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Unwrapping Comfort at Christmas: Sermon 2

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Unwrapping Comfort at Christmas: Sermon 2


Ryan Ferguson


December 11, 2022



If you were here last week when we started this series, I introduced you all last week to my mom, Judy. This week I want to introduce you to my dad. This is Howard, but everybody called him Buzz his entire life. When I was sixteen, Dad gave me an amazing birthday gift. He gave me this ring. I have a picture of it. I’m actually wearing it right now. Dad bought that ring when he was eighteen years old, and he was in the Navy. Dad purchased it for his dad, who was named Walter. My granddad passed away when I was quite young, and my parents told me that I would go into their bedroom and get into a jewelry box and pull out this ring and put it on. So, a giant ring on a kid’s tiny fingers. So, when I was sixteen and got that from my dad, it meant the world to me. I wore it constantly. There was a connection between me and Dad wearing it and between me and my granddad, whom I didn’t even really know, all because of the gift of this ring. But there were years after that where I didn’t even wear the ring. It was in a box or in a drawer, and that didn’t change the overwhelming value of the gift, but as time passed, my connection to the gift dimmed.

There’s going to be a lot of presents in the coming weeks, and some of them are going to be heirlooms and gifts of such significance that all of us would want to keep that connection, the feeling of when we first receive the gift. How do we do that? How do we stay connected to gifts, even the best gift?

Now, Paul talks about a gift in the Bible. He writes this, [Ephesians 2:8, 9]

“For by grace you are saved through faith. And this is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast.”

Last week we unwrapped comfort and called comfort the greatest gift that we’ve been given. Comfort is a reconciliation to God or our salvation, and God’s comfort for us is Jesus. Every comfort clue in the Bible points to Jesus. Jesus solves the big brokenness underneath all of our brokenness. So, no greater gift exists than being reconciled with God. There’s no greater comfort than that.

And yet, if I’m honest, I sometimes experience a feeling of distance, even from that good gift. Am I alone there? My sense of connection to the gift of comfort can dim just like my connection to my grandad’s ring. But unlike this ring, the gift of comfort isn’t a one-time gift. God, as our comforter never stops comforting us in the middle of life. In the words of Cousin Eddie, “Comfort is the gift that keeps on giving year-round.”

For about ten to twelve years, I competed in powerlifting, and I witnessed a national record deadlift in the senior division. Prior to doing his deadlift … Typically when you come out, you get to pick your music, and it’s big hype music … This man walked out with no music, and he addressed the crowd, and he said to everybody, “I’m seventy-six years old. One year ago, I was supposed to die of cancer. I went into remission, and I decided I wanted to lift one more time in my life. So, I’ve spent the past little over a year dieting, lifting, exercising to come here and pick up this bar and set a record.” So, he reaches down, chalks up his hand, grabs that bar, and when he started to lift (at a meet, often people cheer you on; it’s a really kind of camaraderie sport), the place went crazy, screaming at this guy to lift the bar. “Pull, pull, pull, pull!” And when he completed the lift and it was a record, the place went insane. I’m talking literally people who had never met each other, holding shoulders, jumping up and down. And I’m not kidding … There were twenty- year-old power lifters with tears watching this dude lift, right? In that moment, he was the definition of “being all in.” Everything about that guy for over a year was all in on doing that one thing.

And I want to tell you that God, with that same comprehensive, complete, purposeful focus, comforts his people. God is all in on comfort. All of God comforts me. All of God is all in on comforting you. God’s entire person comforts. The Trinity comforts.

Now, Trinity is a word we use to describe God, and we use it to tell how God is described and displayed in the Scriptures, and we define Trinity this way. We say that “we believe that there is one living and true God, an infinite all-knowing spirit, one in essence, eternally existing in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Now, that sounds really formal, because it is. It’s in a doctrinal statement, a statement of beliefs. But remember, it’s describing how God is seen and talked about in the Bible. Let me give you an example where to look — Matthew 3:16-17. It says this,

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”

So, in the scene you see Jesus being baptized, the Spirit descending, and the Father talking from heaven. Three in one. We believe Jesus in that moment is God. We believe the Spirit is God. We believe the Father is God. Three persons acting in concert in one moment as their own person, yet they are one unified God. Now, to say that that is mysterious is understatement of epic proportions by me, right? But it is by faith how we know God, and how we know God matters. Relationships are based on knowledge. All of our relationships are based on knowledge. What we know or believe about someone defines, informs and characterizes the relationship. So, knowing God the way he displays himself matters. Knowing people matters.

