If we had a Christmas wish list of the gifts we would like to receive in Christ, it would definitely include freedom from suffering and pain. Wouldn’t that be a knock-down argument for faith in him? If as soon as you turned your life over to him everything started going your way, you became perfectly healthy if you were not, your bank balance quadrupled and funds were mysteriously deposited every day, your spouse immediately began treating you with sacrificial love and kindness and your children became models of compliant industriousness, your job suddenly became satisfying or the one you always wanted was dropped in your lap, your acne cleared up, the extra pounds miraculously disappeared, and your friends and family all had one thing on their minds continuously – you. Who wouldn’t believe?
Well, I think anyone can see the problems inherent in a gift like that, and pondering all the ramifications one begins to understand why suffering is a necessary accommodation in life. So because it is impractical and functionally impossible really to remove all our suffering, pain, disappointments and difficulties, Jesus gives us himself as our Comforter instead.
For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. – 2 Corinthians 1:5
The word translated “comfort” in the New Testament is the Greek “parakaleo” and means “to call near.” It denotes exhortation, encouragement, consolation, and strengthening. When someone we know loses a loved one, we offer comfort by coming alongside and offering the only thing that can really help – our presence and love. So too the nearness of Jesus – and he couldn’t be any nearer than indwelling our very selves by his Spirit – strengthens, consoles, encourages and comforts us when we need it.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. – 2 Thessalonians 2:17
How do we experience and feel his comfort if we can neither see nor hear nor touch him? Are we to just conjure up comfort by the power of our imagination? I believe those who have walked closely with Christ and have had great need of his comfort would testify to a supernatural sense of his presence that defies explanation apart from his direct, divine intervention. But for most of us, it’s a function of faith. We believe everything else regarding Jesus without ever having seen him. Why should this be any different? We can be confident that the Bible’s revelation of him is true, so we know that he is nearer than our own skin1 and his love is boundless and steadfast.2 And we can take real comfort in that, no matter if we have a tangible sense of him or not.
And how it pleases God when we are confident in his loving care for us. Doesn’t it warm our own hearts when our children feel secure in our love for them and are encouraged and strengthened by that?
but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. – Psalm 147:11
In this world we will have trouble, but take heart…Jesus has overcome the world.3 Take comfort in the knowledge that if you believe and trust in him, this same Jesus is with you and will enable you to overcome in times of sorrow, disappointment, or despair. Take it as the gift that it is this Christmas, and every day of what may at times feel like a miserable existence. Until that day when we won’t need to be comforted any longer.
O tidings of comfort and joy
Your gift echoes one of the songs we sang today in our Sacred Harp singing group here in Tucson.
Now shall my inward joys arise,
And burst into a song;
Almighty love inspires my heart,
And pleasure tunes my tongue.
God, on His thirsty Zion’s hill,
Some mercy drops has thrown;
And solemn oaths have bound His love
To show’r salvation down.
Why do we then indulge our fears,
Suspicions and complaints?
Is He a God, and shall His grace
Grow weary of His saints?
That was beautiful. Thank you, Ken.
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