Unwrapping Comfort at Christmas: Christmas Eve Service
So, even at the very beginning of this story, it was about a kingdom that would be forever. And near the end of the story, Jesus looks at his friends and says, “I’ve been with you a little while. And now I’m going to be gone for a little while, and then I’ll come back.” Christmas and comfort have one main ingredient in common, and it’s not cookies, Christmas dinners, or presents, as comforting as those things may be. Christmas and comfort both require waiting.
Many around the world find great joy in celebrating Christmas, and they begin to celebrate Christmas the morning of December 26th. They can’t wait for Christmas to come back around in a year. These are those people who start playing Christmas music on July 5th. They’re just ready to go. They can’t wait. And then we arrive on a Christmas Eve like this night, and we wait for Christmas morning to arrive. That’s why kids wake up so early. They can’t wait anymore. Even some adults still buy into the idea of Christmas Eve magic and trying to wait till Christmas morning.
For those of you who have been through this whole series with us here at North Hills, you know, week one, I introduced you to my mom, Judy. And then week two, I introduced you to my dad, Buzz. This afternoon, I want to introduce you to my sister, Raquel. This is my sister, Raquel. And actually, Raquel’s birthday is tomorrow. So, she might actually be watching on the livestream. So, would you guys do me a favor and give her the largest happy birthday ever because she often feels like her birthday is overlooked on Christmas? So, all together, would you just say, Happy Birthday, Raquel? [Happy Birthday, Raquel!]
So, now to the point of the illustration. My sister Raquel, when we were kids, she would wake me up and send me into my parents’ room or send me downstairs to make noise so that Christmas morning could begin. And even all these years later, when it comes to Christmas, Raquel is the first one awake, turns on the Christmas music, and no one sleeps in at Raquel’s house for Christmas. Raquel doesn’t wait really well when it comes to Christmas.
And this Christmas story that we keep talking about, the Advent story, the arrival story of Jesus in the Bible is all about waiting. Israel waited for the promise of comfort for generations. Mary waited on the arrival of her son for nine months. And Simeon, whom we met week one, waited on the arrival of the consolation of Israel. It’s all a story of waiting for comfort.
This time of year, as followers of Christ, we choose to celebrate the arrival of Jesus. We celebrate the arrival of comfort, our active ally who creates peace when life is broken, our eternal comforter. And now, just like the saints before us, we keep on waiting. We’re still waiting. But we’re waiting for our comforter to come back. Comfort is still a story of waiting.
But it’s not weak waiting. It’s not fearful waiting. Paul says this about comfort and waiting. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17,
“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.”
See, eternal comfort plus good hope equals established waiting. Eternal comfort plus good hope equals established waiting. You could think of hope as the bonus gift that comes along with comfort. Hope.
Did you know there’s a difference between hoping and wishing? I can wish all that I want that when I wake up in the morning, that out in my driveway, I’m going to discover a 2023 Triumph Tiger 1200 Adventure motorcycle in pearl black. I can wish that as hard as I can all night long. I have zero hope that when I open the garage, that motorcycle will be sitting there with a bow on it.
Hoping and wishing are different. Hoping is looking forward with confidence. Hope isn’t fingers crossed, wishing for the best. It is an assurance that what was promised will happen. We’re established through hope in every good work and word. Work and word. That’s Paul’s way I think of talking about all of life. No matter what you do, no matter what you say — eternal comfort and good hope –you’re going to be established in everything you do and say. With comfort and hope, you’re going to continue to grow more firm where you are, more confident, more hopeful. We wait as hopeful, established people. Eternal comfort plus good hope equals an established life.
