Sunday, December 24, 2017

Rorate Coeli - The Fourth Sunday In Advent (Advent 4)

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.
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God,” says the Preacher to the Hebrews. That’s a fact that we too seldom give heed to today. While it is true that we now enjoy the blessing of being able to approach God with our prayers and our praises, even to enter into His holy presence, too often we fail to remember how this blessing came to be, and at what cost. Today, we likely imagine God to be a kindly grandfather in the sky, not so unlike Santa Claus, and His angels we imagine to be gentle, child-like spirits in the manner of Precious Moments and Willow House figurines, and His Son a peace-loving, hip, social justice warrior who would undoubtedly be seen at a Black Lives Matter rally. But, these are false images, even pernicious deceptions and lies, that Satan uses to lead us into false comfort and security, believing that there is peace with God, where there is no peace apart from Christ.
When the LORD appeared to Israel on Mount Horeb, the people were terrified at His voice, His righteousness, holiness, and glory. “Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die,” they cried. And, the LORD confirmed what they said saying, “They are right in what they have spoken.” It is indeed a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. Thus, the Preacher to the Hebrews continues saying, “You have not come to what may be touched, but to a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, […] thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” That our God is a consuming fire means that all sinful uncleanness in us will be burned away in His wrath, the way dross and impurities are separated and burned away from precious metal. Our God is a jealous God, which means that He will not share you with idols, which are truly demons and the devil. Our God is righteous and holy, and His righteousness demands that you be righteous, His holiness demands that you be holy, lest He judge and destroy you in the consuming fire of His wrath. Or, as C.S. Lewis put it in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe concerning the God-figure in that story, the lion Aslan: “No, He isn’t safe. But He is good.”
No, our God isn’t safe. It is indeed a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. We must remember that. We must not forget what would be our end were we to experience the full-on righteousness, holiness, and glory of God’s presence in the nakedness of our sin and guilt and unrighteousness. And, we must also remember that we don’t have to experience this. And that, indeed, is what Christmas is all about: “The Word became flesh – became our flesh – and made His dwelling amongst us. We have seen His glory,” and we have lived to tell about it! If we had to stand before the glorious presence of God in His holiness and righteousness, in the nakedness of our sin and guilt and unrighteousness, we would surely die! But, we do not have to stand in fear and terror, for God has taken upon Himself our flesh and has redeemed us. The Son of God made flesh stands in for us, and He stands with us. Through faith in Him, we are not naked, but we are clothed with His righteousness; we are not sinful and guilty and unclean, but we are forgiven and are holy in Him.
Because we could not, and cannot, come to Him, our God comes to us. And, because His coming to us would destroy us, He comes to us, not directly, but through means: Word and Water, Bread and Wine. This has always been how God comes to us, ever since our First Parents rebelled and plunged the world and all humanity into sin. Our God came to Abram as a sojourner, the Angel of the Lord in disguise. He came to Moses in a burning bush, and in a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. He came to Elijah in a still, small voice. And, in the fullness of time, our God came to us who cannot come to Him. He came as one of us, born of a human mother, as our brother, as our God, and as our Redeemer in human flesh. Jesus is God made approachable and touchable. Men can enter His presence, hear His voice, touch His flesh, and live! In fact, Jesus came to us, even the most unclean amongst us, to tax collectors, Gentiles, lepers, prostitutes, and the dead, and He had mercy on them. He showed compassion to them, He forgave them, healed them, restored them, and set them free. Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it.
In the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, God began to heal our disease of sin and guilt. He redeemed our flesh by taking it upon Himself. In our flesh He fulfilled the Law’s demands in holiness and righteousness that He might take upon Himself our sin sickness and guilt and die for our transgressions, that He might give us, in exchange, His life and Sonship with His Father. But, that is not all. In the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, God has reestablished His presence among us, a personal and fleshly presence that cannot, and will not, be revoked, for those who believe on Him and bear His fruits in love. Therefore, Jesus is not just God for us, but Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, as one of us, now and forever. As we sing in the beloved Christmas hymn, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel!” This is God’s present to you at Christmas – His presence among us as one of us, as our Father, our Brother, our Bridegroom, our Savior, and our God. “Highest, most holy, Light of Light eternal, born of a virgin, a mortal He comes; Son of the Father now in flesh appearing! O come, let us adore Him – Christ the Lord!”
The Christ comes, in precisely the way the Scriptures said He would come. But, have we become blinded by our reason and confounded in our wisdom so that we do not recognize Him? Or, are we confounded that He comes in humility and lowliness instead of in power, glory, and might as we imagine these things? John the Baptist still calls us to repentance that we might not reject the LORD’s Messiah, but receive Him with faith in our hearts. Still the Baptist prepares the way for the coming of our Lord by preaching repentance, that the hills of our pride might be leveled and the valleys of our despair might be filled in. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, God as one of us, born of woman, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. Do not look for another. He comes in humility, and lowliness, bringing the mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love of God, His kingdom.
Yet, this is precisely why men reject Him. Though He terrifies us and makes us run in fear for our lives, we think we want the God of Horeb, with His fire, thunderings, earthquakes, and lightnings. Instead, in His mercy, He gives us a Savior, meek and mild, a God we may approach and touch and not die, a God who is our advocate, our defender, and our friend, who intercedes for us with pleas, obedience, and self-sacrifice unto death in our place. No, we were not prepared to receive our God, His Messiah, His Christ. Thanks be to God He sent us John. Thanks be to God that He still sends us His undershepherds, His pastors, to call us to repentance and to speak to us His forgiveness and peace. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” The Lord has come as the Babe of Bethlehem. He has fulfilled God’s holy Law for you and He has suffered the death you deserved as the due penalty for your sin, removing its sting forever. He is God’s peace with mankind of which the angels sang. He is the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. May your hearts and minds be guarded in Jesus Christ.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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