Have you ever had occasion to say to someone, “Now, calm down. Take a deep breath. Everything is going to be alright.”?
Maybe you spoke it to a child after that skinned knee or to your wife after telling her you will fix that leaky faucet yourself, no need for the plumber. These days, we may need to speak it to someone on the verge of panic because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We may need to speak it to ourselves because of growing concerns about our health and the health and safety of our loved ones. Or, perhaps the sudden ill health of our financial condition.
“Take a deep breath. Everything is going to be alright.” Really?
Yes, really, says your God.
“Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2).
The primitive root behind the Hebrew word for “comfort” is to sigh or breathe deeply. It is the Hebrew equivalent of “cool it” or “chill.” And it is repeated. That’s the Hebrew equivalent of the Energizer bunny, it just keeps going and going. God wants Isaiah to speak to His people and tell them to take a deep breath, everything is going to be alright. God tells him to “speak tenderly.” Literally this is “speak to the heart.” God ‘s word of comfort does more than sound nice. It does things. It speaks to our hearts, fears, struggles, and griefs. It says, “Take a deep breath. Everything is going to be alright.” in regard to very real things going on in our lives.
God continues and tells Isaiah and us why we can take this deep breath. First, our “warfare is ended.” Warfare continues against this virus, but obviously that’s not what God is talking about. Another warfare intertwines itself in all of this—spiritual warfare. The devil delights in fear and doubt and uncertainty. Such things allow him to launch his favorite line, “Did God really say? Did God really say He’s in control, He’s with you, He’s at work in your life? It sure doesn’t look that way.”
Take a deep breath, God ended warfare against this old evil foe. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8b). Because of Jesus’ cross and empty tomb, that’s a done deal says Luther. “He can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done.” We do not strive for victory over the devil. We strive in victory already won! Take a deep breath. Everything is going to be alright. “One little word can fell him.”
Take a deep breath. Your “iniquity is pardoned.” The virus of iniquity eats away at the soul. We know we do not trust God as we should during these troubled times. We doubt and question and grumble. And that’s just the First Commandment. There are all those other ones we break in thought if not in word and deed. When we confront our iniquity, and the sickness of our soul, we realize we can do nothing about it. But God has done something. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). God pardons our iniquity, not because of good behavior, but because Jesus suffered the judgement and paid the penalty in our place. Take a deep breath. Everything is going to be alright. Your iniquity is pardoned.
One final reason we can take a deep breath. We have “received from the LORD’s hand double for all [our] sins.” To understand the comfort of these words, we need to brush off a little Algebra. If we deserve X amount of punishment because of our sins, God will give us 2X the amount of His grace! Twice as much as we need! Overflowing! Boundless! God surrounds us with His grace. We live in it. Nothing can touch our lives without passing through the grace of God in Jesus. Viruses, fears, uncertainty—He touches them all with His grace and uses them for our ultimate good. Take a deep breath. Everything is going to be alright. You live in double grace!
“Comfort, comfort . . .” You have comfort, not because your circumstances are all good but because your God is all good. He speaks His Word of comfort to your hearts, right into your lives. He defeated the devil. He pardoned your iniquity for Jesus’ sake. You live in His boundless grace. He’s got this! Take a deep breath. Everything is going to be alright.
The Greek equivalent to the Hebrew for “comfort” is “paraclete.” A literal meaning is someone called alongside to speak for you, defend you, help you. Not surprising then that Scripture gives the name “paraclete,” Comforter, to the Holy Spirit. Jesus sent Him to walk beside us and help us.
LFS uses 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 as our theme verse. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the 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.”
Our mission statement flows from this. “We walk with people who are experiencing hard times and are there for them just as God has been there for us.” We reduce that even further to “We will walk with you.”
Social distancing does not keep us from doing this! We have “walk-with-you” resources available on our website, Facebook page, and via email specifically for COVID-19 concerns, faith concerns, daily prayers and more. We can walk with individuals, couples and families in need of counselling using smartphones or computers to bring our counselors to them. We can walk with adopting couples through video calls. Women facing crisis pregnancies can reach out to us via text, phone or email.
Life has changed for all of us and not for the better. But God does not change; nor does His Word. “Comfort, comfort my people says your God.” Take a deep breath. Everything is going to be alright.
Rev. Dr. Jim Lamb – Life Advocate for Lutheran Family Service