Do you know which Christmas song as been re-recorded the most times by the most recording artists? There are over 500 different versions of the song White Christmas, recorded in dozens of different languages. Can you name the three popular Christmas songs that were introduced in motion pictures (hint: there were all in the 1940s and 1950s)? White Christmas in the movie Holiday Inn. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas in the movie Meet Me in St. Louis. And Silver Bells in the movie The Lemon Drop Kid. Do you know in what year Santa Claus Is Coming to Town and Winter Wonderland were both recorded? 1934, making them the oldest non-religious Christmas songs still making the rounds.
Are you familiar with those songs? How about this one? Have you ever heard of the song Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk this Christmas)? Can you guess who first sang it? Mr. Rocky-Mountain High himself, John Denver. In the song, he sings about being 8-years-old and seeing his daddy drink too much and fall down underneath the Christmas tree. He asks Daddy to show a little restraint this year because he doesn’t want to see Mommy cry. It never became all that popular of a song. Though, I would say, it’s probably one of the more honest Christmas songs.
The number of suicides during Christmas doesn’t diminish compared to the rest of the year. Homeless families don’t all of the sudden find shelter just because it’s winter. Sickness doesn’t take a break for the season. Death doesn’t wait to strike until after December. Your difficult marriage doesn’t all of the sudden get better. Your addiction didn’t fly down to Miami for the winter because it’s warmer.
Stop pretending for a few minutes today, which is what we like to do during Christmas. Like the beautiful snow covers over the crabgrass, weeds, and divots in our lawn, we use the holiday glitz and gifts and holiday happiness to cover up and forget about what’s really going on.
What’s really going on? Only God and your soul really know. I’m not telling you that your life is a disaster or in trouble or that you don’t have plenty of reasons to smile. But God knows what’s weighing on your heart. And he doesn’t want to wait until after the holidays to comfort you with his Word, just like he didn’t want to wait until after the Israelites returned to Jerusalem to tell remind them that he was with them. Isaiah wrote to God’s people enslaved by Babylon. They weren’t comfortable because they weren’t home.
(1) Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. (2) 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. If you’ve seen pictures from any of the Gulf wars, you start to understand how difficult a trip it was even to get home once they were released from their bonds. Between Babylon and Jerusalem are hills and valleys, sandy desert and rough ground; intense heat in the summer and bitter cold in the winter. And that would be difficult enough for the young and strong, but picture the old men and women, expectant mothers and small children, plus carrying everything they need to survive with them. And that trip doesn’t seem all that comforting. But it depends on how you define comfort.
You have to make a distinction between the word comfort and comfy, because they’re not the same thing. Comfy is when you’re relaxed and there’s nothing pulling on you, pressuring you, weighing on you, or causing any discomfort to you, which is really where we like to be; but God does not promise to make you comfy.
Look through the whole bible, God never promises to end all of your troubles in this life. As long as you are alive, you will never be burden-free and completely comfy. You will, however, be comforted. An older definition of the word comfort means “to make one strong,” which describes very well what God intends to do for you. God promises you the strength to bear whatever burdens are there. In other words, in most cases, your burdens are still going to be there.
The alcoholic will still have to take it one day at a time. You will still have to live without your loved one who died. You will still have to deal with the disability, the pain, the same difficult marriage and other relationships that you had yesterday. That doesn’t change, but neither does God’s promise to give you enough strength.
When we do laundry in our house, Karen organizes all the kids’ laundry into separate bins. Kaylee and Chloe, our two oldest, take their bins upstairs without much problem and put their laundry away. It’s no big deal because they have enough strength. I remember the first time I watched Carson, our two-year-old, carry his own bin full of clothes upstairs. He picked it up with a big grunt. His face turned red. He took one step, and then another, and then another. When he stood at the bottom of the stairs and looked up, he took a deep breath, and he climbed onto the first step, both feet, breathed again, and did the same thing up 14 steps. When he got to the top, wasn’t done. He turned toward his room, still struggling, got in, put down the laundry bin, turned to his daddy who he knew was watching, and smiled – the kind of smile that says, “Look what I just did.”
God comforts you by promising that you will say the same thing. “Look what I just did.” That cancer was heavy. That marriage was tough. This parenting teenagers is rough. Getting old is a pain. I don’t know if I can squeeze any more work into the hours of my day. When you pray for relief, in most cases, he’ll still make you go through it, but he will give you the strength to go through it. And it doesn’t matter if your trouble is slavery in a distant country or a broken relationship that’s made you feel guilty, comfort, comfort, says the Lord, your hard service has been completed because you have the Lord’s strength to get through it. Is that something we always remember? It’s not, is it?
Do you remember how much television people watched after 9/11? Television stations were scrambling, trying to interview anyone they could find with an opinion. And after the initial shock and horror of what had happened, people started asking a lot of questions, trying to figure out exactly how this happened. Just a few hours after the attacks, They interviewed a congressman who asked, “Where was our intelligence agency? They let us down.” They interviewed a CIA director who said, “Where was Congress? They didn’t give us enough funding to keep our intelligence accurate.” They even went to the streets, interviewed an average Joe who wondered, “Where was the airline security?” And about an hour later, a woman covered in the gray powder of concrete and dust, who had been near the towers when they collapsed looked at the reporter and asked, “Where was God?”
