Jesus is God’s Word made flesh. He is touchable, God with us, Immanuel. He comes to us in Word and Sacrament, he comes to us and through us to the world to tell the good news of the love of God and the forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Luke 2:1-7; The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord; December 24, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:1–20, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It’s Christmas Eve and baby Jesus has been laid in a manger. Mary and Joseph beam with delight. The animals are attentive. The shepherds are on their way fresh from the heavenly announcement. Peace on Earth is right there lying in swaddling cloths. It’s the vision of Christmas that we have all come to see tonight. What could be better? The holiday that celebrates children and family, and love, forgiveness and gift giving, starting with a baby laid in a manger? He is after all the “Reason for the season.” It is essential to keep Christ in Christmas.

Actually, I don’t really think that Christ has been totally removed from the Holiday. You can’t go far without seeing a nativity scene. I even saw one a few days ago that had Elvis worshipping Jesus. But Jesus was still there. Elvis was just tucked in behind Joseph and a few sheep. Jesus is a regular fixture in the Christmas music you hear on the radio, right along with Grandma and with her

“…hoof prints on her forehead; And incriminatin' Claus marks on her back.” (Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, Song by Elmo & Patsy)

And in spite of the fact that at some Walmart stores you’ll hear “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” you can still find “The Little Drummer Boy” in the video section. No, Jesus is still a part of Christmas. People easily remember that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.

What I think we forget about the baby that was laid in the manger is that he was also laid in a tomb. The sweet warmth and light of the story of Christmas is nothing without the harsh cold darkness of Jesus’ tomb. What we don’t want to forget, what we can’t afford to forget, is that the baby in the manger was born for more than a cute scene for a family holiday. You know, Linus gets it right standing in the spotlight in front of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11, ESV)

The stable’s new born babe is Savior of the world. It’s not because he’s cute. It’s because he is God in the flesh who comes to die on the cross. The fresh pink flesh that Mary and Joseph cleaned and wrapped in swaddling cloths was pierced by nails and hung up to die. The small voice that cooed for its first meal at Mary’s breast,

…cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Matthew 27:46, ESV)

Jesus is born in Bethlehem to accomplish this purpose, to be the sacrifice for all sin on the cross. To suffer eternal hell, that is rejection by God, for all people. To satisfy the just punishment for your sin and mine. And then to defeat death, your death and mine, through his resurrection to new life. He only begins a baby. But that’s because he must. Jesus begins his life, just as you and I do. A baby conceived in a womb, carried nine months, and born. He grew and loved and worked and played. A complete human, born as anyone. Countless babies were likely born in similar circumstances. What makes this one Nativity Scene worthy is who he is and what he is born to do.

The last thing we want to hear on Christmas is about human sin, particularly our sin. But it is the story of sin that make the story of the manger necessary. Our sin separates us from God and one another. Our sin is a rejection of the creator of the universe. Our sin deserves God’s anger and punishment. The promise of the new born life in the manger is God’s promise of forgiveness. “God and sinners reconciled.”

And so, here we sit on Christmas Eve with the story of baby Jesus fresh in our ears. It is a lovely story. It is so because of who Jesus is. It is so because of what he does. It only begins in human history in the manger. It is the cross, and the forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross, that makes the manger of any value to you and me. And it is the empty tomb that makes the cross true. The Baby that was laid in a manger, went to the cross, died and was laid also in a grave. But Easter morning the grave was empty because that self-same baby rose from the dead, with the promise of your resurrection, your eternal life through the forgiveness of your sins. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Psalm.116.15; Funeral of Beverly Ann Braymen; December 22, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

There is nothing good about all of this. Death is a great evil. Today it has taken away a faithful wife, mother, grandmother, and a friend. And it has taken her away by surprise. We were not prepared to lose Beverly. You are still in shock. I don’t know how many people stopped by just to say how shocked they were when they heard the news. And when the shock wears off there will still be grief and loss. These last few days have been terrible days. There is not much I can say that is going to stop your tears from flowing. There is nothing wrong with weeping, Jesus himself wept when his friend Lazarus died. God hates death, as we hate it, and even more.

