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Unwrapping Comfort at Christmas: Sermon 3

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Unwrapping Comfort at Christmas: Sermon 3


Ryan Ferguson


December 18, 2022



Good morning, friends. Merry Christmas to all of you and to all of you who are watching us on the live stream right now. Over the past several weeks, if you have found yourself where you need a context of comfort, a place to receive comfort, then I want to encourage you in the new year to attend re:gen. Re:gen is a biblical, 12-step program that will run from January 9th through November 20th. There’ll be some holiday breaks in there. The group meets on Monday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 in the community room right through that wall. Anyone interested can register in the Need2Know section of our website. Childcare is free for you so that you can attend, but they do need to have those children registered. So, that’s one way that comfort can continue into the new year.

I would love for us all to pray together. I have a sense that I need some help today; so, I’m going to talk to God. I invite you to do that with me. Father, for this, now the third week, I’ve prayed pretty much the same thing — that you would comfort the people in front of me. You love these people so much. Each person comes in here flowing out of a unique week of joy and trouble. So, where there is trouble, would you please bring comfort? Would you help us to learn more about your comfort through your Word today? So, help me to say things that are helpful. And keep me from saying anything that would be unhelpful. In your name, amen.

Reverend David Sanders penned the following story — A little girl was having trouble falling asleep. Her dad read her a story, and then he read her another story, and yet another story, and then one more story, trying to get his little girl to fall asleep. After that final story, Dad said, “Now it’s time to go to sleep.” “But I want you to stay here,” said the little girl. Dad said, “No, no more stories. It’s time to go to sleep,” to which the little girl replied, “I want Mommy” which I take it means “this isn’t working on Dad. Let’s give it a try on Mom.” Well, Mommy was away at work on a business trip out of state; so, she could not be there to read yet another story.

So, the little girl tried a different tactic “I want you to stay right here, Daddy.” Dad said, “I’ll just be over here, right in the other room.” The girl, “But I don’t want to be alone.” Daddy replied, trying his own different tactic, “But Jesus will be with you closer than I am. He’s always with you.” To this, the little girl replied, “But I want Jesus with skin on.”

For the young, bedtime can be a moment of great affliction, suffering, and anxiety. For the young, that moment, that night can be filled with terror and alligator-shaped shadows that are just ready to attack. And all that little girl wanted was a little bit of comfort, but in her mind, she needed some comfort with skin on. We all want comfort with skin on. Dad’s message was truth. Jesus really is close. We learned last week Jesus actually gave us another comforter that lives inside of us. That’s how close the comfort is. But the little girl’s reply rings with as much truth as dad’s. Sometimes we all want a Jesus with skin on right there in the middle of our affliction. We can wholeheartedly agree to the spiritual realities we’ve already talked about, that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit bring us comfort; that Jesus, the eternal comforter came, was incarnated, died on the cross, resurrected from the dead, and then went back to heaven. We can with great conviction await the return of Jesus, when heaven will collide with earth and Eden will be made over, and it will all be perfect. But when fear, affliction, and suffering flare up in real life, we wouldn’t mind the feeling of Jesus’s skin right next to us. And I think that’s okay.

After all, look at the way Jesus lived. Jesus regularly touched the people that he healed. Jesus held and hugged babies. Surely, Jesus wiped the tears from the cheeks of Mary and Martha, his friends, when his good friend Lazarus died. And of course, Jesus had to hug his mom many, many, many times in his life. There’s nothing wrong with tangible comfort.

In fact, tangible comfort matters to God. God sends us tangible, touchable comfort. God gifts us comfort with skin on. See, God’s people are God’s comfort with skin on. God’s people are God’s most tangible comfort. What do you think about that? I think we actually have to wrestle with that claim a little bit. For some, that’s not necessarily easy to hear because many in this room could go, “Objection. I have an objection to that.” The church has hurt so many people. The church is full of hypocrites. Church leaders have abused rather than comforted their flock. Yeah, that’s actually true. But it’s not just true because we have stories about that in culture. I’d invite you to actually look at the Bible to get a really accurate picture of what God’s people look like.