But what are we waiting for now? We’re waiting for the culmination of comfort. Not the arrival of it, the culmination of it. The last part of comfort, the return of the Comforter. Paul writes this to the church in Thessalonica. He says to them,
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers [and sisters], about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
So, Paul doesn’t want his friends in this church to be uninformed or have uninformed, hopeless grief when someone dies, because even in grief, with comfort, there’s hope. Well, what’s the hope, Paul? Why can we have informed, hopeful grief? He says this,
“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18]
What words do we give away as comfort? That the Comforter’s coming back. The return of the Lord Jesus is returning. The Comforter is coming back. We are waiting on the culmination of comfort, the return of Jesus. So, just like Simeon in the temple was waiting on the comfort of Israel, so we are waiting on the culmination of comfort when Jesus, our eternal comforter returns. And at that point, it doesn’t matter if you have died or you’re still alive, there is a future hope, a culmination of comfort that is absolutely certain, that when Jesus returns, he’s going to create a kingdom and we will be part of His kingdom forever.
And it is that future hope, that reality, that certainty that it’s going to happen, that’s the basis of how we encourage each other during times of loss. Be encouraged. The story isn’t over, even though it seems like it’s over. The future hope of Jesus returning is the fuel to give us courage today when we suffer. The return of Christ is the bank deposit from which we withdraw courage for today. Jesus is coming. Comfort is come, and comfort is coming back.
And when comfort comes back, everything is transformed. The second coming of the Comforter creates a brand-new world. And if you want to know what the culmination of comfort looks like, the best book in the Bible to read is Revelation. It’s all about the culmination of comfort. John says this — Revelation 7:17,
“For the lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’”
Remember all the way back to week one? That’s one of the comfort clues. That’s the promise to Abraham. — God will be with you, and God will be your God. And then once more, John tells us,
“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
So, one short way to think of what the culmination of comfort looks like is the culmination of comfort equals God wiping away every tear.
Now, think about that for a second. No more tears. God doesn’t just wipe away some tears; he wipes tears out. God removes the totality of tears from his people. The capacity for tears in a perfected body doesn’t exist. No situation exists after the coming of the Lord that will require the comfort we need now. How do tears disappear in this future kingdom? Because look at what the Comforter removes from existence. As we continue in Revelation, it says this,
“And death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
So, death, mourning, crying, pain, gone, completely gone!
So, in your brain, try to imagine something that you would cry about that doesn’t have to do with those four things — mourning, death, crying, pain. It doesn’t exist. So, brothers and sisters, we are waiting, and we feel it. I’ve talked to so many of you now via email or after the services about where you are in your life in the midst of suffering, tribulation, trial, or just being hard. We are waiting. But just like a five-year-old will go to sleep tonight, fully anticipating that Christmas is going to happen, so it is with the return and the culmination of comfort. It is coming. It will happen. So, with comfort and good hope, we wait in established lives in everything we do. So, comfort would look at you today and say, “Take courage, friends. Take courage as you face what you have to do. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean everybody’s going to wake up tomorrow and have a great day. Some of us won’t. Take courage, friends. Take comfort. The eternal Comforter came, and he is coming back. Receive the gift of comfort and good hope and remember that God’s going to eradicate tears. They’re going to be gone.
The more I study scripture and the more I age, the more I consider that the future is everything in order to live today. It’s almost as if you can’t put your finger down in the Bible and not see a call to look up, look out, look forward. This is what’s coming. The future is our bank of hope. We make withdrawals of hope and comfort in order to make it through today. So, we need to regularly consider the future and compare that future with the reality of today. We’ve got to have a big, full, beautiful, and compelling view of the culmination of comfort because it’s the only thing at times that’s going to get us through what’s going on today. It’s the promise of hope in the future. Jesus, the Comforter, our active ally is returning. He’s returning and setting up a world where brokenness completely disappears. Jesus is going to fix broken people and a broken planet. He’s going to recreate Eden. Walks with God in person are back on the table. Separation from God is going to turn into supper with God. Jesus, our active ally, our comfort is creating peace by removing all brokenness forever. Now that brothers and sisters is comfort. Amen. Let’s pray.
Father, I pray that you would comfort the people that are in front of me with whatever is going on in their lives, with all the pressure of this evening and tomorrow for it all to be good and fine. Would you comfort those who are not great and fine right now and give them the freedom that it’s okay? Would you allow us to sing with hopeful, comforted hearts about who you are and your return in the future? And I pray this in your name. Amen.