Forming Faith Blog

Comfort, Comfort (December 8, 2019)

A mother providing comfort to her sad child, just as God comforts us.
Hope in the Promise

We are now looking toward the second Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time of hope. The literal meaning of the word “advent” means “coming” or “coming to.” It is about the future, both the future from the perspective of our ancestors of the faith and from our own perspective. Last week, we heard from the Book of Jeremiah and the messianic promise of God sending the people (and the world) a sprout of righteous. This week, we continue our theme of God’s promises with a promise of comfort, a hope of restoration.

Comfort, Comfort

Isaiah 40 begins with a call for comfort for God’s people. What does this word mean for us? The first thing that springs to my mind is a comforter, a bed covering designed to be soft and bring warmth to a person within a cold room. We also talk about someone living a comfortable lifestyle, which would describe the life of someone who is at least moderately wealthy. Overall, something that brings comfort provides warmth (at least when it’s cold out), softness, a sedate pleasure, and a sense of peacefulness. Of course, the main significance of the term is its opposition to that which causes us some form of pain, or discomfort, whether physical or emotional. As a verb, we most often comfort someone who is sad, mildly or intensely, or we make someone comfortable who has experienced pain. This is where we approach what we see in Isaiah.

Double Fulfillment (or More)

Something we might not often directly address when talking about biblical prophecy is the concept of multiple fulfillments. Sometimes we look at the christological fulfillment, especially of the messianic prophecies and stop there. It might not be as common to do with the current passage (which is why this can be a good teaching moment), but definitely with Isaiah 11 and Jeremiah 33. In the promised messianic figure, we can miss that the prophecy can speak to a lesser, more contemporary fulfillment like in the person of Cyrus. This doesn’t negate or contradict the prophecy being fulfilled in the first advent of Jesus nor the second advent to come. Nor even a more personal fulfillment within our lives.

Comfort Then

More so than the directly messianic prophecies, Isaiah 40 can fairly easily be seen in its original context. God is speaking a message of hope to the people living in exile in Babylon. God is promising return and restoration of the people and the city of Jerusalem. This was fulfilled (or began fulfillment) within the Book of Ezra, from which we will read next week.

John, Jesus & the Holy Spirit

Second, we see this passage directly quoted (in part) in Mark 1:2-3 in relation to John the Baptist. John calls the people to repentance, which will prepare the way for Jesus’ arrival. Also, when I look in the Septuagint for Isaiah 40:1 (since I know Greek (some) better than I know Hebrew (none)), I see that the verb used in verse 1 is παρακαλεῖτε (parakalete). The most well-known place we see this word used is John 14:16, 26 where it is a description given to the Holy Spirit.

Future Comfort

Third, we can gain comfort and hope from this passage when we look at it as a promise toward the future, the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom of God at the end of history. At that time, we can look forward to the complete restoration of all things broken and healing of all suffering. God’s love will remove all obstacles between us and God.

Comfort Now

Finally, we can look to this passage in a more personal and timely promise and call to action. We are called to give comfort to those who are suffering from any form of exile. We are called to bring justice that makes straight and easy the paths before them. We can take comfort in the present reality of God gently gathering us into God’s bosom.

Free Resource

This week’s free resource “Get Comfortable” utilizes a tactile experience to introduce the passage along with personal storytelling opportunities within an intergenerational small group. This activity was originally created for our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education classroom curriculum. But, with minor adjustments, this can also be used within a worship setting or single-aged groupings.

May you experience God’s comfort this Advent season!

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

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