God’s people … Think of how, if you know the scriptures, of how Israel acted in their relationship to God. Think of the disciples, who ran away from Jesus at his worst moments. Think of the early church and all of these letters that correct them for all the wrong things they do. In the scriptures, you’re going to see an honest picture of God’s people failing their calling. So, as God’s people, we will imperfectly but hopefully doggedly pursue living like Jesus did, and Jesus was a comforter with skin on. God’s tangible comforters aren’t perfect. But God, for his own reasons, chose to allow his people to be his comfort on earth.

So, the first thing we have to do to unwrap comfort together today is to consider honestly what is my opinion about God’s people? God calls his people sons, daughters, joint heirs with Christ, holy, the righteousness of God in Christ, partakers of the divine, saints, beloved, oaks of righteousness, a holy nation, a chosen race, and royal priests. And God calls everyone who follows Jesus those names, even the really annoying ones. So, I ended up asking myself a question — what are the names I call God’s people? What are the names you call God’s people? It’s going to be really hard for us to believe that God’s people are God’s comfort on earth if the only way we can view God’s people is through their failures without at the same time considering what God says about them that they’re saints.

So, I want us to look at the scripture and make sure that what I’m saying — that we are God’s comfort on earth — is true. Does God actually tell us? So, we’re going to read several passages in a row. Anywhere where you see bold, I want you to join in and read with me, and I would love for you to do that with a little bit of Christmas spirit, a little bit of energy. And I would love for you to think that you are comforting someone as you read these words in bold. So, let’s see comfort with skin on in the Bible.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7,

“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. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”

2 Corinthians 7:4-13,

“I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. 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, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more … Therefore, we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.”

1 Thessalonians 3:6-7,

“But now that Timothy has come to us from you and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you — for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.”

Philemon 1:7,

“For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”

2 Corinthians 13:11,

“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

Those are all God’s words. These are now my words. God’s people are God’s comfort with skin on. Now, I want us to see some observations about how all that scripture works together. First, comfort with skin on is my calling. It’s my calling. I’m told to do it there in that last passage, 2 Corinthians — “comfort one another.”

But Paul also says God has a secondary purpose in comforting us so that we can comfort someone else. “Comfort people with the comfort with which you’ve been comforted.” There’s a lot of comforting going on in that verse. You have it to give away. When you’re comforted, you join the comfort team to give away comfort. Think of it this way. Comfort is a river, not a swamp. Swamps tend to stop. They’re in one place. They’re green-algae-covered water with dirty, murky water underneath and they go nowhere. It just smells rotten.

But rivers, big, wide rivers are always flowing with new water, crashing over rocks, white with rapids, new water always flowing to be given away. Comfort from God keeps flowing out of us like a river. It’s our calling. And that means this — your suffering and your comfort really, really, really, really matter. What happens in your life, your suffering, and how you’re comforted really matters. As God meets you, he’s giving you a gift to give away. Comfort is a high calling. We’re mini comforters.

You remember that word from last week? The Spirit is our comforter. The one who comes along beside. That’s what we get to do. We get to imitate God’s comfort in us, in the lives of other people. It’s our calling.

Comfort with skin on is also contagious. It’s contagious. Comfort isn’t always direct. Paul is comforted by how Titus and Timothy are comforted. Paul is comforted by how Titus refreshes his people. Comfort is contagious. Comfort keeps being transmitted, even when the comfort isn’t even specifically aimed at me. This is what it says about Titus — that Paul was comforted, not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you. Timothy … It says this,

“But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we want to see you — for this reason”

What reason? That Timothy has come and told us how great you’re doing and that you care about me.

“For this reason, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.”

This is secondhand comfort. Secondhand smoking, bad. Secondhand comfort, great. I get comfort, I am comforted when my eyes are open to see the comfort that’s happening to other people and through other people. Comfort is derivative.

Thirdly, comfort with skin on is simple. It’s simple. Christianity is simple for a child and complex for a theologian. Christianity is simple for a child, complex for a theologian. Jesus said,

“unless you become like a child, you can’t enter the kingdom of heaven.”

