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Peace, Comfort, Hope – Br. James Koester

Br. James KoesterIsaiah 40: 1 – 11
Psalm 85: 1 – 2, 8 – 13
2 Peter 3: 8 – 15a
Mark 1: 1 – 8

Each year I get a little crankier and a little more annoyed by Christmas.

Now, don’t get me wrong, before you write me off as some kind of a monastic Scrooge, let me explain what I mean.

If truth be told, I actually love Christmas. I love the lights, and the tinsel, and the tree. I love the decorations, and the carols, and the crèche, and the baking, (perhaps especially the baking!). I love Christmas. What makes me cranky, and annoyed, is that what many people really just want are the lights, and the tinsel, and the tree. What many people really just want are the decorations, and the carols, and the crèche, and the baking. What many people really just want is the baby and the celebration. What many people don’t want is a saviour. But isn’t that the whole point of Christmas? And you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.[1]

For many, Christmas is about a cute, pudgy, sweet smelling baby, nestled in a bed of clean straw, in a romantically quaint, clean, rustic looking barn, amidst softly falling snow, much as we had yesterday. What they don’t want, is a saviour. And they don’t want a saviour, because that would suggest that we need saving. That would suggest that life isn’t all that we so often pretend it to be. And who wants to admit that life, especially my life, is not perfect, or that I can’t fix it?

But the truth is, we all need a saviour, because life isn’t all that we pretend it to be. And the world isn’t all that we know it can be. It wasn’t then and it’s not now. It wasn’t for Isaiah, and it isn’t for us. It wasn’t for the psalmist, and it isn’t for us. It wasn’t for Peter, and it isn’t for us. It wasn’t for Mark, and it isn’t for us. Life isn’t what we frequently pretend it to be, and nor is the world.  And that’s the whole point of Christmas. And you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

If life were all that we frequently pretend it to be; if the world were all that it could be, there would be no need for a saviour, and there would be no need for Christmas, because who needs Christmas, if you don’t need a saviour? And you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

For Isaiah, the world was anything but the way it should be: God’s people defeated, exiled; the temple, ruined. God’s people were forsaken, forgotten and forlorn. And into this shattering grief and overwhelming loss, came words of comfort.

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid[2]

The grief of Israel was overwhelming. Their life has been shattered. They had lost everything. Nothing was as it should be. And into the midst of this shattering grief, and overwhelming loss, came the voice of God’s prophet speaking words of peace, words of comfort, words of hope. It is these same words that we sing: 

Comfort, comfort ye my people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning ‘neath their sorrows’ load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.[3]

The promise of Christmas is not a cute, pudgy, sweet smelling baby, nestled in a bed of clean straw, in a romantically quaint, clean, rustic looking barn, amidst softly falling snow. The promise of Christmas is comfort. The promise of Christmas is that even in the midst of shattering, overwhelming loss and grief, God can and will speak words of peace, of comfort, of hope. And the word of peace, of comfort, of hope, which God speaks is Jesus for you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Like the world of the people of Israel at the time of Isaiah, the world of Israel at the time of John the Baptist was one of shattering grief and overwhelming loss. Jerusalem was once again occupied. God’s people were once again enslaved. Pharaoh was no longer their Egyptian master. Their new Roman master, was now Pharaoh, and like their Egyptian master of old, their new Pharaoh, Caesar ruled with an iron fist.

And into this world of shattering grief and overwhelming loss, came John the Baptist, speaking words of peace, of comfort, of hope: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,[4] for the promise of God was for them too, just as it was for those living in exile at the time of Isaiah. And that promise was nothing less than the return of their shepherd God.

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
*
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
*
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
‘Here is your God!’
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.[5]

Like the world of Isaiah, like the world of John the Baptist, many live today with shattering grief and overwhelming loss. We may not be enslaved to Caesar, to Pharaoh, or to the King of Babylon. Today we are slaves to fear. The whole world is enslaved by fear. Yet into this fear filled world of ours, comes a word of peace, of comfort, of hope. And that word is Jesus. Into these fear filled lives of ours, comes a word of peace, of comfort, of hope. And that word is Jesus.

And you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Like the promise of old, the promise for us today is that our shepherd God is returning. Into our fear filled world comes One speaking words of peace: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.[6]

Like the promise of old, the promise for us today is that our shepherd God is returning. Into our fear filled world comes One speaking words of comfort: I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.[7]

Like the promise of old, the promise for us today is that our shepherd God is returning. Into our fear filled world comes One speaking words of hope:  I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.[8]

We look for the coming of Christ in time, as the Babe of Bethlehem, and at the end of time, as our Judge and Redeemer, not because we need a baby in our lives, but because we know our need of a saviour, and we know that we need to hear words of peace spoken to our world and in our hearts. And isn’t that what we celebrate at Christmas?

We look for the coming of Christ in time, as the Babe of Bethlehem, and at the end of time, as our Judge and Redeemer, not because we need a baby in our lives, but because we know our need of a saviour, and we know that we need to hear words of comfort spoken to our world and in our hearts. And isn’t that what we celebrate at Christmas?

We look for the coming of Christ in time, as the Babe of Bethlehem, and at the end of time, as our Judge and Redeemer, not because we need a baby in our lives, but because we know our need of a saviour, and we know that we need to hear words of hope spoken to our world and in our hearts. And isn’t that what we celebrate at Christmas?

We look for the coming of Christ in time, as the Babe of Bethlehem, and at the end of time, as our Judge and Redeemer, not because we need a baby in our lives, but because we know our need of a saviour, and we know that we need to hear words of peace, of comfort, of hope, spoken to our world and in our hearts. And that word is Jesus.

I love Christmas. I love the lights, and the tinsel, and the tree. I love the decorations, and the carols, and the crèche, and the baking, (perhaps especially the baking!). I love Christmas. I love Christmas, not because I love the sight of a cute, pudgy, sweet smelling baby, nestled in a bed of clean straw, in a romantically quaint, clean, rustic looking barn, amidst softly falling snow; I love Christmas, because in that baby I see the fulfillment of God’s promise of comfort, of peace, of hope, to a world enslaved by fear.

And you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.


[1] Matthew 1: 21

[2] Isaiah 40: 1 – 2ab

[3] Hymnal 1982, hymn # 67, words by Johann G. Olearius, translated by Catherine Winkworth

[4] Mark 1: 3

[5] Isaiah 40: 9 – 11

[6] John 14: 27

[7] John 10: 14 – 15

[8] John 11: 25 – 26

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2 Comments

  1. CHRISTINA MCKERROW on December 15, 2017 at 03:40

    In the middle of the night, ‘Thank you.’ I grieve for our weary world – we are in such need of the Comforter who we call Jesus. Blessings to all the Brothers with SSJE. Christina

  2. Ruth West on December 15, 2017 at 00:53

    Amen to this good timely message! Such great words to describe Christmas: comfort, hope, peace, Savior, salvation, and redemption!
    Only one more can be added to make it perfect, and that is RESURRECTION. Thank you, Br. James.
    Merry, joyful and peaceful Christmas to you!

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