It’s not an unfamiliar question. In fact, it’s one that, from time to time, you’ve asked yourself, I’m guessing. And it’s ok. It’s understandable. Because you know something. You know that your life wasn’t supposed to how it has turned out to be. You know what God created in Eden. Your life was not supposed to be as sad as it is. God never planned any funerals for you. The shattered fragments of a heart broken by some heavy news were never supposed to pierce you. Your money problems and family issues weren’t in the blueprints he designed for you. Your life was supposed to be protected by the strength of God, and you were supposed to see very clearly every day how you are loved by God. But you don’t see that most days, do you?
And it’s not just you. God’s strength must not be strong enough, thought many of the Israelites, God’s chosen people, as they sat in Babylon working the dirt and sprinkling their blood all over the sand. “Where is God?” they thought, as they were despised by their captors, separated from their families, hated, and sometimes killed, by their new neighbors; so many miles and so many years removed from their promised home. Besides, if God has the power to stop all your hurting, then why does he allow it all to keep going? If he has the power to stop the pain, then why does he let it hit you again and again and again?
Joshua Martinez felt pain. Joshua lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. One day, he came to school with his head shaved. Joshua wasn’t liked all that much in the first place. But when he walked into school that day, his classmates started yelling “skinhead!” and “KKK!” A group of students found Joshua out on the playground all by himself after lunch that day. They walked up behind him. They were cussing. And then one of the students hit him in the back of the head. Five other kids jumped in and got in a few hits before the principal came in. Joshua ended up with a black eye, a few cuts, and some scrapes.
When Joshua got home that day, he explained it all to his mom, who was wearing a blond wig. She had lost her beautiful blond hair from her chemotherapy. Joshua shaved his head because he though that, if he shaved my head, maybe Mom wouldn’t feel like she was alone and ugly. Joshua identified with his suffering mom and, because he did, was treated very harshly.
So was Jesus for identifying with you. Does Jesus know your troubles? He does because he’s felt them too. He stripped himself of his full divinity so that he could be human just like you, live in the same earth as you, be assaulted by the same devil, broken down by the same trials, and targeted by the same sinful world that currently troubles you. And how was he treated? He was beaten, bruised, and wounded; not by men, but by the Almighty God’s judgment when he took our transgressions on himself, cried out in the pain of hell, so that you could hear Isaiah tell, “Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sins have been paid for,” meaning your troubles will end when you walk through heaven’s door. And they will end when you take Isaiah’s and John the Baptist’s words to heart and prepare the way for the Lord.
(3) A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our god. (4) Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. (5) And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (6) A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. (7) The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. (8) The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.
The Amazon River is the largest river in the world. The mouth of the river is 90 miles across. During its rainy season it dumps up to 300,000 cubic meters of fresh water into the salty Atlantic Ocean, which allows people to draw and drink its fresh water as far away from the mouth as 200 miles. Before this was well-known and before we had all sorts of fancy technology to help sailors evaluate the water on which they were sailing, many sailors died for lack of drinking water even though they were within the first 200 miles of the Atlantic Ocean. Sometimes one ship would approach another and beg for help. “We’re out of water,” they would say. “Can you spare any water?” If they were within 200 miles of the Amazon, the other boat would often tell them to just drop their buckets, because the waters they were in weren’t salty.
Now, they couldn’t see the difference in the water just by looking at it, just as you can’t see God’s presence in your life. But don’t let the limitations of your eyes cause you to stop drinking from the waters of his strength. Isaiah says, “Make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” Well, we make that highway pretty crooked and put all sorts of obstacles in his way when we refuse to do the one thing John the Baptist commanded us to; that is, repent!
Your life isn’t supposed to be the way it has turned out to be. God had something else in mind. He envisioned a world where is love would be enough for people; where is Word would guide our ways. He pictured a creation that would always acknowledge and glorify his strength; a people who would be content with what he gave them; a world that would never be tempted to go after a quick feel-good pleasure rather than hold close his eternal treasure; a world that has changed because of the mountains of pride, valleys of violence, rough ground of greed, and rugged places of self-righteousness from sinners like us.
But God has not changed. His strength has not become weaker. His love has not grown colder. His desire to hold us in his arms lasts forever. He is still the all-powerful Lord who can transform men and women whose sins are as numerous as the grass and whose lives are as fragile as the flowers in the field into saints as pure as the snow who will never crumble or be knocked down so long as they are standing on the solid rock of his holy Word. He is still the Good Shepherd who cares for you as if you were the only sheep in his pen, who right now carries you close to his heart and leads you through pain, trouble, sadness, to the glory of heaven that has no end. Comfort, comfort, my people, says the Lord, proclaim to her that her hard service is done.