Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Homily for Advent Evening Prayer In the Week of Rorate Coeli (Advent 4)

Luke 1:57-80; Isaiah 40:1-8

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Christian life is one of continual warfare against temptation, sin, your own flesh and desires, the world, and, ultimately, the devil. Therefore, it should be a great comfort and consolation to you to hear that you are no longer at war with 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.”
Comfort, consolation, and peace – with God; this is God’s gift to you at Christmas. The forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, was charged with preparing the people to receive the gift of God’s Peace in Jesus Christ. However, just as a sick person cannot get better until they are first diagnosed by a doctor, so the people could not receive the Christ, the Medicine of Immortality, until they became aware of their sin-sick-unto-death condition. For this reason John came preaching repentance through the Law, that the people might be prepared to receive the Gospel absolution.
John, whose name means “God is gracious,” came to bring comfort, consolation, and peace to people by preparing them to receive, and by pointing them to, Jesus the Christ. Jesus is Peace with God incarnate. Thus the heavenly host of God’s holy angels sang to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” And, you and I sing this very same hymn as well. When? Following our confession of our sins and the proclamation of our forgiveness from God on account of the substitutionary and atoning death of Jesus.
Now, about this time in Advent, if you are like me, you have likely heard more than you care to about John the Baptist. We’re ready to hear about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, shepherds, angels, and Magi. Too often we hear John’s preaching, even still, as Law, fire and brimstone. We view John as some eccentric desert-dweller with a peculiar and repulsive diet. We wish to write him off as an Old Testament foreshadow that has been fulfilled and is, therefore, no longer necessary. But, the truth is, we still need John. Though his preaching has cut us to the core in the past and caused us to turn in repentance, our Old Man, our fleshly man, refuses to stay drowned and dead, but he rises up each day anew and seeks to go his own way. And, so, we still need John’s preaching of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins, we still need John to prepare the way in our hearts for the coming of Jesus, until the day He returns and raises us up with new flesh and blood bodies that are in peace and harmony with the new spirits we received in Holy Baptism. In fact, when Jesus came, He continued John’s preaching of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins, because the kingdom of God was very near. And, so, this preaching continues still today in the Office of the Holy Ministry in Christ’s Church.
Your God and Lord still proclaims comfort to you, that your warfare is ended, through the mouth of your pastor, who brings you, not a word from man, but a Word from God. Like John, your pastor brings God’s grace to you, His free, perfect, and holy gifts of Water, Word, and Absolution, Law and Gospel, and the precious Body and the holy Blood of Jesus Christ. Still your hearts are prepared to receive your Lord in all the ways He comes to you through a preaching of repentance unto the forgiveness of your sins. Through these sure and certain means of grace – sure and certain because the LORD has attached His Word of Promise to them – you can be assured that your warfare with God is ended, and you may have true and lasting comfort and peace in Jesus Christ. For all your sins, God has repaid you double in grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness so that, though your sins were like scarlet, they are now white as snow.
When the world seems very, very dark, when you wonder how much longer you can bear with sorrow and suffering, grief, pain, and fear, when you begin to lose hope – remember that God is gracious, that God is for you, that God so loved you that He gave His only-begotten Son to redeem you, to have you as His own, and to keep you through good and bad times, through joy and sorrow, through light and dark, life and death, unto eternal life with Him where there is no sorrow, no suffering, no tears, no darkness, and no death.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were like you in your darkest moments – aged, barren, lifeless, and hopeless. Then, God sent His messenger to proclaim to them His grace that they might have comfort, peace, and hope. But, Zechariah did not believe. Thus, his voice was silenced until God’s promise was fulfilled. Everyone thought that the boy would be named Zechariah like his father, a name that means “the LORD has remembered.” However, everyone was surprised when Zechariah wrote the boy’s name upon a tablet, John, “God is gracious.” The LORD had remembered His covenant promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to Moses, to David, and to you. The LORD has remembered, and God is gracious. Even when His Law convicts and crushes you, even when He sends you sorrows and grief and pain, even when He permits the darkness to surround you, the LORD remembers, and God is gracious. He will not leave you or forsake you. He is with you in your sorrow and grief and suffering. He is with you in your darkness. Nothing can separate you from His love, which is in Jesus Christ, your Lord.
Then, Zechariah’s mouth was opened and, filled with the Holy Spirit, he prophesied, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath that He swore to our father Abraham to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” The LORD had remembered. God is gracious.
Then, beholding his newborn son, John, the gift of God’s grace, Zechariah continued, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of theirs sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
God is gracious. He will not leave you in your sinful darkness and death. Still He speaks to you His Word of Law and Gospel that you may repent and receive His absolution that you may have comfort, consolation, and peace with God. And, when you have comfort, consolation, and peace with God, then you can begin to have it with men as well.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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