Beverly was very faithful in attendance in worship. She came to hear God’s Word proclaimed and receive God’s gift of forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper. I look forward to seeing her with Jesus when all the differences between people will be forgiven. You see, I’m confident in Bev’s being with Jesus right now. Not because she was such a great person. She was a wonderful person. How many hours did she sit at the hospital volunteering with you Tom? The truth is she was a sinner. You her family and close friends know that even better than I do. Sin leads to death. There is no more sure sign of being a sinner than your own funeral. But none of that really matters today. Today I’m confident in her salvation because of what Jesus has done. Nothing Bev did, as good as it was, measures up to the perfection required by God. Nothing she did, nothing you and I could ever do would be enough to make up for not loving God with our whole heart, soul and mind. But if that’s all that there was, our weeping would be in vain, our mourning would be even more terrible. We are not counting on what Bev did to bring her to live with God forever. We are counting on Jesus. She did.

She wasn’t even two weeks old when God adopted her as his child. Some other fallible pastor poured water over her head and said God’s name and hers. “Beverly Ann Otte, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” God gave her faith that began to grow that very day. She confessed it publically at her confirmation after growing in faith through the hearing of God’s Word. And all through her life, her church life was important to her, because of what it means for her right now.

Beverly is with Jesus because he won forgiveness for her sin and victory over death through his cross and resurrection. She trusted in Jesus for that forgiveness. Now she is with him awaiting the resurrection of the body. She knew she didn’t have to do a bunch of good stuff to pass through death to life with Christ. Jesus has done everything necessary. His perfect life is counted as her perfect life. His death on the cross and his resurrection is counted as payment for her death and the eternal punishment for her sin. And so she has passed through death to life with Jesus. Beverly lived in that faith and confidence.

But there is even more. Shortly we will place her body carefully in the ground for safe keeping. Together you and me, Tom and Lisa and Dale and Gabe and Jessica and all of us living in faith just as Beverly, we will wait anxiously for Jesus to return. Because on that day God will call Bev out of the ground, just as he will for all those who have died in the faith. He will raise up this body and your body and mine. And we will live together forever with him. We will live forever with Bev. Her body that failed her will be made perfect. My fallible body and yours will be made perfect, too. It will be a joyous reunion.

That’s why, to God, Bev’s death is precious. Not because he loves death, far from that, he hates it. Her death is precious because she is precious to God. She has claimed precious by holy baptism. It is her connection to the baby born in the manger, who grew up to suffer and die on the cross, and rise again to new life proves that. He came to fix the sin and death problem. And he has. He came to fix this terrible separation and grief that we are feeling. And he has. Though for a while we suffer grief with the help of the Holy Spirit we can bear it. We can bear it because we know that it is short lived. Jesus resurrection promises it is so. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

1 Corinthians 13; Wedding of Dane and Jordan Wardenburg; December 20, 2014;


If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

You know, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to work in a sports metaphor for your marriage. You know, Dane is QB & Jordan is Half Back; Pitcher, Catcher, Running a marathon, winning / losing a national championship… Couldn’t get anything to work the way I thought it might. So… I decided to drop the whole sports metaphor for marriage. It’s a good thing really, because the more I thought about it the more I realize that love and marriage aren’t a sport.

