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Prepared in Practicing Comfort - The Third Sunday in Advent

[Isaiah 40:1-3] Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 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. 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Prepared by Practicing Comfort

“Watch”, our Lord says. “Keep awake.” We must be prepared for our Lord’s advent, His arrival.

When our Lord Jesus arrived the first time, John the Baptist prepared the way. Jesus, the Son of God, having become man, born of the Virgin Mary to be man’s Savior, was advent-ing – arriving – at age thirty now, to begin His public ministry.

Before the advent of Christ’s public ministry, John the Baptist arrived on the scene to prepare the way – to prepare the people to receive Christ. What did John preach to prepare the people?

Our Old Testament lesson today, Isaiah 40:1-8, speaks ahead of time of John the Baptist’s message. What is it? God sent John the Baptist ahead of Jesus to preach, “Comfort.” “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”

Preparation for the Lord’s arrival was by comfort. “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” – double the good compared to the evil she had done. “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” “Comfort, comfort my people.”

That your warfare with sin, death, and hell is over – that your iniquity, your guilt and sin, is pardoned – that you’re receiving this in double measure from the Lord’s hand – this comfort for God’s people is what prepared the people to receive God’s Son.

This isn’t how we always think. But, in truth, it’s only after a person becomes convinced of a gracious God eager to forgive that the guilt-ridden heart can finally become a repentant heart that believes. Those who would repent need a God they can repent to.

Just as John the Baptist prepared the people to receive Christ then, so also it is “Comfort, comfort” that prepares you to receive Christ who is soon to come again.

How does God-sent comfort prepare you? How do we practice receiving that comfort? Let’s first use John the Baptist as our example. John the Baptist went from the preacher of comfort in the beginning of the Gospel to the one who receives comfort in chapter eleven of today’s Gospel [Matthew 11:2-6].

By chapter eleven of our Gospel, John the Baptist is no longer baptizing at the Jordan but is in King Herod’s prison and has been for some time. In prison, it appears, that perhaps John begins to doubt:

[Matthew 11:2-6] Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Many kinds of prisons make us doubt that the Lord is a gracious God. Prison walls were either causing John himself to doubt – or, some say, it may have really been John’s disciples who were doubting, and that’s why John sent them to Jesus with that question, “Are you the one?” Either way, Jesus points both John and John’s disciples to His deeds:

Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Fixing on our minds on remembering the gracious deeds of Christ in the lives of real-life people – the blind, the lame, the dead, the poor – and His past deeds in our life – establishes us in divine comfort. It solidifies in us the knowledge of who Jesus is. The purposeful recognition and remembrance of His mercy reminds our hearts that the One to come is indeed ‘Savior’.

In other words, we prepare for the future arrival of Jesus by fixing our eyes on His many gracious arrivals in our life and the lives of others right now.

We prepare also for the advent of our Lord by establishing ourselves in the comfort of the Scriptures. Jesus pointed John to the Scriptures. Everything Jesus said to John’s messengers about the poor being preached to, the lame walking, the blind seeing, and so – these were all Scripture passages about Christ from the book of Isaiah.

Being well practiced in hearing and reading the promises of Scripture is preparation in “comfort, comfort” for the coming of our Lord. But if we allow Scripture to become out of sight and out of mind, the devil gains way.

The day of our Lord’s advent is the day when we must give an account for our lives. And there is judgment, not approval, of human sin. If there were no judgment or wrath of God, we would not need a Savior. It’s because there is a judgment that we need the comfort of knowing we do have a Savior to repent to, to turn to for the remission, the pardon, of our sin.

Just as our Lord arrives on the Last Day, so also our Lord arrives on the first day of each week – wherever two or three gather in His name. Each weekly Sunday service is an arrival of our Lord. And each Sunday we are practiced in comfort.

Scripture says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [1 John 1:8-9]

Each Sunday, our Lord arrives among us, and we confess, “I, a poor miserable sinner”. And each Sunday we experience, truly, the comfort: “Your sins are forgiven.” “Upon this, your confession….”

The practice of confessing our sin and the comfort of being forgiven by the Lord – Confession & Absolution (forgiveness) – this every-Sunday coming of our Lord is comfort-preparation for the final coming of our Lord.

When our Lord Jesus arrives on the Last Day it will be so much the same as these many arrivals on so many Sundays that you have practiced. Will you stand before your Lord that day guiltless? No. But you will stand well practiced – “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess to you all my sins and iniquities”. And you will stand confident on that day of His reply which you’ve already heard so many times – “I forgive you all your sins.”

The Lord’s final arrival – and His arrival each Sunday and every day – is defined by that earlier arrival for which John the Baptist prepared the people. That is, His arrival to bear our sin on the cross. His arrival to vanquish death and hell. His arrival to rise and give new life to those dead in sin.

Jesus gives “comfort, comfort” in His real-life mercy, in His Holy Word – the Scriptures – and in daily and richly forgiving confessed sinners. Be awake and alert in receiving the comfort your Lord is daily and weekly giving, and, thereby, you will be well-practiced to receive Him in His coming Advent. By the comfort He gives, we can pray with confidence, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen.

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