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Hallo again to all.

For us, and for many people we know, Advent 2016 has been a time of needing great comfort. Even while we await the coming of Jesus both by birth and resurrection, and derive some comfort from abstract thoughts of a saviour whose shoulder we have never touched, we shamelessly feel the need for more sources of comfort. Or the right sources of comfort.

Our NIV edition of the Bible contains the word 'comfort' in 71 places. In translated material we have to be careful about counting word usage, but we note as an example of its importance that 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says 'Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.' Paul knew that his audience would always be looking for sources of comfort amidst suffering and distress, and knew that they expected the God he was evangelising to be a source of comfort.

We don't know very many contemporary people who admit that they would turn first to God as a source of comfort or solace. We haven't taken a poll, but we suspect that if we did, we'd hear answers including music, artistic expression, food, reading, watching old movies, or perhaps participation in athletics. A common theme when we have heard people talk about sources of comfort is that being comforted involves a way to revisit a positive experience. If you are trying to comfort yourself with a recorded song or music video, you probably will pick a song that you've heard many times before. It's hard for a piece of music that you've never heard before to achieve instant 'comfort' status.

'Comfort food', a well-known phrase, usually means revisiting childhood favourites. Comfort reading involves well-worn books; if you visit friends for comfort you probably gravitate towards those you have known a very long time. An elderly relative used to re-read the book of Job when she wanted to feel comforted. Her late husband listened to solo saxophone recordings. A former colleague kept a copy of 'Goodnight Moon' at his desk, and read it out loud to himself when he needed to stabilize his emotions.

There is very little that is more comforting to us than a familiar worship service in a familiar-feeling place with familiar music. Having familiar people around us is an added bonus. We find organ music comforting because we have nearly always attended churches using organ music in worship. We recognize that to someone whose life experience in worship music had always included an electric guitar and drums, organ music would not be as comforting as an expertly-used Fender Telecaster. But we've had young families leave our parish to worship elsewhere because they found that familiarity to be boring or unimaginative or spiritually unchallenging. Their comfort needs were obviously different from ours.

It is at times of loss that the search for (and need for) comfort is strongest. We started to write 'times of great loss', but realized we couldn't meaningfully quantify loss. Once we had a dear friend of many decades pass away within a few days of the passing of a 17-year-old cat. We are glad no one asked us which of those losses was greater; the very question, despite being unanswerable, would have made both losses worse.

Tell us what comforts you. We pray that something does, and we are so blessed to be able to take comfort from worship and church.

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18 December 2016

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