Love is a choice. Just look at what St. Paul says about love in the reading.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Notice how nothing he says, says anything about the feelings of love. He’s not discounting the feelings of love, he just knows the truth about people. Feelings come and go. Dane and Jordan, today you have all those mushy, in love, feelings. Who wouldn’t! It’s your wedding day. You are surrounded by all your family and friends. Everything is focused on your love. It’s great. But, remember, love isn’t a sport. It isn’t just feelings. Love is action and those actions are lived everyday by choice. You could add a few words to every phrase of the reading and not change a thing about what it says. Love is patient and kind, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Love does not envy or boast, even if it feels like it. It is not arrogant or rude, even if you’re mad him Jordan. It does not insist on its own way, even though you will want to Dane. It is not irritable or resentful, even if you feel that way. It doesn’t rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth, even when it hurts. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things, even when these things are the farthest things from your thoughts. It’s all about choosing to love instead of what you want to do in the heat of the moment. Deciding to love each other

…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part…

So, just how successful are you going to be at doing this your whole marriage, your whole life together? Today it’s easy, tomorrow too, most likely. But what about when the money runs out, and Dane is on the road more than you think he should be? Or Dane how about when she’s working those extra shifts and you are sitting home alone? Or the toilet seat doesn’t get put down for the thousandth time and the dishes are stacked up in the sink? You are making promises today that you can’t possibly keep perfectly.

So, what is your marriage doomed? Hardly. That’s exactly why we are here, isn’t it. In this marriage service you aren’t just making promises. You are making promises in the sight of God and these witnesses and inviting your Savior to be with you in your marriage. It’s the most important thing you can do when you are married. You will fail each other, often. You need forgiveness for your failures. And that’s what Jesus brings. He was crucified, dead and buried and raised again to new life, for your sins, especially for the sins that you both bring to this marriage. Forgiveness is what allows you to move forward past the hurt. It is just a fact of life that you will sin against each other more than you will sin against anyone else. So you need to forgive each other more than you need to forgive anyone else. Jesus forgives you. In that forgiveness you can / will forgive each other. The key to living in forgiveness is to do what God says to do. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. It is best to do it out loud in those very words. “Dane, I forgive you, in the name of Jesus.” “Jordan, I forgive you, in the name of Jesus.” Those exact words are the most important words you will speak after “I do”! Forgiveness changes things. Jesus forgives you and in faith, you will forgive each other.

Jesus is a part of your marriage and your life together. It’s the forgiveness. The author of Ecclesiastes says it like this:

And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12, ESV)

God’s richest blessings on your marriage. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Psalm 126; Advent Service Three; December 17, 2014

Psalm 126; Advent Service Three; December 17, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

When the LORD restored the fortunes of | Zion,*
we were like | those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with | laughter,*
and our tongue with | shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great | things for them.”*
The LORD has done great things for us; |we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, | O LORD,*
like streams in the | Negeb!
Those who | sow in tears*
shall reap with | shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for | sowing,*
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his | sheaves with him.

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

This Psalm is one of the Songs of Ascent. When the people approached the holy city, Jerusalem on festivals they chanted these psalms together. They are Songs of Ascent because when you come to Jerusalem you have to go up the hill to the city, up mount Zion.

This particular psalm has another approach in view. Some six hundred years before Jesus, God’s people were conquered and sent into exile in Babylon. It was God’s discipline for their sin of rejecting him. After a great many years, God finally acted on their prayers for return and allowed a small band of them to come home. You can imagine this psalm being spoken by them as they climbed the holy hill once again. It was like a dream. They had waited so long. God had finally begun to fulfill his promise. Their mouths were filled with joy. God had done a great thing for them, they were glad.

And yet, not all was well. The land and the city were in rubble. There had been no crops sown for many years. The vast majority of the people were still back in Babylon. The psalm is a not only a prayer of joy for what God has done, but a plea for him to continue to do more. Bring the rest home! In this way it’s another one of the complaint Psalms, a lament. Those who were there had much hard work ahead of them. There would be sowing in tears. There was weeping for now, but great joy in the future with God’s promise.

