Anticipating Advent: Comfort, Comfort to My People

Isaiah 40: 1, 2
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

Heidelberg Catechism Q. and A. 1

Q.  What is your only comfort in life and death?

A.  That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ . . .

By now, at 63 years of age, I have watched and waited at the bedside of first my father and then, ten years later, my mother as each by death passed from this life.  They had both lived good, long lives and were faithful followers of Christ.  Yet death for each was a battle, and those of us children present at their sides sought to comfort the beloved who was dying.  The sustained grip of hand on hand, the caress of the forehead, the moistening of dried lips and mouth with cool water, the soft yet firmly spoken words of love—we were intent to comfort:  you are dear to us, all will be well, we will be together yet again . . . . Then, as one by one they passed beyond our labor to comfort and we were left bereft and alone to witness the flash-freeze pallor of death, we sought comfort for ourselves.

Thus when God speaks comfort to his people through his prophet Isaiah, we are ready to identify ourselves with that people.  We have seen hard service, our hearts have been rent by separation from our beloved, we have pocketed within our own souls the wages of deadly sin, so God knows, we need comfort.

As God commands comfort in verse one, so he promptly provides the means of delivering that comfort in verse two:  speak tenderly, proclaim that hard service is completed, that sin has been paid for doubly, much more than enough.  These are indeed sweet words for one who would be comforter.

But what is the basis in reality for such words?  Here is where Christmas is in play.  It is in Christ, the Ancient of Days become babe, that God himself has performed hard service for us, has paid off the wages of sin with the gift of his life, has given double grace in spite of all our sins, has gone ahead and opened a way for us through death to life everlasting—and we belong to him.  On account of his mercy we by faith are his dear family, his children, his brothers and sisters—and he alone is our comfort, in life and in death.

~Dan Gibson

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Comfort, Comfort To My People

Isaiah 40: 1, 2
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

Heidelberg Catechism Q. and A. 1

Q.  What is your only comfort in life and death?

A.  That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ . . .

By now, as sixty years closes in on me, I have watched and waited at the bedside of first my father and then, ten years later, my mother as each by death passed from this life.  They had both lived good, long lives and were faithful followers of Christ.  Yet death for each was a battle, and those of us children present at their sides sought to comfort the beloved who was dying.  The sustained grip of hand on hand, the caress of the forehead, the moistening of dried lips and mouth with cool water, the soft yet firmly spoken words of love—we were intent to comfort:  you are dear to us, all will be well, we will be together yet again . . . . Then, as one by one they passed beyond our labor to comfort and we were left bereft and alone to witness the flash-freeze pallor of death, we sought comfort for ourselves.

Thus when God speaks comfort to his people through his prophet Isaiah, we are ready to identify ourselves with that people.  We have seen hard service, our hearts have been rent by separation from our beloved, we have pocketed within our own souls the wages of deadly sin, so God knows, we need comfort.

As God commands comfort in verse one, so he promptly provides the means of delivering that comfort in verse two:  speak tenderly, proclaim that hard service is completed, that sin has been paid for doubly, much more than enough.  These are indeed sweet words for one who would be comforter.

But what is the basis in reality for such words?  Here is where Christmas is in play.  It is in Christ, the Ancient of Days become babe, that God himself has performed hard service for us, has paid off the wages of sin with the gift of his life, has given double grace in spite of all our sins, has gone ahead and opened a way for us through death to life everlasting—and we belong to him.  On account of his mercy we by faith are his dear family, his children, his brothers and sisters—and he alone is our comfort, in life and in death.

~Dan Gibson

Dealing the Fatal Blow

“O death, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
1 Corinthians 15:54-55

“What happens when we die?” From an early age, we ask this question. We ask
because death seems mysterious, unpredictable and strange. We ask because
the idea of death terrifies us.

Terror is an understandable response: death is the curse that we bear for human
sin. We were created to live in eternal closeness to God, but selfish pursuit
broke that relationship and carried us far from the safety, goodness and life found
in Him.

Just as our bodies cannot survive for long without water, so our souls cannot
survive separation from God. Physical death is symbolic of the full extent of the
curse: complete and permanent separation from God. When held up against the
tremendous beauty of what we were created to be, how we were created to live,
of course this is terrifying!

This is what makes Paul’s words, a paraphrase of Hosea 13:14, so striking:
because of Christ, we no longer need to fear death. In fact, we can be so bold as
to ask “where is your sting?”; “where is your victory?” Through Christ, we are
able to mock death.

Often, we think about mockery or taunting in any competition as bad
sportsmanship, but never before has a victory been so important, or so decisive,
the victor so good or the villain so despicable. Christ took on the sins of
humanity and died on the cross–total separation from God. Then, He rose from
the dead, bursting through what seemed to be an impenetrable barrier. He dealt
a fatal blow to death, and made it look silly in the process.

So as we wait for Christ’s return, and in the meantime suffer from the mad
thrashing of death, which is itself dying, we can feel not only consolation, but
triumph in the fact that the outcome was decided on the cross. Death still strikes
out at us with all of its might, but because of Christ, we need look no further than
the scoreboard to know how this game will end.

So, we play on and wait, and even when death deals a heavy blow, we are
privileged to ask, “O death, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy
victory?”

Thanks be to God!

~Nate Gibson

In the Twinkling of An Eye

We will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

I Corinthians 15:51

Is it a good thing to exist, to be human?  My first reaction: “No, mortality is one of the most unfortunate things that has happened to me.”  Were it not for the gospel, my first response would be my only response.  As it turns out, the gospel of Christ tells me things about my humanity, things that turn mortal despair out on the curb.

It tells me I’ve failed to bear the image of God—the one simple task intended for me (Rom. 3:23).  It tells me God became human, and he came bearing the image of himself (John 1:14), in my place.  It tells me that this God-man—Jesus—did not meet his end in death; in fact, he could not perish, because Jesus was the first true man, and because God does not die (Heb. 7:24).   This gospel shows a solution for my lost humanity—I need not fear death (Rom 8:1), I need only believe (Acts 16:30).

And there is still some believing to be done, for I awake each morning as a human, just as perishable as the day I was born.  But God knew we’d wonder what it means to be human, that we’d become discouraged, so he gave us this brief forecast: “we will all be changed.”

It will not always be this way: you will not always carry with you an ache no food can soothe.  Sometime ahead, in a flash, we’ll be transformed.  Until then, let us enjoy, as one author put it, “the privilege of serving the Lord without seeing him.”

And in the interim, should Shakespeare ask, tell him: To be, to be is very, very good.

 

“The twinkling of an eye.  That is the most wonderful expression… Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.  I’m about to put on imperishability.  In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye.”

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead