Thursday, December 14, 2017

Evening Prayer In the Week of Populus Zion (Commemoration of St. Lucia, Martyr)

Matthew 13:44-52; 2 Corinthians 10:17 – 11:2; Song of Songs 6:1-3

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. Lucia was born in Sicily in the year 283 A.D. to rich parents, members of the nobility. Lucia’s father died when she was still very young, so she and her mother Eutychia were left alone.  Eutychia taught and raised Lucia in the Christian faith, and Lucia became a very devout and pious young woman. In fact, even though they had great wealth, Lucia desired to devote all her worldly goods to the service of the poor. Her mother, however, did not permit her to do this.
But, then something occurred that changed her mother's mind. Eutychia had been suffering for several years from a hemorrhage, a chronic flow of blood. Lucia prayed for her mother's healing and, evidently, her prayer was answered. Her mother was restored to health; the hemorrhage stopped. In response to this wonderful gift of healing from God, Eutychia permitted Lucia to have her wish and to distribute the vast majority of her share of the families’ wealth to the poor.
There was just one problem. Lucia had been unwillingly betrothed to a deceitful young man who was not a Christian. He loved Lucia's riches more than her. When she gave away her wealth, he was furious with her. His greediness moved him to get revenge. He went to the governor of Sicily and exposed the fact to him that Lucia was a Christian. This was during the year 303 when Christianity was still illegal and Emperor Diocletian's persecution of the church was taking place. All that someone had to do was denounce a person publicly to the authorities, and that person would be arrested. If they didn't deny or recant their faith by cursing Christ and offering incense to Caesar, they could be killed.
Lucia did not recant or deny her faith in Christ even under this threat. As a result she was tortured, her eyes were put out, and she was executed, perhaps having been burned at the stake. Her martyr's death immediately made her famous in Sicily, and the story of her life and death, with some embellishments, lives on to this day.
Particularly in Sweden, Lucia is remembered on December 13th by having one of the daughters of the house dress in a white robe with a crown of lighted candles and go singing from room to room early in the morning while it is still dark to awaken the other family members and to offer them cakes of bread. There are several reasons for this tradition. First of all, Lucia is said to have once brought bread to needy people who were living in a cave. This gift reminds us of Lucia's faith that Jesus is the Bread of Life.
The other aspects of this tradition are also important. The white robe is a reminder of the holiness of the saints who have died in Christ, and indeed of all those buried with Christ in baptism. It is written of Christians in the book of Revelation, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” Jesus Christ. St. Lucia's holiness arose not from her own goodness or her virginity but from the cleansing forgiveness of Christ.
The crown of candles is also significant for a couple of reasons. First of all, it indicates that even when Lucia no longer had her eyes, she still had the light of Christ to walk by. She could yet “see” by faith, far better than any of her persecutors could ever see. Though physically blind, she had better vision than any unbeliever, for she was enlightened with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as we confess in the catechism. Furthermore, the fact that these candles are worn as a crown is a reminder of the crown of glory that all believers shall inherit through Christ in heaven. Though her life in this world ended in darkness and death, her eternal existence is one of light and life, even as it is for all the faithful. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.”
Jesus entered our world of darkness by literally becoming one of us. He was born in meekness and humility that He might embrace us with the light of His presence. December 25th was chosen as the date to celebrate Jesus' birth, not so much because that is the likely date of His actual birth, but because that is the time of year, near the winter solstice, when the days are shortest and the world is darkest. In pagan religion this day would be observed as Sol Invictus, the day of the “unconquerable sun,” s-u-n, because from that point forward, the days would get longer and the light would win over the darkness. Christians took that pagan festival and made it Christian, applying it to the Unconquerable Son, S-o-n. For even as the days from December 25th onward get longer and lighter, so with the coming of Jesus, Light wins out over the powers of darkness. Though Jesus suffered on the cross under a dark shroud as the sacrifice for our sin, on the third day He came forth from the gloom of death in resurrection light. He is indeed the Unconquerable Son, and through faith in Him we too are conquerors, victors over sin, death and the devil.
St. Lucia bore witness to that fact in her life and in her death. In fact the word “martyr” literally means “witness.”  In giving away much of her goods and wealth to help the poor, she bore witness to the love of Christ, who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich. She bore witness to a belief in God as the Creator who can and will provide for all of our daily needs. And in death she bore witness to God as the Re-creator, who is more powerful than death. She testified that she loved the Lord and His salvation even more than life itself in this world. Like Abraham, she was looking for a better country, a heavenly one. She knew that the only way to have life in the world to come is to lay down your life in the world that is.