This is the perfect song for Advent. It’s a reminder that we are not just preparing for a quaint family holiday, the reason for the season isn’t that we gather together and exchange love and presents. The baby in the manger is the beginning of the return from exile. We huddle around the crèche because it is the beginning. The angels sang, “God and sinners reconciled” because God was present among sinful people to do away with sin and death and the power of Satan. Christmas is God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. God, in Jesus, born in a manger. God, in Jesus, feeding at his mother’s breast. God, in Jesus, growing in wisdom and stature to be a full grown man. God, in Jesus, living and working with his family. God, in Jesus, preaching and teaching. God, in Jesus, arrested and beaten. God, in Jesus, crucified dead and buried, under Pontius Pilate. God, in Jesus, paying the eternal punishment for all human sin on the cross. God, in Jesus, dead and buried. God, in Jesus, raised from the dead on the third day. All of that, God, in Jesus, reconciling sinners, bringing them home to God himself from their exile to sin.

So the laughter we experience as we gather with our families is part of the joy we rightly feel because of God and Sinners Reconciled. Joy to the World. Oh, Come Let Us Adore Him, Gloria in Excelsis Deo! All that we will sing in a few short days. It fits well with the first part of the Psalm. In some ways it is like a dream for us also, too good to be true. When we see the depth of our sin, when we know what sin does to us and to those we love, and we realize the rescue God has made for us. We sing for joy!

And yet, not all is well. Death, the wages of sin, still haunts us, breaking our joy. There is more of Jesus to come, even though he has totally captured the victory and yet there is more to do. In the psalm we call on God to finish it. The crucified, baby in the manger has risen from the dead has done great thing for us, and he promises to do even more. We weep now, but we will renew our shouts of joy even louder when the sky is filled with Jesus and his holy angels returning. We lament our sin and suffering. We long for a time when human beings can really live together in peace on earth. St. Paul says it:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–26, ESV)

Tears turned to joy. Weeping turned to shouts of joy. Jesus “making all things new” (Rev 21:5, ESV). And so we repeat or Advent Prayer. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Isaiah 40:1-8; the Second Sunday in Advent; December 7, 2014;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and 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. A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 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. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:1–8, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Comfort, comfort my people. Don’t we all like comfort? Don’t we all need it at sometime or another? Rudolf Bohren (Prof. of Theology: University of Heidelberg) said, “A human being needs comfort. The nursing child crying in its crib, the old man clinging to a beloved hand as he dies; the one coming into the world, the one departing from the world, both need comfort. Beginning and end help us to sense that the need for comfort is simply a part of being human.” The problem is that comfort is always suspect. Even people of faith find it difficult to always trust when we receive comfort. Maybe that’s because we’ve so often heard shallow words of comfort from well meaning people; words that don’t really bring any comfort at all. We often find ourselves testing words offered in comfort to make sure that they are not some kind of swindle and hoax.

This text that Isaiah writes, God’s Word to us today, says “Comfort, Comfort.” It’s double comfort that is to be given to God’s people. It’s double comfort to be shouted from the mountaintops. But if the comfort here is to be real comfort and not some phony replacement, we’ll need to understand what is really being said here. And Isaiah helps us here in this text to understand just that.

Comfort implies a helper.

We all know the real difference between true comfort and comfort that really isn’t comfort at all. Job’s comforters were really comfort at all. In fact he was burdened by their comfort. We don’t need that kind. Nor do we need the pat on the head, “There, there, it will be all right in the end.” Especially when we know that it won’t just be all right. In Psalm 87 the psalmist says, “for you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” Help and comfort go together. Imagine the nurse who only talks to her patient but never touches them, never holds a hand, or changes bedding, or bathes, or gives medicine. Of course that nurse would be of no comfort at all.

“Comfort” is a very strong theme in the book of Isaiah, especially after this text in Chapter 40. Here God in continually calling out to his people with comfort. It is interesting to note that in all of these verses God is the one who does the comforting, and his people are always the ones who are comforted. God’s comfort always restores and helps, and Isaiah speaks the words as if the comfort that is offered is a done deal, already completed.

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.” (Isaiah 49:13, ESV)

For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” (Isaiah 51:3, ESV)

“I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass,” (Isaiah 51:12, ESV)

Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 52:9, ESV)

Comfort is addressed to the heart.

