December 4, 2005
Second Sunday of Advent
"The Gift of Comfort"
(Mark 1:1-8; Isaiah 40:1-11)
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
A number of years ago, all of the children in church were getting ready for the Christmas program which was just a week away. One of the little girls was practicing her songs. Her Mom told me that she overheard her daughter in the other room practicing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." As she listened a little more carefully she discovered that while the tune was good, the words were a little off. Instead of singing "with angelic host proclaim," the little girl was singing "with the jelly toast proclaim."
That same year, one little girl told me that her sister kept asking her parents when they were going to set up the activity scene.
I read a story about a group of first graders who decided to produce their very own Christmas program. An updated Nativity Story. All the major characters were there: Joseph, the shepherds, the angels, the wise men from afar, all the characters were on stage except for Mary. Shortly after the production began, from behind some bales of straw the audience could hear moaning and groaning. Mary was in labor! A doctor with a white coat and black bag was rushed onto the stage and disappeared with Joseph behind the bales of straw.
After a few moments the doctor came from behind the bales of straw with a huge smile on his face and holding a baby in his arms. He then announced to the audience: "It's a GOD!" (1)
Our children make us stop and think about the real meaning of Christmas, don't they. They may not always get everything right when they sing or retell the story. But sometimes they get it more than right. The hit it perfectly.
Why can't we adults do the same. Why is it that, in this season of the Good News of our Savior's birth, we focus on the petty trivialities of whether someone is saying Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? Why do we suddenly turn into Herods who see everything as a plot against the throne?
This is the Church's Season. A season of faith and hope, of comfort and good will, Angels and the baby born in stable who will become the Savior of all Humankind. That's the story we tell. If we suddenly become rabid hounds, slavering and chasing the elusive rabbit of being right and being in charge, snarling at and threatening everyone who believes differently than we do, then no one will listen to the message. All they will hear is the growling and snarling. All they will see is the slavering and bared teeth.
Is that why Jesus was born? Is that why Jesus died on the cross? Aren't His weapons Grace, Love, Mercy, Reconciliation and Forgiveness? Aren't slavering and growling the weapons of the enemy?
If we want to reclaim Christmas, then we have to reclaim the ways of the Christ child and of the Savior. We can't be like the world, we have to live in it but not live like it.
Maybe that's why the central character of today's passage of Scripture doesn't seem to fit. Every year during the cycle of Scripture readings one of the most unlikely of characters shows up in the midst of our Christmas celebrations. His appearance, for some, is like finger nails on a chalk board.
I'm talking about the cousin of Jesus, John the Baptizer. Standing there beside the Jordan river hollering "Repent" doesn't seem very Christmasy or very comforting. But actually, John is proclaiming a message of Comfort, answering the call of Isaiah by proclaiming the Good News of Jesus.
Mark 1:1-8 (NRSV)
 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;
 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
 He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.
 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
In those very words we find the Gift of Comfort. They echo the passage from Isaiah we heard earlier.
So, what is this Gift of Comfort that John was talking about. The clue is in the last verse, verse 8. John says, "I have baptized you with water; but he [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
No one had ever been offered that before. God was in the Temple or up in heaven. The general feeling was that while God was God, God didn't care enough about the everyday, ordinary sort of person or the things they were going through to be bothered. But John says, "You're wrong. And when Messiah comes, you'll see. Each and every one of you is as important to God as Moses or one of the Prophets. And Messiah, who we know was Jesus, will prove it through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God's presence with you everywhere you go."
In our waking and sleeping, walking and talking. In all that we do, God is with us. And there is so much comfort in the fact that God cares for us that same way a parent cares for their child. We are not just another worker bee in the hive. We are uniquely created to be loved in a unique way by God our creator. And the coming of Christ Jesus proved that.
That's why John was trying to get everybody cleaned up, from the inside out. This flesh and bone tenement that houses who we are, was getting ready to house a royal guest. If John the Baptizer were standing here today, he'd ask the same question: "Are you ready?"
Like the little boy dressed like a doctor said, "It's a GOD!" So, WE have to ask, "Are you ready?"
A. Once you've received this Gift of Comfort, this gift that reminds you of your unique relationship with God, you're called to share it. I may be wrong, but I think God gives us the gifts we are given so we can share them with others. And when we share with others, we are instruments of Comfort. They realize they are not alone. That someone else cares. And that can make all the difference in the world. Let em share a couple of stories and you'll see what I mean.
B. First, let me tell you about Floyd. According to worldly standards, Floyd was a nobody. He had no home and no place to go. Floyd traveled around the country looking for work at harvest time and relied on the generosity and good graces of those he worked for. A certain couple invited Floyd into their home and gave him a home-cooked dinner. Floyd said very little as they ate. The wife, Nancy, offered to wash his clothes for him but Floyd declined the offer. He picked cherries in the orchard next to their home that day and slept under the trees that gave him his livelihood.