So it is also for you, especially in this Adventide as you set your hearts on the coming of the Lord. You may not be called to be a martyr, but you are given to bear witness to Christ in word and deed and to take up your cross and follow Him. Jesus said, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Baptized into Christ, you are given to live the pattern of His life – humility before glory, death before resurrection, crucifying your old Adam that Christ may be pre-eminent and that His life may show forth in and through you.
This life of repentance and faith is not easy. It is truly a narrow road on which you are called to run. But along this road, Hebrews says, you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses: Abraham and Joseph and Moses, Gideon and David and Samuel, prophets and apostles, saints and martyrs. And above all, you are upheld by Him who laid this path and ran it for you, Jesus. Consider Him, Hebrews says, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Your road will end up where Christ's ended up, for you are in Him. What is now only a candle in the darkness will soon be the dawning of the everlasting Day of resurrection at Jesus’ return. Let that joy set before you give you endurance in the faith.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Populus Zion – The Second Sunday In Advent (Advent 2)

Luke 21:25-36; Romans 15:4-13; Malachi 4:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
If you needed a reminder that Advent is not Christmas, today’s Gospel and Old Testament readings surely ought to set you straight. Both texts describe the end of the world in terms of solar, lunar, and planetary cataclysm, global natural catastrophe, and scorching fire leaving neither root nor branch. Our Lord states that “heaven and earth will pass away,” and, to illustrate, St. Peter adds that the very elements themselves, of which all things are made, shall melt with fervent heat so that the heavens and the earth will be dissolved. What our Lord and the Holy Scriptures describe is nothing short of the undoing of Creation. He who made all things will unmake all things that He might make all things new once again.
Do these things frighten you? Do they fill you with terror? They should not. They must not. Indeed, your Lord Jesus exhorts you and encourages you, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Truly, if these things frighten you and terrify you, that should be a sign to you that you just might have some misunderstanding about this world and the things in it, and your God who made this world and all things. You just might have a misunderstanding about what constitutes your life and what does not. Jesus says that you should be encouraged, happy, even joyful that this world and everything in it is passing away. Understand, this includes your very own flesh and blood body, and the flesh and blood bodies of your husband, your wife, your children, your friends, and all those you love.
But, this is a good thing! How is it a good thing? It is good that your flesh will be destroyed, for it is your flesh and its passions and desires that are at war with your spirit in Christ so that the good you would do you do not do, while the bad that you would not do you continually find yourself doing.Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” It is good that material things and worldly wealth, which tempt you so to sin and to idolatry, will be destroyed. If you are fearful of losing these things, if you are fearful of losing your life, then this Word is for you – “Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”
Please note, your Lord does not want you to be terrified. Your Lord wants you to be watching and waiting in hopeful expectation. If you are baptized, and your fear, love, and trust is in your Lord Jesus, then there is no reason for you to be afraid. The day of His coming is not a day of dread and terror for you. It is not a day of judgment and condemnation for you, but it is the day of your salvation, your vindication, and your justification. Because you are watching and waiting each and every day of your life, you cannot possibly be surprised when your Lord Jesus comes, but you must fully expect to see Him coming soon, perhaps very soon, perhaps today, or tomorrow, or the day after that. Why? Look at the signs! Look at the signs all around you! Are there not wars and rumors of wars all around you? Are not nations rising up against nations? Are not peoples and nations in distress and perplexity? Are not your neighbors fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world? Are there not signs in sun, moon, and stars? Is not the earth itself in distress? Yes! Surely, yes!
But, then, such has always been the case. Such was the case in the days of Jesus and the Apostles. It was to them in first century Israel that your Lord spoke these words, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.” Surely Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled within forty years, a biblical generation, when the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed the city and its temple. Indeed, the signs of the end have always been, and always will be, until the Last Day actually comes. That is why Jesus teaches the parable of the fig tree and all trees: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” Just as the fig tree and all trees go through annual cycles of budding, leafing, bearing fruit, and returning to dormancy each year, so the signs of the decay of the universe, of the heavens and the earth, and of your own bodies are self-evident to all who will simply wake up and pay attention. Truly, the signs of the end are self-evident in your own flesh, in your failing ears and eyes, knees and backs. On a personal level, there is no denying that the end is coming soon and is, in fact, a little closer each day.
And so it is with the coming of your Lord. You are a deluded fool if you deny or fail to take seriously that the day of judgment is drawing ever nearer. But, again, that day should not terrify you, but you should watch for that day in hopeful expectation. No, I am not suggesting that you should walk around in detached and aloof manner, careless of the concerns of the world you inhabit. Many Christians do this and thereby neglect their God-given vocations in this world. No, you must not merely sit back and wait for Christ’s return, refusing to get involved in the messy worldliness of politics and society and culture, but you are to be actively involved in the world, without being of the world, as the salt, leaven, and light of Christ that others may walk in the light of Christ and not in the darkness of sin and death.
No, aloof detachment is not the appropriate response, but peaceful contentment most certainly is. “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” “For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” Because you have nothing to fear at the Lord’s coming, for His coming means for you redemption and salvation, you may view these things the way a mother views the pangs of childbirth – as a light momentary affliction that is preparing you for an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison. Truly, contentment and peace are more precious and valuable than are happiness and joy, though the Lord may grant that these accompany them. Moreover, your contentment and peace are a powerful witness to your faith in the promises of the LORD fulfilled and kept in your Savior Jesus Christ.
Indeed, no small measure of your contentment and your peace comes from the fact that you are not enslaved to the desires of the flesh and to material and worldly possessions and pursuits, but you are truly free in the knowledge that this world and everything in it is passing away. You have made your treasure in heaven and not on earth, and it cannot be moved or be taken from you. Therefore, you are free to live in contentment and peace with all, even with unbelievers, and with those who hate you. There is nothing for you to lose. There is nothing that they can take from you that will endure, not even your life. For, your hope is not in holding on to things that are fleeting and passing away, but in holding on to the eternal and unchangeable things – to Jesus, His Word, eternal life, and salvation.
Even God’s holy and perfect Law is no longer a threat to you. No longer does it terrify you with its threats of punishment and damnation, but you actually love it and want to keep it, for you know its wisdom and its goodness. The Law is no longer your fearsome taskmaster and judge, but it is the LORD’s righteous, holy, good, and loving rule and order of things. Your new man, the new spirit created within you by the Holy Spirit through baptism and faith knows God’s Law, agrees with God’s Law, loves God’s Law, desires to keep God’s Law, and actually does works according to God’s Law, works that are truly good before the LORD because they are purified in the blood of Jesus through faith. Thus St. Paul exhorts you to good works saying, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” For the faithful, the Law is not a source of terror, but it is a cause for encouragement. Thanks be to God that the Law will never pass away, but, rather, that it has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ!
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” This is the LORD’s exhortation to you this Advent – Hope. Christ has come. Christ comes. And, Christ is coming. This truth is our hope at Advent, and at all times in the Church’s Year of Grace. Because of our fear, love, and trust in God’s Word of promise, we have hope for the fulfilling of all things. Therefore, we wait and watch hopefully and expectantly for Christ’s coming and do not get weighed down with worldly and fleshly pursuits, cares, and pleasures. In truth, you are more useful to the world in sharing the reason for the hope that is in you than you are quarreling with your neighbors about politics and the latest social or moral disagreement. In truth, you are more useful to the world when you stay a course of constancy and contentment and peace while the world around you is in perplexity and distress because of what is happening as it slips speedily into inevitable decline and decay.
And so, this Adventide is a time of peace and contentment and of hopeful expectation, even as it exhorts you to wakefulness and watchfulness, for the temptations the world and your own flesh set before you to dissipation and drunkenness are many and ceaseless. Thus, the Church of Jesus Christ prays in the Advent collects, “Stir up our hearts, O Lord,” that we might be roused from slumber to heed the signs of the time and to watch hopefully and expectantly for His coming. “Stir up our hearts, O Lord,” that we might be found awake and watching when He comes.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Evening Prayer In the Week of Ad Te Levavi (Commemoration of St. Nicholas)

Luke 12:35-40; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
One of the complaints that Christians often voice at this time of year is that Christmas has become too commercialized and too secularized. Far too many people observe the holy day of the Christ mass without any acknowledgment of Christ at all. Everything's about parties and presents and TV specials without any reverence for, or meditation on, the main focus of Christmas, namely, the incarnation of our Lord, His taking on of our flesh to save us.  Santa Claus gets more attention than Jesus.
Perhaps, however, this problem can begin to be corrected by understanding where the legend of Santa Claus comes from and the actual historical basis of who he is. Most of us have heard of Santa Claus referred to as St. Nick or St. Nicholas. And, in fact, that's where the name comes from – Santa is the word for Saint and Claus is a shortened form in Dutch of the word NicholasSanta Claus, St. Nicholas.
Now, Santa Claus has become the stuff of fairy tales and has been influenced in many ways by pagan notions. But St. Nicholas was a real person who lived in the early fourth century A.D. Since December 6th is the day on which Nicholas is recognized in the church, we shall focus a bit on his life this evening and meditate on what it has to teach us about Christ and Christmas.
Nicholas was born into a wealthy family in Asia Minor, what is now Turkey. Having become a Christian, Nicholas chose not to pursue a life of riches but instead devoted himself to the church. He eventually became bishop of a city called Myra. Myra was a decadent and corrupt city, and Nicholas became well known for transforming it by his pious hard work and preaching of the Word of Christ.
St. Nicholas was also known for his love of those in need, such as poor widows and orphaned children. As bishop, he saw to it that the church worked to care for the needy. Perhaps his giving of gifts, especially to impoverished children, is part of what formed the Santa Claus tradition.
There is one story in particular about Nicholas that stands out above the rest and is the most famous. There was a man in the city of Myra who had three daughters. But this man did not have enough money to provide his daughters with suitable dowries necessary for them to get married in those days. Without being able to marry it was likely that they were to end up as prostitutes. Nicholas was deeply troubled about this, and he decided to help. But he chose to do so in a way that wouldn't draw attention to himself. Evidently taking from his own resources, Nicholas prepared three bags of gold. On three successive nights St. Nicholas went to this man's house and threw a bag of gold into one of the open windows – one bag of gold each night for each of the three daughters, sufficient to provide each of them with the necessary dowry. Later on when this story was told in colder regions, Nicholas was portrayed dropping the bags of gold down the chimney. Still to this day three golden bags or golden spheres are the sign of a pawnbroker, in remembrance of how Nicholas purchased these three daughters out of hock, you might say, redeeming and rescuing them from the fate that awaited them.
There are many more accounts of Nicholas helping others, too. For instance, once there were three men who were falsely accused of a crime and sentenced to death. But Nicholas stepped in and spoke in their defense and was able to secure their release and give them their lives back.
It's interesting that in all the stories of St. Nicholas that I've seen, the number three keeps popping up – three daughters without dowries, three falsely accused men, three sailors whom he rescued from drowning. And this is fitting, for Nicholas was a steadfast defender of the Trinitarian faith, someone who proclaimed belief in the one and only true God who is threefold: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In fact, it is quite possible that St. Nicholas was one of the bishops present at the Council of Nicaea, which defended and confirmed the teaching that Jesus is both true God and true man. It is from this council in 325 A.D. that we get the Nicene Creed, which we confess here each week. A certain false preacher named Arius was teaching that Jesus was not of the same substance as the Father, that the Son of God was a created being, god-like but not true God. The Council of Nicaea roundly rejected that heresy and reaffirmed the Scriptural position that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human in one undivided person, true God from all eternity. There is even a legend that St. Nicholas punched the heretic Arius in the nose!
Whether or not Nicholas was present at that Council, he was a defender of that faith, faith in Christ the Son of God as the only Savior from sin and death and the devil. Nicholas preached Jesus, baptized people into Jesus' body, absolved people of their sins in Jesus' Name, fed them with the life-giving body and blood of Jesus. This is the real St. Nicholas. He wasn't a Santa Claus taking attention away from Jesus. He was a preacher drawing everyone's attention to Jesus. He wasn't one making a list and checking it twice to see who was naughty and who was nice, for he knew that his people were both sinners and saints at the same time and that all desperately needed Christ's forgiveness and mercy.
By God's grace the love of Christ was shown forth both in St. Nicholas' preaching and also in his life. We give attention to the generous deeds of Nicholas because that ultimately draws our attention to the infinitely generous love that he himself first received from God. It was that love of God that was working through Nicholas in his life.
