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.

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