Matt Nestberg, one of our pastors, about 6’2”, Matt Nestberg, 6’4″, he and I were having a conversation about six months ago, and we realized that he and I have both heard the same statement said to us multiple times in our life, and this is the statement. “Once you get to know him …” Yeah, let it settle it. Yeah. Thank you. But not always. “Once you get to know him …” And in a way, that’s an awkward statement to hear. “Once you get to know Matt … Once you get to know Ryan …” You don’t typically follow up that statement with “… they’re even more amazing than we originally thought!” That’s not really where it goes. No, something about us before you get to know us, something is interpreted negatively. And apparently there’s something about us that once you get to know us, we’re not that bad, right? What you know about a person informs your relationship with that person.

So, knowing God as the Three in One, as mysterious as that is … Knowing that the Three in One is a comprehensive comforter is more than factual and theological. It’s relational. Knowing who God is is relational. So, as we unwrap comfort, I believe comfort gives us a lens to know God better in his fullness. All of God comforts me and you. All of God is invested in comfort because in the Scripture, each member of the Trinity is described as comforting. So, let’s get to know God better by viewing how each member of the Trinity comforts.

God, the Father comforts you. Many, even outside the church, are familiar with Psalm 23. So, we’re going to put it up here, and would you read that out loud with me? Together, we’re going to read a portion of it. Here we go.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Did you know that sheep are quite susceptible to fear and panic? And God, the great shepherd comforts even in the worst fear-and panic-inducing moment of life — death, loss through death. God comforts his sheep through that valley, and it is really effective comfort. We’re comforted and fear no evil. This shepherd, using the tools of his trade, a rod and a staff, guides his sheep through that fearful moment — their death, someone else’s death. God, the Father comforts you there. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, God comforts you.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

God the Father is the God of all comfort. The Father is the possessor of all kinds of comfort. God the Father has a monopoly on comfort. The Father has custom comfort fit for all occasions where his sheep, where his kids are afflicted. And God targets the afflicted with comfort. He doesn’t ignore some of what we go through and comfort other stuff, like the really important stuff matters. No, did you see in there? God has all the comfort, and he comforts all our afflictions.

2 Corinthians 7:5-6, God comforts you, the Father comforts you.

“For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn–fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”

I’m not sure we use the term “downcast” much anymore, but I bet in every mind’s eye in this room, you can see what that person looks like. Have you ever felt that one? Hands in your pockets, shoulders with the weight of the world on them, and your heads just low? God the Father looks for those people. He targets them with comfort. God comforts those facing death. God comforts with all kinds of comfort in all of our affliction, and God targets the downcast with comfort. God the Father comforts.

God the Son comforts. We learned last week that Jesus is our ultimate comforter. He sets everything right. He reconciles us to God. He’s going to heal broken people and a broken planet. But Jesus’s comfort continues on. Jesus, as the comfort of God, continues comforting us when we sin and when we suffer. Jesus continually comforts us, even in desperate moments where we live out of our old brokenness.

God the Son comforts us when we sin. First John 2:1,

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate [a comforter] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

That word “advocate” is from that family of words we talked about last week that’s connected to comfort. In this context, Jesus is our legal aid. He’s the one who comes along beside us. We have a lawyer in Jesus. He’s the righteous one when we sin. Jesus is the comforter. He’s our advocate. John’s saying, “Guys, I’m writing this letter to you so that you don’t sin. Big call. Don’t do it. But if you do, remember, you’ve got an advocate. You have a comforter.”

