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Dec 24, 2012

True Comfort and Joy

The other day, while waiting in the drive-through at one of my favorite fast-food restaurants, I noticed the sign board was advertising a chicken sandwich with the exclamation, “Discover the delights of Comfort and Joy!”  Given the time of year, I can only assume the slogan was a not-so-subtle reference to Christmas and the familiar carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, which proclaims “tidings of comfort and joy.”

Now I love a good chicken sandwich.  When I’m hungry, a good juicy chicken sandwich will give me delight, even comfort and joy.  Sometimes however, especially if it’s made with breaded chicken and topped with extra bacon, with a side of fries, it might give me discomfort, guilt, and remorse.  But usually a tasty chicken sandwich does indeed give me comfort and joy.
But aren’t we giving the delight of food a bit too much credit here?  And by using that phrase on a billboard at Christmas time to describe a fast-food sandwich, aren’t we really downplaying the only real source of comfort and joy, that is the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ?  This was how I felt when I saw those words used that way.
When you compare the carnal “delight” of a piece of food to what the Christmas carol promises, you’ll see how there’s really no comparison (and probably shouldn’t have been, even in a clever ad campaign).  In that familiar song we’re reminded that “Christ, our Savior, was born on Christmas day to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.”  Eternal salvation from our own sin and the power of Satan?  That’s lasting comfort and exceeding joy.  Not even angel food cake can deliver that, let alone a chicken sandwich.
In all seriousness, let’s look even beyond a human authored Christmas carol and remind ourselves of what God himself promises us in terms of comfort and joy through the birth of his son, Jesus Christ.  Let these words from sacred Scripture give us true delight this Christmas.
In Jeremiah 31, God promised the restoration of Israel, but also gave a promise of final restoration with him through Christ.  “Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well.  I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”
The fulfillment of this promise is proclaimed in the opening of the New Testament when the incarnation of our Lord is announced.  In Luke 2 we are told, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

But how do we know this joy in our lives?  How can we attain this peace from God?  Simply through accepting God’s gracious love and returning it to him and to others in this world.  Listen to the simple instructions from Jesus himself on how to love and be loved.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:9-12
But for some of us, Christmas without beloved family members or during times of suffering or sickness can be even harder than normal days in our lives.  Can we still have comfort and joy at this time too?  In God’s merciful grace, yes we can.  “Though, now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief…” yet “are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,  for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  Now, more than ever, “The Lord is at hand…” so “ do not be anxious about anything…and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
And finally, as we count our many blessings from the Lord, let us be a comfort to others, especially those less fortunate than us.  Remember Paul’s reminder on this to the church in Corinth.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 2 Cor 1:3-5
So praise God today for true comfort and joy which can only come from salvation through Jesus Christ.  From God we can have comfort that lasts more than a meal, comfort from all of life’s trials, comfort for our very souls.  We can have comfort which lets us be “content in any and every situation.”  And we can have joy beyond measure.  Exceeding joy when God’s glory is revealed.  Joy which surpasses all human understanding.  Joy at the coming of our salvation.
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”