There’s a simplicity to it. Now, there’s nothing wrong with deep study and really hard questions about faith and the Bible and Jesus. But a lot of the message of the Bible is actually quite simple.

Let me give you an example — the phrase “do good.” Twenty times in the New Testament, God’s people are just told “Do good. Just do good.” It’s not overly complex to think through, and neither is comfort. Comfort is simple.

About a month and a half ago, I asked a big group of people to send me stories of how they had been comforted. I was curious what it was going to look like. And I want to share multiple stories right in a row of literal people who are part of this body, their stories of comfort. And then we’re going to talk about it a little bit. Here we go. This is comfort with skin on.

“In the past year I have had two early-term miscarriages. My friend from Life Group just sat with me, and we ate ice cream, and we were sad together. And even though I had counseling, whole groups who prayed over me, and women who have walked this road with or ahead of me, it was in the Andy’s Custard parking lot where I really felt that sense of comfort.”

“I’ll never forget a particularly hard time for me ten years ago when I just returned from spending time with my sister and her last weeks of suffering with cancer. A friend asked me how she was doing, and when I explained that she was declining rapidly, he cried with me, he hugged me, and reminded me that we groan and that the Spirit groans with us and that it was okay to weep and groan. There was immense comfort in his actions and words.”

“A few nights ago, I felt overwhelmingly lonely, confused, and stuck, genuinely unable to imagine any kind of positive or hopeful future. My spouse gave me a hug. Nothing had changed. No solutions were discovered. No new understanding was achieved, but that simple embrace was profoundly powerful. It made me feel a lot less alone and a lot more safe, not mentally, but viscerally, bypassing words or explanations or strategies, a physical, bodily sense of peace.”

“My dad called me last week out of the blue to give me some updates on his life and then wanted to just tell me how proud of me he was and how remarkably I’ve kept our family together for the past two years, despite all that life has thrown at us during that time. He went on to say that whenever he’s seen me or seen me in pictures (they live out of state), I just have this overwhelming peace across my face, and he knows I’m exactly where God wants me. This was incredibly meaningful encouragement for me because I often feel the opposite, especially from comments from my mother. Ha, ha.”

“When my dad passed, a friend offered such a kind comfort by texting me this message. ‘The next couple of days are exhausting in a unique way. You pass in and out of real awareness of what happened. The oddest things can cause emotional responses that are so varied. Give yourself some grace and patience.’ It was a simple, truth-filled sentiment that sent my heart and eyes on the moment and allowed me to rest in grace. I’ve actually shared this with many friends over the last two years as they’ve walked through different forms of loss.”

“When I miscarried after in-vitro and suffered an adoption loss within months of each other, my friends came over and brought me all my faves. Comfy socks, candles, etc., and they sat with me, and they said, ‘Let it all out.’ I knew they meant all of it — my anger, my grief, my tears, everything. I punched pillows, cried, cursed every woman who got pregnant who didn’t deserve it, and it was all judgment free. And then we put on a funny movie, ate junk food, and laughed the rest of the night — one of the most healing moments of my life.”

The situations were unbelievably serious. Let me make sure we know … I want to remind you what we just talked about … death, miscarriage, deep hurt, extreme loneliness, hopelessness, cancer. How did people comfort that? Let me make a couple of observations.

One, presence. They just showed up. Just like Timothy and Titus and Philemon for Paul, in all of these stories, people just simply showed up. They were there. Remember our definition of comfort. Comfort is an active ally, creating a sense of peace when life is broken. Allies show up. How do they comfort? Freedom. We’ve got to give people the freedom to cry, lament, and groan in their affliction and suffering. Comforters give freedom. Brothers and sisters, I want to make clear, Christians do not have to put on a false face of everything being okay. And if you have grown up in a context where you have not been taught that, I invite you to read from beginning to end the book, about in the middle of the Bible, called the Psalms. And you can’t read through the Psalms and conclude that God’s people are just supposed to be fine and move on. There’s a sense of freedom that where we are is where we are, and we can cry and groan and lament and we can be there for people who are in that moment. We don’t have to fix it all right away.