After all, just consider his deeds. Nicholas sacrificed and gave of his own resources to save the three daughters. Is that not what Jesus did for us? He sacrificed and gave Himself for us to rescue us from being eternally violated by death and the devil. He redeemed us not with bags of gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. So it is that we are now worthy and prepared to be His holy bride.
Likewise, Nicholas stood in to defend those facing death, risking his own name and reputation. Is that not what Jesus did and still does for us? He stood between us and eternal death on the cross and thereby kept us from having to suffer that most capital of all punishments. Furthermore, the Scriptures say that even now Jesus is standing before the Father as our advocate, speaking in our defense, responding to every charge laid against us with the merits of His own blood and righteousness. Through Him we are set free to be people of God.
The same love of Christ that was at work in St. Nicholas is at work also in you. For in your baptism you were crucified with Christ; and you no longer live, but Christ lives in you and through you. The Lord is working in you so that His boundless love which has been shown to you might spill over to others, in the giving of yourself, in the giving of gifts – not so that you can feel good about yourself or draw attention to yourself, but giving that is anonymous and entirely for the good of others, like a bag of gold through an open window at night. That's why I think it is a fine tradition for someone who gives an anonymous gift to say that it's from Santa Claus, St. Nicholas. For such a gift is given in a spirit that reflects the love of Christ as Nicholas did, and ultimately it seeks to give glory not to ourselves but to God who is the true Giver of every good and perfect gift.
Indeed every present that we give is a sign of that Greatest Gift of all, the Christ child in the manger – given to us almost anonymously, noticed only by shepherds on that night, recognized and received only by few throughout His life. But hidden within the wrapping of His lowly humanity dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily full of grace and mercy. Jesus is Love in the flesh for you. There is no greater present than that. That is the ultimate gift St. Nicholas sought to give.
So is there such a person as Santa Claus? Of course there is. If you don't believe in the existence of St. Nicholas, you might as well not believe in the existence of Mary or Joseph or the shepherds or the wise men. Sure you're not going to find him sliding down your chimney. But he is with us whenever we gather for divine service. For in Christ's presence dwell angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, all the saints and believers who have gone before us. Thank God that St. Nicholas lives. He lives forever because, just like you, he was baptized and believed in Jesus, who was born, and died, and rose for us all.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Ad Te Levavi - The First Sunday In Advent (Advent 1)

Matthew 21:1-9; Romans 13:8-14; Jeremiah 23:5-8

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, before our LORD spoke Light and order into the primordial chaos and darkness of the yet unformed world, so is our world very dark and chaotic today. I do not have to tell you this, for you know it to be true. Chaotic darkness is all around you, threatening you, enticing you, encroaching upon you, your family, your church, your nation, and your world. As the LORD once spoke to murderous Cain, so is it true today: “Sin is crouching at your door; its desire is to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Moreover, our sense of darkness is heightened by the very real and natural darkness that surrounds us this time of year as well. For many of us, it is dark when we get up in the morning, and it is dark when we come home after work or school. Such darkness is distressing and depressing for many. Indeed, it is a well-documented fact that depression, suicide, and deaths in general, increase this time of the year, particularly after Christmas and the New Year, when the family has gone, when the decorations have come down, when Christmas trees are chucked to the curb, and the disappointing realization of unfulfilled expectations sets in. We need light. We need the sun. We need each other. And, we need our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the world. We simply cannot live healthy and productive lives in darkness and solitude, how much less in the spiritual chaos, darkness, and isolation of sin and death.
Thus, Advent is good news! Behold! Your Lord, Emmanuel, God with us, comes to you! Lift up your heads, you children of God, you children of Light! Advent is a time to remember even more intentionally your LORD’s promises made, kept, and yet to be fully realized in Jesus Christ. The very word Advent means “to come,” and during this season of the Church’s Year of Grace, we remember that Jesus has come as the Babe of Bethlehem, that He comes amongst us now in Word and Water, Body and Blood, and that He is coming again soon, on a day and hour we cannot know to take us to the home he has prepared for us in His Father’s house. Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, the Light no darkness can overcome, has already come into the world, even as He comes amongst us now, and He is surely coming again, unveiled and all-glorious, on the Last Day. Light has come; Light comes; and Light is coming. Your salvation comes. In truth, His Light is shining even now in the darkness. And yet, many prefer darkness to the Light, because their deeds are evil.