Early the next morning Floyd returned to the couple who had shown him kindness. While he finished one last project in the orchard, Nancy, on an impulse, wrote him a letter telling of God's love. Then she tucked it with a little cash into a New Testament. She found his backpack in the yard, and stuck the packet inside. She imagined him traveling that day looking for work and at the end of the day bedding down somewhere under the stars, weary and all alone. She was warmed by the thought of Floyd's surprise when he discovered her note, the New Testament and the cash she had planted in his backpack.
This Christian couple never saw Floyd again. But four years later Floyd's sister wrote to the them, Floyd had died. As Floyd's sister was going through his few belongings she found the New Testament and the letter Nancy wrote telling of God's love. She concluded her letter by saying, "They must have been very dear to his heart, because he carried them with him until he died." (2)
It was such a simple thing, a note, a Bible and a little cash, but little things bring comfort and count for a lot in the kingdom of God.
In the book, Without Reservations about the Holiday Inn hotel chain, by Fred V. Alias, there's a story about a man named Rick. Rick is one of those people who make you proud to be a member of the human race. Rick is a shift leader at the Front Desk at one of their hotels.
One blustery November day, Rick was enjoying a day off, browsing through garage sales and thrift stores. At one stop, he caught bits of conversation between a lady and her little girl. The child was begging her mother to buy an old, dilapidated doll house for $15. The mother, struggling to maintain some dignity, reminded the little girl that they only had money for a coat. But the little girl kept begging. She promised she wouldn't even let herself feel the cold if she could only have the doll house. The mother's eyes welled with tears, but she hastily paid for the stained, rag tag coat and left.
Rick, totally on impulse, hopped into his car and discreetly followed them to a run-down house. He noted their address and quickly drove back to the thrift shop to buy the doll house.
He gathered paint and fabric and tools and proceeded to "renovate" the beat- up doll house. He even wallpapered the kitchen. Six weeks later, the doll house sparkled. It was now a colorful dream home, complete with miniature furnishings. Something even Santa could not improve upon.
In the cold, gray dawn of Christmas Day, Rick loaded his treasure into his car and drove over to the little girl's house. He gently cleared the snow from the front steps and carefully placed the doll house (wrapped only with a big red bow and letter from Santa) at the front door.
Not wanting to embarrass the family, he quietly drove away and spent the rest of his Christmas morning as Manager on Duty at the Hotel. (3) Can you imagine the look of wonder and joy on one little girl's face on Christmas morning? Can you imagine the surprise and the Comfort that girl and her mother received knowing that someone else cared. I'll bet Mom looked at every stranger as if they were the one who gave the Doll House.
That's what we're call to be like. We're call to Share This Gift of Comfort you and I have been given through Christ with anyone and everyone we can. And we're called to do it like Rick, without reservation.
Mary's parents came down over Thanksgiving to celebrate the holiday and to be at our grandson Nathan's baptism last Sunday. Last Monday, it fell to me to take Mom and Dad Kimmons to the airport. So, Mary and I swapped vehicles. I drove here car and she drove my pickup to work. After dropping Mom and Dad off, I ran a couple of errands and then went by and swapped vehicles. I much prefer driving my truck and Mary prefers driving her car.
When I got into the truck and got the seat all adjusted back where it should be. I started to back out but when I looked into the rearview mirror all I could see was Jesus. Let me explain.
A few years ago, when we made our first trip to Groom, Texas to see the Cross of the Plains, I bought a decal of Jesus with a crown of thorns, for the back window of my truck. When I got in the other day, Mary had adjusted the mirror for her height and when I looked into it, it was positioned in such a way that all I could see was the decal. It was one of those, "Oooh!," and "Ah ha!" moments that you have occasionally.
And it got me to thinking about today's passage of Scripture about bringing comfort. The goal for the comforter is the same as what I saw in my mirror, to only see Jesus. When someone pauses to reflect on the care and kindness we've shown, or the ministry in which we've been involved, and then looks into the rearview mirror of their memory, all they should see is Jesus. Jesus being lived out in us. Jesus reaching out through us. Jesus caring for them through us.
All they should see is Jesus. That's all John the Baptist saw.
And that's the way this season should be. It's a season of excitement and joy. But it's also a season of comfort. A season that reminds us we are not alone. That we are created in God's Image. And God loves us so much, that God sent His only son to be our Savior.
It's also the season to be like John the Baptist and Nancy and Rick and the little boy dressed up like a doctor. "It's a GOD!" For unto us a Child is born who will baptize us with the Holy Spirit." That's the True Gift of Comfort given, not just during this season, but every single day.
1. The Pastor's Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), December 1994
2. "Traveling Friend." Nancy Leman. THE UPPER ROOM, March-April, 1993, p. 66.
3. WITHOUT RESERVATIONS (Pennsylvania: Haddon Craftsmen, Inc., 1992), pp. 73-75.
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