Final way that comfort is simple is consideration. People were considerate. But it’s so simple. A phone call from Dad, a text from a friend, a pair of socks, a candle, and of course, frozen custard, hugs. Comforters do simple things. They’re just considerate — presence, freedom, and consideration. I’m going to come back to this because this is one of those moments, friends, where, I’ve said this in front of you before, I wish I could do better at explaining this, but I don’t have words to communicate how it amazes me that you can help someone’s life with socks. As a follower of Jesus, to show up, a simple, stupid electronic text on these dumb phones we all carry, all of a sudden, it goes from digital letters to power. It’s unbelievable! Who knew Andy’s Custard was so good. Comfort isn’t complicated. Comfort isn’t complex.

But, on the other end, comfort with skin on is cosmic. It’s cosmic. It’s huge. Would you read with me one more time in the places that are in bold? We already read this one, but it bears repeating. “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another.” I’m going to read these next two. After I say the word “peace,” I want you to just stop for one second and think about what you’re going to read next. “Agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” If you want to experience the presence of the God of love and peace, you need to do the following — aim for restoring broken relationships, become a comforter with skin on, begin with agreeing with one another, live to make things whole rather than break them apart, aim for restoration, restore broken relationships, be a comforter, begin with agreeing with your brother, and live to make things whole, live in peace, live to make things whole rather than to break things apart.

When those things happen with God’s people, the God of love and peace shows up. So, it is actually very biblical to say that as you comfort someone in the Andy’s Custard parking lot in your car, the omnipresent God Almighty, His presence becomes heavy in your car. God shows up. Comforting God’s people along with those other three things, it has cosmic implications. It affects how we experience the presence of God himself. So, not only is Jesus a comforter, not only does the Trinity comfort us, but God particularly shows up when you comfort somebody. And once more, I wish I was better at … Oh, it blows me away! So, comforting God’s people has cosmic implications. It invites the God of love and peace to be present, and He shows up with skin on in God’s people.

So, comforting with skin on is our calling. You’re commanded to do it, and God gives you comfort to give away. Comforting with skin on is contagious. We’re comforted not only by what happens to us, but what happens to other people and the news we hear about other people comforting other people. Comforting with skin on is simple. Don’t overthink it. Show up. Give people freedom. And be considerate of your friends whom you love. And fourth, comforting with skin on is cosmic. When we comfort people, the God of love and peace is there.

So, I want you to say something with me. There are bold parts. We’re going to say this all out loud together. This is a little bit of a switch in our definition of comfort. So, would you say this with me? “I am an active ally, creating peace when someone else’s life is broken. I am a comforter.” Now, we’re going to do that once more minus the church mumble. We’re going to kick up that Christmas spirit, just a tweak. Here we go. “I am an active ally, creating peace when someone else’s life is broken. I am a comforter.”

Typically, way more often than not, at the end of our services, we sing in response to God’s Word. We’re going to change that up a little bit today. We’re going to end with some things to think, feel, and do together. And we’re going to end early so that you can do that. So, here are some things that I want us to do together.

First, I want us to think, and I want us to think about one thing in particular. What comfort do you have to give away? What comfort do you have to give away? Now, it’s really important that I remind you of the great story of comfort. If you follow Jesus, you always have the story of Jesus being the great comforter who reconciles us to God. And I am more convinced than ever that that story needs to be on repeat coming out of our mouths to each other as we are in suffering and affliction together — the grand narrative that Jesus, the eternal comforter, is here and he’s reconciled us to God.

Think of it this way. The great story of Jesus being a comforter is like if someone were to come up to you after this service and say, “Hey, listen, I want to pay your mortgage for the rest of your loan.” Now, mortgage/rent is typically, in most people’s budgets, the most costly debt expense they have, right? Someone comes up to you and says, “I’m going to take care of that.” That would completely transform the way you look, not just at your financial life, but life in general. It would be a new set of glasses through which you look at the world. You have a brand-new freedom. You don’t have to worry about paying that mortgage every week. You now have this money that you can consider. How am I generous to people? What about your kids’ education? What can we do fun this summer as a family? It would be a lens through which you look at the world if that debt was taken care of. That’s what happens with the story of comfort. If Jesus reconciled us to God. That’s the first lens through which we look at all of life. If that’s taken care of, that allows us to rightly see everything else that happens into our life. So, if you follow Jesus, you always have the great story of comfort to share with someone.

