16. December 2012
Gaudete (Advent 3)
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” In the darkness of Friday’s tragic death of twenty children and seven adults in Newtown, CT where was God? Where is His comfort? We trust He will deliver us from evil and then He lets us down. We have hope for a future and then for twenty-seven it is cut short. Face the facts. Sometimes we feel like we have an impotent God. Is our God powerful to save or not? Does He keep His promises for rescue or not?
Solomon felt the same way: “I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.” (Ecc. 4:1) Solomon’s lament resonates with us. Who will comfort the mourners? It feels like we are powerless to escape the oppressor.
In some ways its worse for those who survive than those who are dead. They no longer suffer. They don’t grieve but will soon be laid in the grave. So goes the lament: “I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.” (Ecc. 4:2-3) Better to die or even never be born than witness the carnage at the hands of man.
This is life for the heirs of Adam. Imagine the cry of lament from Adam after his son Cain murdered brother Abel. Adam’s voice mixed with Abel’s cry of blood from the ground. Rachel mourns for her children and refuses to be comforted. Now the parents and families voice mix with Adam, Abel, Rachel, and all the lamenters. Such loud crying is not comforting. It helps and terrifies. It acknowledges reality but leaves us in darkness.
The worst way to grieve is shut one’s ears. The silence is oppressive. And sometimes people refuse to speak to suffering. They avoid it. They are told to get over it. Time to move on. This too shall pass. This never answers the hard question. Where is God? Does He save or not? Will He rescue or not? We need answers and they must be spoken.
God sends to you messengers like Isaiah, St. John the Baptizer, holy Evangelists, and even pastors to speak two words. These men are to speak to tragedy and death.They also speak tenderly to Jerusalem (that’s you!) They must speak while we still dwell in the darkness and the shadow of death. They speak, cry, say, call. They come with voices, mouths, and Word. They evangelize/gospel you with God’s very Word.
Two words. God’s Word afflicts and He comforts. This has always been the truth. Even in the Lord’s exile of Adam from the garden—an affliction—Adam is given the promise of the Seed who will crush the Serpent and restore Adam and his children to God. Even in the midst of the exile of the people to Egypt, Assyria, or Babylon, God grants a promised return.
Suffering is from God. It is the just punishment for our many sins. What I’m about to say may bother you. It’s not pleasant but its true. Some would say those children who died in Connecticut were innocent. Certainly before the world and their murderer. They had done nothing deserving death by that man’s hand. The hard truth is that all children of Adam are born deserving death at God’s hand.
But the fact that any of us are living is a testimony to God’s mercy not justice. The just thing would have been to destroy the earth after Adam’s fall or to finish it all with the Flood. The fair thing would have been to leave us in bondage to sin and death.
The reason many cannot fathom this tragedy or any other is that we haven’t listened to what God has said. He has spoken by His messengers. Their voices cry out. The truth is said. Isaiah spoke today about the frailty of our condition. “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 like grass.” It is the breath of God that brings the grass, the flower and even you to an end.
Why does anyone die? Because they must. The flesh is infected with mortality. It must be brought to an end in God’s wrath. The truth is not in us if we think anyone escapes death. Children die under the weight of sin. Sometimes this comes by the hand of disease. Other times by accident. Sometimes they make it to old age. And sometimes they die by an act of great evil.
We shudder at the thought. Death is never pleasant. When young ones die, it is especially horrifying. To believe God allows the Devil and his tools of violence and death to claim twenty-seven lives is even more difficult. Every day lives are brought to an end either tragically or “naturally.” Death is never natural. The truth that God ends the life He has created is always a discomfort. We grieve those many deaths. We lament the suffering. We are terrified at the horror of this world. And by God we know it is not outside His hand.
Sin, suffering and death are unnatural. The affliction God brings is always His alien work. Suffering is given by God but foreign to Him. It comes by the lesser of the two Words. We are brought to an end under His just Law. This is never an end unto itself. No, the Law puts to death in order to make alive eternally by the Gospel. He only crucifies the passions and desires of the flesh so He may properly comfort with the gift of Christ. Our God is not a God of death and suffering. Chiefly He is one of life—mercy, grace, and comfort—in Jesus.
You see, comfort is not primarily a feeling. You may feel comforted but only after your comfort is declared to you. God must speak the Word of comfort. He declares the truth so that we may be comforted in the midst of affliction. Our God is not silent but speaks. He cries out: “Jesus!” The key to comfort in this present darkness is to look to the cross of Christ. We who are in Christ share in Christ’s affliction and comfort.
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” There is good news to those who are in any affliction. In Christ Jesus there is comfort. The message of Christ crucified for your salvation is a sweet, consoling, and joyful message. “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.” In Jesus, the battle is done. In Jesus’ blood, your iniquity is forgive. In Jesus, the good news always overwhelms your sins double.
What’s been lost in much of the discussion of tragic death is the reality that baptized Christians have already gotten death over with. Yes, many died at the hands of the gunman. The Christians had already died with Christ in Holy Baptism. For those who believe on Christ Jesus’ name death no longer has its sting or victory. Our warfare against the works of the flesh—against evil, rulers, and terror—is already over. For the Word incarnate has fought that battle already. Christ took the battlefield at the cross rendering complete satisfaction for us.
Do not fight any longer. Your warfare is finished and ended through Christ, the Redeemer. Seek righteousness in the kingdom of Christ and of mercy, where sins are forgiven as a gift. The world outside of the Father’s grace in Christ is a crooked road. When we look for answers or hope in this world we are walking on broken and rough ways. There is only one way that is straight and true. There is only one path that doesn’t meander and curve but leads directly to heaven, resurrection, and life everlasting
Christ is leading this Adventide on a new Exodus. We are being led through this age of evil where children are gunned down and teachers slain unto the promised land where there will be no more mourning or crying. Jesus is taking us from this world we cannot understand with horrors, terror, and death to a new Eden where the fullness of the Father’s glory will be revealed. The way is being made ready again, leveling, lifting, making low, and plain.
Soon we will remember again the fulfillment of Isaiah’s Word: “The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Soon, we will rejoice in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ on Christmas. The son of God takes on human flesh to reveal to you the glory of God. Christ Jesus, the incarnate One, is the crucified “Lord of glory.” (1 Cor 2:8)
You see that all flesh has seen the glory of God. Even now God has revealed Himself to you in glory. He comes in His crucified flesh and blood to comfort you. You may not feel comforted but He says “Comfort, comfort my people!” The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people. (Titus 2:11) You have been pardoned. Your warfare is over. Taste and see double for all your sins.
Your God has saved you. He has kept His promise to rescue you. He died for all flesh that all flesh who are in Him would live. Our life is fragile. Our flesh is being brought to an end. For some it was tragic this week. We mourn the loss of the children and adults slain. But we also cry, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever!”
What is that Word of God? This Word of the Gospel: you were ransomed with the precious blood of Christ, the lamb without blemish of spot. Through Him you are believers in God in whom is your faith and hope. Through Holy Baptism you were “born again not of perishable seed but imperishable, the living and abiding Word of God. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:17-25)
He comforts you with the forgiveness of sins under bread and wine. These Words overcome twofold any terror or horror of this world for they are good and eternal. There are hurting people in our world, our country, and our community. They desperately need the comfort that only Christ can bring. Speak to them as God has spoken to you. Speak the Word of your comfort in all affliction, that God has kept His promise to give you life. (cf. Ps. 119:50,89)
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Image from http://www.edvard-munch.com/gallery/love/comfort.htm