Sunday, December 18, 2011

Homily for Rorate Coeli (The Fourth Sunday in Advent)


John 1:19-28; Philippians 4:4-7; Deuteronomy 18:15-19

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you.” “The Lord is at hand.” “Among you stands one you do not know.” “The LORD is near to all who call on Him.” Do you notice how the unseen, real, and true presence of our Lord now permeates our liturgy this day? For the past several weeks you have been exhorted to prepare for His coming. Now, it would seem, you are to contemplate that, not only has He come, but that the Lord is amongst you right now. So, I ask you, do you see Him? Do you hear Him? Do you recognize His presence? If not, then perhaps we should extend Advent a few more weeks. For, indeed, tantamount to your being prepared for His coming on the Last Day is that you recognize and receive Him while He is present among you right now.

The priests and the Levites who were sent to question John had been waiting, watching, and seeking the coming of the Lord for centuries. They searched the Scriptures and they trusted in the Word of the Lord proclaimed by the Prophets that God would raise up a prophet like Moses and that He would send forth Elijah before the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. They had good reason to believe that John might be the Christ, or Elijah, or the Prophet, for he lived in the stark, ascetic manner of the prophets and he spoke with an authoritative word in accord with the Word of God. But, when they asked him if he was the Christ, he said “No.” And when they asked him if he was Elijah, he said “No.” And when they asked him if he was the Prophet, again John replied “No.” Indeed, all that John would confess concerning himself was that he was a voice.

Israel had not heard the voice of God for four hundred years. Though they had returned to the Promised Land following captivity in Babylon and had rebuilt the temple and reinstated the priesthood and the sacrificial system, the hearts of the people were far from the Lord, the priests did not teach the people the ways of the Lord, and they did not honor God with their lives, words, and deeds. The last prophetic utterance was given by Malachi who prophesied, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” Then there was silence for four hundred years, until the coming of John the Baptist. During this time the people of Israel were hardened and Judaism became more rigid and legalistic under the Pharisees and more liberal and politically driven under the Sadducees. By the time John appeared, the hearts and minds of the people could not imagine a Messiah who would come in humility and lowliness to suffer and die as a sacrifice for the people’s sins.

Part of John’s role in preparing the way for the coming of Jesus was to break up the hardened hearts of God’s people that they might be turned in repentance to receive the one who was coming, not in power, great might, and glory, but from amongst them, as their brother, in lowliness and humility. John was a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” as the Prophet Isaiah had said. John carried out his task by preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins and by baptizing with water, a visible sign of the spiritual change affected in a person by the workings of the Holy Spirit. God was about to visit His people, but He was not going to appear to them as He did on Mount Sinai, striking terror of death into the hearts of His people, but He would come in the manner of Moses, Elijah, and the Prophets, as one of His own, amongst His own, for the sake of His own.

Our God has always been a God who is present in the midst of His people. He walked with our First Parents in Eden. He visited Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He called to Moses from the burning bush and encamped in the tabernacle in the Holy of Holies amongst His people. Then, in Jesus, the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. And so, He is not a God who is far off, but He is a God who is near – very near, in fact, come into our own flesh and blood, conceived and born of a woman like all men, so that He is our brother, one of us, knowing in His flesh our joys and sorrows, our pain and tears, the torture of our temptations, but humbly and obediently and selflessly resisting these by faith.

Though He comes to us in such familiar ways, men are scandalized by the incarnation of Jesus. Thus it was necessary that John direct our attention to Him and call us to repentance that we might see in Him God’s presence and our salvation from our sins. The very next day after the priests and the Levites questioned him, John pointed to Jesus and proclaimed “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” There He is, God’s sacrifice, Isaac’s substitute, the true Passover Lamb who’s blood will mark the doorposts of you heart that the Angel of Death might pass over. Who? The carpenter’s son from Nazareth? Who? That lowly rabbi with His band of misfit disciples? Who? The itinerant preacher who hangs about tax collectors and prostitutes and lepers? Yeah, that’s the one. That’s the Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah. Yeah, that’s Him, the Word of God made flesh, abiding in your presence as one of you, as you brother, just as the prophets said.

So, I ask you, do you see Him? Do you hear Him? Do you recognize His presence? If not, well, it’s still Advent for another week. Indeed, it is Advent until He comes on the Last Day, and today your salvation is nearer to you than when you first believed. For, indeed, tantamount to your being prepared for His coming on the Last Day is that you recognize and receive Him while He is present among you right now. He is present for you now in His forgiving and life-giving Word. He is present for you now in Holy Absolution. He is present for you now in Holy baptismal regeneration. And He is present for you now in His holy body and precious blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins that the Angel of Death might pass over you.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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