Jesus comforts us when we sin, and he comforts us in suffering. Jesus never promises a life without discomfort in the Bible. We’re not promised a life without pain and brokenness. And to be honest with you personally, that’s one of the reasons I’m more convinced to believe the Bible, because it’s honest. It is honest with this is what life looks like when you follow Jesus. What we are promised is that those sufferings, they don’t come up empty. They’re not meaningless. Jesus himself suffered on this broken planet at the hands of broken people. And just as he received comfort in suffering, so we will experience the same comfort.

Paul puts it this way. 2 Corinthians 1:5,

“For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

As we live on this planet, in the name of Jesus, we will experience the sufferings that Jesus did when he lived on this earth, and we get the same comfort too. God the Son comforts us when we sin and when we suffer.

God the Spirit comforts us. Jesus introduces his followers to the Spirit in John chapter 14 and following. Jesus, knowing that he’s not going to be with his friends forever, comforts them so they know they won’t be alone. And this is what Jesus says,

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper [another comforter] to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you…. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper [the comforter], the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Isn’t Jesus a great friend? That’s so good! Can you feel him talking to his friends? “Guys, I am leaving, but it’s going to be okay. You’re not going to be alone. I’m going to give you another comforter. I am the comforter. I’m going to give you another one. And he’s going to be the exact same kind of comforter that I am. Don’t be troubled. Don’t be afraid, guys.”

And in order to do that, Jesus explains explicitly the Spirit’s role as comforter. The Spirit comforts us as God’s knowable presence, proximity, and peace. The Spirit comforts us as God’s knowable presence, proximity, and peace.

The Spirit is knowable. Jesus tells his friends, “You know him.” Those are three small but really, really important words. The Spirit is knowable. He’s a person. The Holy Spirit does many things, but the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, Spirit of truth is first and foremost a person we can know. Could it be that as Christians, we’re more ignorant of the Spirit than intimate with the Spirit? Could we be more concerned about the Spirit than comforted by the Spirit? I say this because in my experience, at times the Spirit seems to be more of a theological argument than a personal comforter. Christians argue over what the Spirit does, his gifts, what they look like, which ones he still gives. But in this theological argument, we’re talking about actions more than a person. When God’s Spirit is primarily considered through his actions rather than as a person, then there is scary potential to depersonalize him. The Spirit can become primarily a trivia answer to questions regarding spiritual gifts. The Spirit can become a force that gets things done rather than a person that we can know. The Spirit must be a person. Comfort is always rooted in another person. The Spirit is a knowable person, or ongoing continued comfort is doomed. So, Jesus’s words “you know him” contain comfort as he introduces another comforter. The Spirit comforts us as knowable.

The Spirit comforts us as God’s knowable, presence, and proximity. The Spirit is God’s presence. Jesus says to them ‘he dwells with you.” He’s also God’s proximity. Jesus says, “he will be in you.” Everyone in this room right now is present, but we don’t all have the same proximity. Some of you have even chosen to have a buffer seat between you and the person next to you that you don’t know. Hopefully, there’s not a buffer between you and a spouse. We’re all present. We are not all proximate. God’s Spirit dwells with us. God’s presence is in the same space as us right now. But God’s proximity to people who follow Jesus is unbelievably close. The Spirit sets up his residence right in the living room of your heart.

So, how do we stay connected to the gift of comfort? By recognizing that comfort moved in. Comfort bought this heart of mine and went in and made this heart his home. God brings comfort close. Think of it this way. Jesus, Emmanuel, is God with us. God’s Spirit is God in us. He will be in you.

The Spirit is also God’s peace. Jesus wraps up his conversation after saying, “I’m going to give you another comforter,” Jesus says, “and I’m giving you peace that comes with it. My peace I leave with you.” Do you remember our definition of comfort from last week? Comfort is an active ally, creating peace when life is broken. Jesus leaves another comforter who is a peace creator.

And Jesus clarifies peace here. Peace from the comforter is not like peace from the world. So, Jesus tells us there’s more than one version of peace. There’s his peace and the world’s peace. We have other options to pursue to create peace when life is broken. There’s counterfeit comfort out there. There’s counterfeit peace, sources of peace that are temporary at best that only mask the brokenness instead of bringing actual peace to it. We can medicate affliction rather than receive comfort for affliction. Jesus gives us another comforter who keeps giving us the real-deal peace, the real thing. The Spirit is God’s peace.