Be honest with yourself. You, too, have often preferred to dwell in darkness. The evil that you thought, did, and spoke, the things you didn’t do that you should have done, do they not nag at you night and day and cause you to attempt to cover them up, to hide them, or to rationalize, justify, and explain them away? But, that never works, does it? At least, not for long. It never works because Satan will not let you off the hook. Although he tempts you to sin, once you do, not only does he not praise you, but he begins to accuse you, and he never stops. Thus, the more you try to hide, to deny, or to justify your sinful behavior, the more you seek the cover of darkness, the farther you drive yourself away from the one thing that can bring you true comfort, peace, and relief – the Light of God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Therefore, do not hide in the darkness, do not try to cover the guilt and shame of your sin as our First Parents did in the Garden, but rather, expose yourself, drop your fig-leaves of self-justification, and bask in the cleansing, purifying, forgiving, and healing grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Our Lord Jesus comes to us, dwelling in the darkness of our sin and death. He comes to us as one of us, as our brother and as our Bridegroom, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bones, to lead us out of slavery and captivity, not to Pharaoh and the Egyptians as of old, but from slavery and captivity to sin and death, Satan, and hell. He comes to us who cannot come to Him to raise us from death to life, to make us a people who, on our own, are no people. He comes to gather us and to unify us as a nation, as a family, as His body, His Bride, His Church. He comes to bring us into our own land, into His Father’s land, where He rules as Lord and King in righteousness. He did not come as worldly kings do, with armies and chariots and warhorses and power and glory and destruction, but He came in humility and lowliness. He came as the Babe of Bethlehem, born in a scandalous manner of a virgin manner. He came as the carpenter’s son from backwater Nazareth. He came as an itinerant rabbi riding on lowly donkey, a beast of burden. He came as a king whose throne was a not a gilt and jeweled dais in a palace, but a cross of wood on forsaken hill outside the city walls. He did not come to judge, but to save by laying down His life unto death for you. And, even now He comes, not in power and great glory, with judgment and terror, but He comes to us still in humility under the lowly forms of bread and wine, water and word, to forgive our sins anew, to strengthen our faith, to keep, preserve, sustain, and protect, and to equip and send us bearing His gifts for the life of the world.
Yet, still, our Lord is coming in power and glory and great might as King and Judge on a day and hour we cannot know. And, on that day, every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. But you need not be terrified that that day should spring upon you like a trap, for you have already been given everything that you need to be well prepared for that day. The LORD has called you by His Holy Spirit through His Word of the Gospel, has enlightened you with His gifts, and still sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith in the Church, the body of Jesus Christ. You need only to remain in Him, that is, receive His gifts and keep His Word, gladly hearing it and learning it, and your lamps will be full with the oil of faith overflowing in good works that serve your neighbor and glorify our God and Father. In this regard, St. Paul does not tell you what to do so much as what to be: “Owe no one anything except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. […] Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” However, St. Paul does warn you to be awake, watchful, and wary of the darkness that surrounds you saying, “Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
Advent is the beginning of a new Church Year, another year to live and grow and serve in the grace of the Lord. It is appropriate that the Church of Jesus Christ observes a different calendar than does the secular world, for while She is in the world, the Church is not of the world, but She is for the world. Thus, the Church also speaks differently, dresses differently, sings differently, and values different things, and rightly so, for if the Church looks too much like the world, then She will not be able to influence the world for the better. The Church cannot be a light shining in the darkness if She blends in with the darkness. Even so, the Church is always looking forward and stepping out in faith. She does not dwell on the past, Her sins, idolatries, and failings, but She confesses Her sins and failures of faith and She trusts in the atoning and cleansing blood of Her Lord, Savior, and Bridegroom Jesus Christ. She knows that each day is the day of salvation, one day nearer than when She first believed. Therefore, do not worry about what happened yesterday, last week, or last year. Today is the day of salvation. Today your salvation is nearer to you than when you first believed! Rather, you should embrace this Advent New Year as a new opportunity to let the Light of Christ shine through you.
Daughter of Zion, Behold, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted in, with, and under this bread and wine. He comes to you who cannot come to Him to forgive you, to strengthen your faith, to keep, sustain, and protect you, and to equip and send you to love others with His love. Truly, your salvation is nearer to you now than when you first believed. Indeed, your salvation is as near as His flesh that you eat and His blood that you drink. This is how He saves you. Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna! God, save us! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.