The word translated from Hebrew into English as “tenderly” might also be translated, “straight into the heart.” Comfort must reach the human heart to be of any comfort at all. It’s easy enough to put off condemnation from other people. When someone says to me, “You’re a sinner!” I can say back to them “Same to you!” and even Satan’s accusations can be rebuffed with a word. “You are the father of lies, a professional trouble maker, I don’t need to listen to you.” But if my trouble come from my own heart, if my condemnation comes from right in here, then what help is there for me if the comfort doesn’t also reach right in here. It is only a message spoken “tenderly,” or “straight to the heart.”

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:19–20, ESV)

Here is a real message of comfort from God, it is most of all a message that the warfare is over. We are no longer God’s enemies. Our sins have been paid for… in double! Isaiah says. That doesn’t mean that we can sin all we want because it’s been taken care of. It means that the power of sin to destroy us has been destroyed. It’s just that it is foolish to let the very thing that has been destroyed destroy us from inside our own heart.

God says, “Her sin has been paid in double.” None of us can say that we have suffered more than we have sinned. There was in fact only one human being who could rightly claim that, because he had not sinned at all and yet he suffered the punishment of the whole world’s sin. No matter how great our suffering is we still deserve even more. The law is never satisfied. If we are guilty of breaking one little part we are guilty of breaking it all. But, God has taken care of that for us. Jesus Christ satisfied the law, perfectly. Jesus Christ suffered under the law and satisfied the requirement for punishment completely. God’s grace, God’s underserved love for us, is that he takes our punishment on himself in Jesus, and he gives to us His perfect life. That is comfort spoken straight into our hearts.

Comfort from God breaks through all obstacles

There are times when we suspect that God’s comfort is only words. When God is strangely silent when evil is so outspoken. There are times when God’s inaction makes us suspect that he is powerless, or that he doesn’t really care, or worse yet, doesn’t even exist. Make straight the way of the Lord. Isaiah says. Every valley raised up and every mountain made low. Nothing can stand in God’s way of dealing with sin. A way is going to be prepared for Him. God comes to deal with sin. He comes before people can even come to him.

Comfort is the reassurance that although humans fail, God’s word stands forever.

Life is short play hard, is hardly a phrase of great comfort. But, isn’t that what Isaiah is saying here?

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass.” (Isaiah 40:6–7, ESV)

“Comfort my people, tell them that they are withering grass and fading flowers.” It isn’t what we even want to hear. But according to this text it is part of our comfort to remember it always. We are never to forget that death is built into everything we do, and there is nothing we can do about it. You and I will face death. We will face it with others, and we will face it for ourselves. That fact alone has a way of changing our minds about what is important, and what is not.

But there is comfort in knowing that death is not the end for us. For us, the resurrection looms also in our future, beyond our death. The breath of God that withers is also the breath that God will use to revive us. Grass has its season, but the life that God gives is eternal. That is comfort to us, whose flesh is but grass.

But that comfort isn’t cheap. It was paid for in the coinage of Jesus own holy and precious blood. That’s the price that assures us that our sin, and our punishment is forever paid. Why is it that we so often parcel out forgiveness in little increments? That is hardly how the Bible talks. “Your sin is paid in double!” shouts Isaiah. God’s forgiveness is total and complete. It is the comfort above all comfort and that is how we should receive it, in full. With Jesus Christ there is no sin that is too great that he cannot forgive it. There is no life to far gone that he cannot restore it. That is what we confess. “I a poor miserable sinner…” That is what we are, but the problem with the General Confession is that we become “generic sinners.” We are indeed guilty of breaking specific commandments. You are a murder. You are a thief. You are despiser of God’s Holy Word. We all break God’s commands daily; sometimes openly and sometimes secretly in our hearts. “in thought, word and deed.” We say. There is here today God’s words of comfort to you, spoken straight to your heart. Jesus Christ speaks his word of forgiveness to you. “In the stead and by the command of my Lord, Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” You have received double for all your sins. There is more than enough forgiveness at the foot of the cross to cover them all, and more than enough to bring you comfort straight to your heart. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.