The Compassion of God
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God of Father and our Lord Jesus Christ bring you comfort and strength, as we journey through this life… in the presence of the Holy Spirit!
An Uncomfortable Reading?
Every week I face a choice, which of the three readings should I use as the basis of the sermon. As I pick which to preach on, one of the things I look for is the biggest “gulp factor.” That is, which of the passages will be the hardest to preach on, because that is where the best message may be. The passage that causes you to “gulp” as you read it, that makes you uncomfortable as you read it… can have the lesson you need, but will struggle to hear.
It is… odd…funny…perhaps, but as I studied the passage – what became the gulp factor wasn’t that God was portrayed as being a compassionate mother… or the frequent descriptions of female anatomy and nursing. Those are awkward at best… but the gulp factor is…more challenging.
What is more challenging is this description of God being so compassionate, so comforting, so caring, for His people….
So much so, that instead of using a father as an illustration, God chooses to use one of the most intuitively intimate descriptions that we know of in life.
The question that faces us today is, are we able to be the infant in that picture? Can we be that completely dependent on God, not just for the sustenance that will give us life, but for the comfort, that will overpower our anxieties, our inabilities.
So – let’s all take a big gulp – and see how deep the love and compassion of God is for us.
Are We Willing to Be Comforted?
If I am to take this passage seriously, I have to come to grips with this picture of God. He is the God who provides for us that which is necessary for life, but also, even as He does, He brings comfort to His children, to His people. With such care, such tenderness that the picture of a mom nursing her baby… is what describes His love best!
It seems to me that we shouldn’t ever outgrow this “phase”, as infants eventually grow into toddlers, then children, the teens and into adulthood. But maturing as a believer isn’t about becoming more independent of God, even though we might like to define it that way!
That’s counter-intuitive, and even more counter-cultural. Our world tells us we should become stronger, more self-sufficient, more driven, that we should grow and that means we should need less. Our culture dreads the loss of independence. Most of us dread the days we will have to depend on someone else completely. Yet, Israel – even after the height of growth, would come to need God more – yes for sustenance, but even more for comfort.
Perhaps this is why we struggle with this so much – if you asked us if we are willing to be comforted by God, most of us would have the same answer we would to having to depend on anyone else.
“Not today – I think I’ve got it handled”
“Let me try and fix it one more time… then I’ll pray about it and ask God for help.”
I think that is why God pictures us here as infants, not as toddlers or preschoolers!
There is something in us, that finds trusting in God difficult, because we want to make it a decision, a choice, rather than the intuitive relationship, like that that exists between a mother and a newborn.
We’d rather do it on our own, to not be known as those needy for God’s presence and provision. If we were asked, most of us were to stubborn to take what God brings to us, we would rather starve and die than eat of His heavenly nourishment. That’ why Jesus says we must have faith like and infant.
It’s my prayer that the church everywhere, and especially here, embrace God’s provision and comfort, as easily as a newborn babe. That we would be so overjoyed in God’s presence – that we just relax in His arms, and as ecstatic as an infant on his mom’s lap.
Rejoice, Be Glad, Rejoice
You see, that’s what this is all about – a relationship that we have with God, that goes beyond our ability to explain – one that we pour the energy of our voices into in song, in our praises as we realize His presence.
I want you to notice, that it’s not the infant that Isaiah describes rejoicing – even though the joy and peace is evident. The contentment of a nursing infant is incredible – even for dads who took the late night feeding. The mother’s joy is also incredible, as life flows from one to the other, and so it is for God, as He nourishes us. Isaiah asks others to witness the joy, to share in the joy as well – to be glad (remember – that’s to dance!) for the people of God who have been comforted, who drink deeply of God’s provision, who know little to put to words, but turn easily to Him, and His love.
Verse 14 talks of witnessing this – and our hearts rejoicing – and our lives grow like the grasses that shoot up in the desert after a rain. Much as we rejoice when God claims another here at the baptismal font, much as we rejoice when we come to the altar – and are fed by Christ… as we are fed through His word and through prayer.
I mentioned a little bit ago, that for the infant – it isn’t a matter of thinking and deliberation when it turns to his momma, or when it cries for her attention. It is instead an intuitive action, as it is for the mom to go to her child. That my friend is how we need to react with God, we turn to Him because we know He will answer our need – even if we can’t put words to it. I love how Luther put it as he explains the First Commandment in the Large Catechism:
“You shall have no other gods.”
1 That is, you shall regard me alone as your God. What does this mean, and how is it to be understood? What is to have a god? What is God?
2 Answer: A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.
I always wondered why a newborn knows the difference between the females that hold him or her. How does it know the difference between mom, and auntie, and grammy or cousin? For that matter, why does the baby scream when some guy picks him up?
The infant just knows, the same way we know God is God. He provides what we need, there is a desire to bring us peace and comfort, to provide what is needed. There is a joy that is beyond description as He feeds us, as He strengthens us, as He comforts us.
Which is why growing in Christ is not about growing in freedom from God, but recognizing our need for His interaction in our life. We grow to depend on His nourishment, and His comfort, for it is through that we grow to adore Him more and more.
For in bringing us comfort, it pours out on us as His peace, the peace that passes all understanding, and in which we are kept safe, our hearts and minds – by Christ…