But you also have your own grand story of comfort to share and give away because God has comforted you so that you have comfort to give away to someone else who needs comfort. You have to become self-aware of what comfort you have been given. So, how do you find that comfort? And what I’m about to say is hard. You actually have to look at your suffering. Remember week one — the only reason we have comfort is because it’s broken. So, you have to look at your story and go, “Okay, where did I receive comfort when something was broken? That’s what I have to give away.”

Week one I shared with you that a friend of mine came to my dad’s funeral named Billy. That impacted me so heavily that I made a decision coming out of that. With everything in me, with the capacity I have, my circle of friends, I will be at the funeral of their loved ones. Period. It’s just that’s a comfort I was given that I’m going to give away every time. You’ve got to become aware. Where can I give away comfort from my story and then target people who need that type of comfort?

So, again, we’re going to finish up early today, and in the remaining time, what I want you to do is before you leave today, spend time with friends or family, a life group, and come up with literally one piece of comfort that you have to give away. Something from your story of comfort that you can give away. And here’s the deal. If this room is full of Jesus followers and every one of us leaves this room with “okay, I have one comfort to give away,” that has unbelievable potential to affect God’s people for good. Your story matters. Your suffering and comfort matter. So, you can give it away. That’s the first thing.

Second, and I told you I was going to come back to this, and I still won’t do a great job. But I want you to feel the joy and awe of doing a simple thing that has immense impact. I can’t get over that story where “in Andy’s Custard parking lot, I actually felt the sense of comfort.” If you’re the comforter in the car and you hear that story, and actually I know that person is going to be in one of these services today, I just think that’s awesome! And I feel like there’s fuel in there for us somewhere that if we can get in touch with doing such a simple thing that literally can transform someone’s most difficult moment of life, the loss of life, and you can impact just by showing up and being there and help their life move along, I just think we ought to be before God going “That’s amazing!” What a sense of God-given power — to step into somebody’s life and help them get through their most difficult stuff! I think we can relish that — simple acts of comfort have cosmic results.

And finally, I want you to do something if you’re willing. We’ve designed some postcards. Beth Milbourne, an artist in our church, designed this for us, kind of a Christmas postcard. And I want you to put comfort into action. Send someone who needs comfort a brief note. And this is actually like a true, old-school postcard. There’s enough room on there to write seventeen words and that’s about it. Throw your address on there and a stamp, and then throw it into the mail sometime over Christmas. We have a thousand of these that we’ve printed. So, as you leave today, the ushers will have them. If you would be willing to write somebody a note, grab one as you leave and send on the gift of comfort.

So, I want you to think and find a place of comfort that you can give away. I want you to try to get in touch with how amazing it is that we get to have cosmic implications in this world. And third, if you’re willing, grab one of those cards and mail it. We are comforters, brothers and sisters. It’s a high calling.

I want to remind you that our services this coming weekend, Christmas Eve, 4 and 5:30. Don’t be late. You don’t want to miss the first five minutes. You’re welcome.

So, the remaining time we have is about twelve minutes. The service is not over. We’re just going to let it go into other places other than this room — cafe, in here, out there. If you have kids and we’re out early, we didn’t do that so you guys can get to IHOP faster. So, don’t go running up to grab your kids out of KidStuff. They’ll be done at our normal time. This is time where we can live out God’s Word together and get in touch with these things. Does that make sense? Good. Would you stand with me and receive this blessing as you go?

And now may the God of all comfort who comforts the downcast, comfort you and establish you in every good work and word. And may you walk in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, taking the comfort of God into a world that desperately needs it. May you experience the peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit and return on Christmas Eve with joy. Amen? Amen. Go in peace, friends.