Editor’s note: For many of us, Christmas is a melancholy time. I think this is true for me for the simple reason that both of my parents died in December, with my Dad (the author of this blog) having a heart attack on Christmas day from which he passed 4 days later. Many others have losses or illnesses in their families which are felt more acutely during the holiday season. So my hope is that the reader will find comfort in this meditation, the last one of the year.
Christmas has many “synonyms”: joy, peace, love, gift. But, surprisingly, “comfort” may well be the word that “says it all”. It is the first word in the MESSIAH, the “gospel according to Isaiah” (40:1), the “New Testament” (“fear not”), and is the theme of the Heidelberg Catechism. The meaning of comfort is not a feeling, but a fact/condition. Synonyms are “strength” (fortify), protection (fort), confidence, ability, power, assurance, support, stability. These last two terms are psychological/medical; part of the Hippocratic oath is “always to comfort”. Comfort is almost another word for “salvation,” which means wholeness, well-being, peace. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are called “comforters.”
To feel or be comfortable requires correct self-knowledge. Socrates, wisest pagan, said this; being a non-Christian, he lacked it. All unbelievers lack it, hence they lack peace, joy, etc. Many Christians, by their own admission, lack security, assurance, etc. because they do not know who they are, what salvation is. Isaiah’s first hearers did not know who they were and had the wrong idea as punishment for their sins (40:2), but they couldn’t fill up the depressions in their lives (“valleys”) or level the mountains that all of us should be able to “cast into the sea”, all because they did not realize what it means to be God’s people (vs. 1).
We need Christmas comfort. In ourselves, first of all. “All flesh is grass” says the Bible: A person in and of himself is nobody; cheap, weak and lacking “comfort” in any sense of the word. Witness the apprehension regarding the year 1984 because of Orwell’s book by the same name, or the panic that accompanied the movie “The Day After”. Hebrews says that as a result, our entire lifetime is one of fear. Note the other results of being merely “flesh”: Fatalism, defeatism, nihilism, drug culture, escapism, depression, suicide. The moral results are much the same: Abortions (“It’s only tissue”), wrong sex practices (“After all, it’s only physical, like blowing one’s nose”) including homo-sexuality (again, through failure to know who one is, male versus women; “all flesh is grass” – unisex.) The ultimate is that man becomes a mere number; is the mark of the beast – depersonalization.
Christianity does not have the answer to that need (for the world or for itself) in laws against all these things; the “law” is designed to put fear into people (rather than comfort), and instead of driving one away from sin and its consequences, only stirs it up the more. Neither does “mere” forgiveness bring comfort, if one is only going to sin some more; forgiveness does not enable to fill the low spots or level the mountains of temptation. Hence, “Jesus died for your sins, so that you can get to heaven” is a cheap gospel, a half-salvation. While the Bible is clear as to our so-great salvation, our full joy, more abundant life, and as to who Christians really are (saints, not even forgiven sinners). Our liturgies are confusing (calling us both, when you are only one or the other), our confessions and songs are unclear and contradictory (as well as many sermons), being addressed to saints and the unconverted simultaneously. (For example, the popular hymn, “Whiter than Snow”, or “Just As I Am”. We should not come to communion singing the same songs that are used as altar calls at a rescue mission.) In short, most Christians lack comfort because they are confused; they don’t know who they are.
The Provision, source or basis of Christian (and Christmas) comfort is this: “The Word of our God abideth forever.” This “word” is not the Bible, nor even the promises of God. If my name is not written in the Bible as being forgiven, etc., how can I have assurance, peace, confidence, power, comfort? That Word is Christ. God’s Word, that spoke and brought man into being, Himself became “flesh” (the problem); that’s what Christmas is all about – God entered into our human predicament and became a nobody. It was a census that caused Christ to be born where he was, and he was given a number (shades of Orwell) before he was given a name. And he was born specially (without a human father) in order to be a Second Adam (start a new humanity), and as a picture of who we really are, new people who are born not of flesh, but by the same Holy Spirit that gave Christ birth. All history is dated in terms of Jesus birth. All genealogies end in him. And begin!
So, who are we? New, perfect, immortal people; children of Christ (Hebrews 2:13,14), parts of him (like parts of a body, branches of a tree). Each of us has a new name (one of Jesus’ countless ones – Isa 9:6). We will never die. We will never be judged. We have power over any and every opposition – all in the name of Jesus. Can you imagine anything more comforting, reassuring, strengthening, encouraging, than that?
Why, when it is so available, do people still reject it? Our basic problem is independence, pride, self. Nobody can be two people, your-self and Christ’s self. The old, natural, “flesh”-you has to go, die, be crucified. Actually, it has already happened (Gal 2:20); all you have to do is recognize the FACT (Romans 6:1-11). It is this new-self awareness that means being filled with the Spirit, the “second blessing”, the something “more and better” of Hebrews. “Brethren, let us press on.” (Hebrews 12:1,2)