During Advent, on a Sunday we attended the Lexington Church of the Cross with my parents, Pastor Hamilton preached a sermon on comfort. He talked about the four comforts in Isaiah 40: peace, presence, promise, and power. Although I’m not sure which verses correspond to which comfort, I’ve continued thinking about the sermon.
Isaiah 40 is a powerful chapter with many important things to say to us. It begins, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for.” The word comfort means “a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint.” It can also be the easing of a person’s feelings of grief or distress. Most often in the Bible it occurs as a verb with this meaning.
Although we comfort people today, we use the word more often as the adjective comfortable. Comfortable means providing physical ease and relaxation, free from stress and fear. Being comfortable is a good thing as long as it doesn’t become the goal of our lives. I enjoy a comfortable life, but my purpose is to provide comfort to others and sometimes that makes me uncomfortable.
Whenever I hear the word “comfort” I think of the famous line “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” The line was written by Finley Peter Dunne in 1902 in reference to newspapers. But I think the quote applies equally well to churches. We want to be comfortable in our churches, but churches, especially preaching, should always challenge us to grow in our Christian life. And when we are growing we are rarely comfortable.
Our job as Christians is to comfort the afflicted. We fight injustice and poverty. As Christians we stand up for those who have no voice. We take to heart Jesus reading the words of Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve.”
Unfortunately too many of us decide we would rather be comfortable. We work hard and we want to relax when we aren’t working. Working for justice, comforting the brokenhearted, freeing the captives, and providing for others is hard, heart-rending, back-breaking work. The problems are so broad we don’t even know where to start. We can work our whole lives and there are always more poor, always more injustice, always more “isms” to fight against.
But Jesus calls us. When we get too comfortable, I pray that he will afflict us. Because we want to be part of God’s solution, not another one of God’s problems.