December 24, 2018
“Comfort At Christmas”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) meets at Ascension every month. One of the leaders of that group is Christy Williams. Christy and Doc have their two boys, Ben and Jacob, and a daughter, Abigail. Abby is just about 4 – a perfect age to get all excited about Christmas. I asked Abby in December what she wanted for Christmas and her answer – “I want everything.” I hope Santa can deliver on such a request.
How about you? I bet you have a few things that you’ve been looking forward to. I want to give you something at Christmas. Wow!! Pastor is giving me a gift!! Well, actually I’m not giving you anything. But I know Someone who is. It is a gift from God. Your Christmas gift – comfort.
Do you know what that is? Comfort? I picture it as compassion and care. It is someone coming alongside of you when you are alone or discouraged or troubled. It is someone who would spend some time listening or guiding or loving. Comfort. There is comfort at Christmas – hopefully this one.
30 years ago, at my first parish, I received a phone call just before the Christmas Eve service. Delton Pillard, a long-time member of St. Paul’s and a long-time farmer in that rural community had just died, that afternoon. Before the service even began I told his friends that on that Christmas Eve Delton had died. The rest of the service needed to be one that comforted the grief of that congregation.
John’s Gospel, a telling of the Good News of Jesus, tells us about Christmas in its own way. “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:10-14)
Christmas brings comfort because Christmas brings us the truth that God has come alongside of us in the many areas that we need Him.
The last two weeks in The Denver Post Mile Hi Church ran a full-page ad in the paper. I didn’t see any other church advertising their services. The cost of such a page is beyond our budget!! But what really intrigues me is that Mile Hi Church doesn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus. They don’t believe that His death on the cross paid the price for our sins. They don’t confess that He rose bodily from the grave. But they are having 8 candlelight services. We’re only offering two here and a service on Christmas Day but it my hope that we can offer more comfort than they can because we are speaking of the fullness of Jesus.
Comfort comes when the brilliant light of Christ shines. When speaking about comfort John pits darkness against light. Darkness is life without Christ. It is life without faith. It is life that delights in evil and refuses the will of God in life. John in a later chapter says, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)
There is no comfort when God is not present, or when we run from Him, or when His will has no place in our life or when we do not turn to Him with trust. John begins this chapter with this contrast, “In him was life, and that light was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:4-5)
What is Christmas? It is light. People put lights up especially during this time of year. Some places have thousands of lights. They bring an awe and wonder to what we see. When Christ came it was a star, God’s light that brought the Magi. God gave a brilliant light at the appearance of the angels to catch the attention of the shepherds.
God’s light in Jesus brings us comfort. We are people who are in the light. Christ the light of the world has come and we are recipients of that light. The light? Faith in him. We trust that God has given us the fullness of His love when Jesus came to earth to be our Savior. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. He restores us when we come with a repentant heart. We do not have the darkness of sin and guilt but the brilliance that we are cleansed and made new.
We are comforted when we take God at His word, lean upon what He has said, and find great hope. The angel Gabriel had come to the virgin Mary with the word, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary, as you might remember was puzzled by all of this. And then Gabriel continued to speak, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus.” (Luke 1:28b, 30-31)
In an article about that moment I read this, “For Martin Luther, as it was for many Church Fathers before him, this is the moment of conception: Mary conceives through her ear, through the very Word of God, the same Word of God that the Holy Spirit uses to conceive Christ in us. ‘So faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ.’” (The Lutheran Witness, December 2018, Pgs. 12-13)
Faith, God’s comfort, is conceived in your ear. And then it goes to your heart. Listen to all that God says. In your baptism He had spoken words of Divine Adoption. In the Scriptures, the Bible, He speaks words into your ears that comfort and soothe. “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b) “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)
Christmas is comfort for us. Christ was born for us. God’s light has come to illuminate our lives. We are people who are in the light.
And we are people of the light. My travels took me to Wheat Ridge a few weeks ago and I was traveling past a Disciples of Christ Church on the corner of 20th and Kipling. Their sign advertised a service earlier this week – “A Blue Christmas”. (I don’t think Elvis is singing at this one!!) It is a service for those who struggle every year with Christmas. They find very little light or hope or peace or joy during this Christmas time. It is a blue Christmas.
The comfort that we have been given needs to be shared. God’s love isn’t just for you. You aren’t to be greedy with it. It is for the struggling, the depressed, the sad and discouraged. Paul describes God as the ‘Father of compassion and the God of all comfort’, “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (II Corinthians 1:3b-4) You don’t have to look too far to see the needs of comfort and light in those around you.
In these days the comfort of Christ can pass through you to others. You can be the light that another needs. St. John says, “Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” (I John 2:8)
That Christmas Eve 30 years ago, when my friend Delton Pillard died, it made that Christmas sad, but, interestingly, it made it more meaningful. Grief was met with comfort. Darkness was overcome by light. As we read those words, “Unto you is born this night in the City of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord” it meant something big to everyone that night.
I can’t dictate to God when I get to die, but if He takes me sometime in the next 50 years I hope it will be on a Sunday, the greatest day of the seven He has given us, or on Easter morning, or at Christmas.
On Christmas God came to comfort His people in the birth of His Son, our Savior, our Light. He did it then. He does it now. Amen!!