Forbes magazine, that font of capitalist wisdom, entitled its seventy-fifth anniversary issue “Why We Feel So Bad When We Have It So Good.” It sported articles by some of the media luminaries of our time: Peggy Noonan…, George Bush, and Dan Rather; the Nobel laureate Saul Bellow, writing of the disillusionment that comes from our cultural fascination with affluence; and the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, warning us of the weary discontent haunting a nation surprised to discover that “economic and material goods are no compensation for social and moral ills.”
Sounds pretty bad. Sounds like we are, as a society, joyless. It also sounds like Forbes magazine was being rather prophetic, like a voice crying out in the consumerist wilderness. Not unlike the two great prophets we heard from this morning, Isaiah and John the Baptist, Forbes is able to identify and call out a problem; but very much unlike our prophets, it’s not able to fix it or provide any comfort to the afflicted.
We just heard Isaiah report the words of the Lord: “O Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” “In the sorrows of life, who does not long for comfort? Who would not melt with gratitude at the tender comfort of God? Yet what is comfort?
“When we want it, sometimes what we want is just what the good shepherd gives his lost sheep. We don’t want to walk along the road of our life to the Lord. We want God to carry us. But a child that is carried all the time will never learn to walk, to leap and run. That child, weak enough already to be carried, will get only weaker as the carrying goes on.
“And comfort isn’t a matter of giving weakness. It’s a matter of giving strength—strength for walking, even over very rough roads. In fact, the “-fort” in “comfort” comes from the Latin word for “strong.” The “com-” in “comfort” is from the Latin word for “with.” To give comfort to someone is to lend him some of your strength. He is more able to stand on his own feet and walk because you are with him.”
And yet, on the face of it, we haven’t known John the Baptist as a comforting figure (and most of us probably haven’t known much about Isaiah at all). The Baptist can come off as a bit of a raving lunatic: how many people have you known who wander out into the wilderness to preach about repentance and to call out the sins of the mighty among us? Let me ask that another way: how many do you know who do those things without the hope of being paid to do those things? Who might expect death rather than cake?
And John the Baptist words rarely evoke comfort, at least the way we tend to read and say them. My favorite quote from the Baptist is him calling the Pharisees a “brood of vipers.” Not very nice. “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie,” sounds like the ominous plot of a Michael Bay movie.
That is, until we remember who stood in those sandals the Baptist was unworthy of. Who it was John was trying to prepare us for. John the Baptist was stirring his people up, for sure, but he was stirring them up for hope, for the hope and strength and comfort that is God walking among us.
‘I have baptized you with water,” said the Baptist, “but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” All who come to Jesus become His own; because we have received the baptism Jesus offers, we have the comfort of being cleansed from our sins, the freedom to pursue righteousness, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. What immense strength comes from that. “O Comfort, comfort my people,’ says our God.
 John Kavanaugh: http://liturgy.slu.edu/2AdvB121017/theword_kavanaugh.html
 Eleanor Stump: http://liturgy.slu.edu/2AdvB121017/reflections_stump.html