I want to highlight one more thing about the gift of this comforter that Jesus gives. The Spirit is not like a substitute teacher. Can you go back in time, those of you who are my age or if you’re actually in school? A substitute teacher … it changes the whole dynamic, right? They don’t necessarily know the lesson or the homework, and, you know, I may or may not have manipulated that or worked on that a little bit in my day. The Spirit is not a substitute teacher. It’s actually the exact opposite. Jesus says this in John 16,

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you…. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them right now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

Jesus … “I still have messages for you guys. I still have messages for my followers. You can’t handle it right now. The Comforter will help you out.”

Can you imagine the most influential person in your life up to this point? And then imagine the most influential moment of that influential person on your life, and then imagine them looking you straight in the eye and going, “It’s better off if I stop influencing you and give you another influencer.” How would you respond to that? In Jesus’s estimation, the Spirit’s interior dwelling in his followers is more advantaged than Jesus’s physical presence with his followers.

Would you say this out loud with me? “It is to my advantage that Jesus left and sent the Spirit.” Will you say this with me? “It is to our advantage that Jesus left and sent the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the knowable presence, proximity, and peace of God. The Holy Spirit is your indwelling, active ally, creating peace when your life is broken. The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit — the Trinity — comforts us. All of God comforts me. He’s all in on comforting his people.

So, brothers and sisters, in light of that, I want to ask you to do three things. First, I want you to take time at some point this week and think about the mystery of God’s makeup. Just ponder God. This Three-in-One thing, the Trinity thing. God is distinctly different from us. One of the things we have to figure out in order to know God is that he is beyond our ability to know. And yet at the same time that God is deeply concerned whether or not you’re downcast. Just think about it.

This week would you attempt, secondly, to feel compounded comfort? Feel a Trinity that comforts you. I think we’ve got to grow in not ignoring our feelings but getting in touch with our feelings can kind of be like trying to hold water in our hands. It’s slippery. But how do you feel about God being all in on comforting you? And one of the things I want to be really careful about here is my expectation is not for everybody to be really happy about it because you still might feel distanced from it. You might still be trying to connect those dots, and in moments like that, I just want to ask you to talk to God about it and tell him, “Hey, if this is true, I don’t feel real close to it.”

And maybe we can borrow from the Psalms that give that type of affliction poetic voice. And we learned that the Lord is near to those who call on him. We realize that we’re able to look at God and say,

“Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is [nobody] to help.” [Psalm 22:11]

We discover that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and the crushed in spirit. And for others of us, realizing that all of God is all in on comforting you could be an unbelievably new, encouraging moment. Well, take time to feel it.

I want you to think, I want you to feel, and I also want you to do something. I want you to talk to the Trinity. If they’re all people, if it’s three persons, one God, talk to them. And maybe, as the scriptures … and it is mysterious — all of God is one; so, God is doing all of it — but as He’s displayed, he’s displayed in three eternally existing. Talk to him in the manner of which he reveals himself in the Word.

So, if you’re downcast right now, take a risk and talk to the Father. If you’ve experienced death this year in your family, talk to the Father about it.

If you’re in a moment of your life where God’s revealing to you that you’re not living the way he wants you to, that you are living out of your brokenness, that you’re sinning, talk to Jesus. He’s your comforter. If you have some sense of suffering going on in your life, talk to Jesus. He lived on this earth. He knows exactly what that’s like. He’d love to talk to you about that.

If you’re feeling isolated and alone, talk to the Spirit because he’s the indwelling presence and proximity of God for you. The Trinity is our active ally, creating peace when our lives are broken. The Trinity is our comfort. Let’s pray.

God, I just want to ask you to comfort people, people in this room, people watching at home, people who are frustrated with the idea of you at all. People are going through hurts that are so deep, loss that’s deep. I just ask you, create peace in the middle of all of this brokenness. I pray this in the name of the Father and the Son and the Spirit. Amen.