Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Advent Evening Prayer - Wednesday in Gaudete (Advent 3)

Luke 1:39-45; Revelation 11:19 -12:6; 2 Samuel 7:18-29

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I know that each of you has some magical number in mind for the maximum number of stanzas a hymn should have, and I suspect that the eight stanzas of the hymn we just finished singing likely exceeds all of them. C’mon, those eight stanzas moved at a goodly pace so that they seemed like, maybe, only four, right? And besides, the hymn tells a story. You can’t cut it short in the middle. That’d be like Mary and Joseph only making it to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Wouldn’t be much to celebrate without the birth of Jesus. You see, you have to finish the story.
In all sincerity, though, that hymn, “Savior of the Nations, Come,” is a great hymn. It is the Advent hymn par excellence! The text was composed by St. Ambrose of Milan in the fourth century, making it one of the earliest Christian hymns we have. There is something beautifully catholic (universal) and transcendent about singing a hymn and praying the liturgy that has been sung and prayed by Christians for over sixteen centuries! However, more important than the transcendent catholicity of the hymn is its text, the words, and the confession of faith we make when we sing them together. “Savior of the Nations, Come” sings of the mystery of the Holy Incarnation, the Word of God made flesh and dwelling amongst us as one of us, as our brother, in the person of Jesus. “Not by human flesh and blood, By the Spirit of our God, Was the Word of God made flesh, Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.” The mystery of the Holy Incarnation is what Christmas is all about. Yet another hymn, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” puts it this way, “Veiled in the flesh, the Godhead see. Hail the Incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel.” That name, Immanuel, means “God with us,” and that is what we celebrate at Christmas, that, in the Holy Incarnation, in the conception and birth of Jesus, God Himself is literally with us, as one of us, knowing our weakness and sorrow, and taking that upon Himself on the cross where He died for our sins and was raised for our justification.
Another great stanza from this evening’s hymn is this: “Then stepped forth the Lord of all From His pure and kingly hall; God of God, yet fully man, His heroic course began.” This stanza speaks of our Incarnate Lord being born from the “kingly hall” of the womb of His virgin mother, Mary. To describe Mary’s womb as a “kingly hall” is not to give undue glory to Mary, but rather to the one who is the King, whose presence blesses and sanctifies. Thus, Mary’s womb, and Mary herself, are not blessed in and of themselves, but they are blessed by virtue of the Blessed One, Jesus, Immanuel, who resides within. The LORD had made Mary and her virgin womb to be a palace, a “kingly hall,” for His Son, the Word made flesh, Jesus.
Thus, our hymn fits well with this evening’s lessons. Our First Lesson speaks of King David who desired to build a proper house for the LORD God. The LORD did not permit David to build the temple of the LORD, for he was a warrior and had much blood on his hands. The LORD wanted, not a man of war, but a man of peace to build the temple. In time, David’s son Solomon would build the temple of the LORD and reign over Israel in peace. Moreover, the LORD told David that in all His years dwelling in the tent of the Tabernacle in the midst of His people, never did He rebuke them for not building Him a permanent dwelling. Rather, the LORD promised David that He would build a house for him and would bless it forever. This was a Messianic promise fulfilled in the Holy Incarnation of Jesus Christ, a promise referenced in the hymn, “Savior of the Nations, Come.”
In our second lesson we see the fulfillment of the same, or the super-fulfillment, if you will, as the temple of the LORD in heaven is opened amidst “lighting, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail,” and what appears, but “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.” The Woman is Mary, or at least a metaphor for Mary, and to be more accurate still, the Woman is the Church, the Mother of our Savior and the Mother of all who believe and trust in Him. However, the dragon was there too, the devil and Satan, ready to devour the Woman’s Child as He is born. You will recall how Satan, through his servant Herod, attempted to murder the Christ-child following his birth. When the Magi were warned by an angel of the LORD to not return to Herod, the murderous king sent his soldiers to murder all the infant boys in Bethlehem where the Christ was prophesied to be born. But, the child was “caught up to God and to His throne, and the Woman fled into the wilderness, where She has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished.” Now, since Satan cannot have the Christ-child, he purses the Woman, he pursues you, the Church. And yet, you are protected by God, sealed in Holy Baptism, having God’s Name upon your foreheads, and His holy angels watch over you and fight to protect and defend you against the assails of the evil one.
“God the Father was His source, Back to God He ran His course. Into hell His road went down, Back then to His throne and crown.” This was God’s plan all along. After man’s fall into sin, the LORD uttered the first Gospel promise, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The Holy Incarnation of Jesus was the fulfillment of this first Gospel promise. This was confirmed when Mary, carrying the Christ-child within her virgin womb visited her aged cousin Elizabeth who in turn was carrying the forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, “the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” In the virgin soil of Mary’s womb, by the power of His Word, God had made a house for His people. All who trust in Him, regardless of birth, race, class, or anything else, He brings under His tent and shelters with His Spirit. Jesus’ house and tent, tabernacle and temple, is His body, His Church, of which He is Her head, and with whom He shares all that belongs to Him: life and immortality, righteousness and holiness, sonship with His Father, and a share in His reign as King over heaven and earth. “Glory to the Father sing, glory to the Son, our King, Glory to the Spirit be Now and through eternity.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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