Thursday, December 5, 2019

Advent Evening Prayer - Week of Ad Te Levavi (Advent 1)

Luke 1:5-25; Isaiah 40:1-5

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It is often said that the book of the Prophet Isaiah is a mirror of the entire Bible. For example, as the Bible has 66 books, so does Isaiah have 66 chapters. And, as the Bible is divided into two testaments, so can Isaiah be divided into two distinct sections – the first 39 chapters mirroring the 39 books of the Old Testament, and the last 27 chapters mirroring the 27 books of the New Testament. Chapters 1-39 of Isaiah are known as the “Book of Judgment,” and (like the 39 books of the Old Testament) they are filled with judgment upon immoral idolatrous men. Judah has sinned; the surrounding nations have sinned; the whole earth has sinned. Judgment must come, for God cannot allow such blatant sin to go unpunished forever. The last 27 chapters of Isaiah (chapters 40-66) are known as the “Book of Comfort.” These 27 chapters (like the 27 books of the New Testament) declare a message of hope. The Messiah is coming as a Savior and a King to bear a cross and to wear a crown. So, both in its structure and thematic content, the two parts of the book of Isaiah closely match the structure and themes of the whole Bible – its Old and New Testaments.
Our First Lesson this evening includes the first words of comfort and hope that are recorded in that second part of Isaiah beginning with chapter 40: “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.” Then we hear the prophecy of the one who will proclaim the Good News of the coming Savior and who will prepare His way – John the Baptist. John will simply be a voice crying in the wilderness, for the Word he will cry and proclaim will be the LORD’s: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is how John would prepare the way for the coming of the Savior King, he would preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Every valley of hopelessness and despair shall be filled with hope, and every mountain of pride and sin shall be brought down that our hearts might be prepared as a highway for our God to enter therein. This Word John would proclaim in the dessert wilderness of this world, just as the LORD once spoke life into the darkness and void long ago by the power of His Word and Spirit.
Even John’s conception and birth reflected this new beginning, new creation, and new hope. The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah the priest, John’s father, and proclaimed to him that his aged and barren wife Elizabeth would conceive and bear him a son who would prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. The message was one of hope where there had been no hope, of life where there had been no life, of mercy where there had been only the fallout and bad fruit of sin. Through the angel Gabriel the LORD spoke His life-giving and creative Word and Elizabeth, who was barren, conceived, just as light shone forth in the primordial darkness at the Word of God.
From the very moment of his conception John was “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” By the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit John would recognize and confess his Lord and Savior Jesus, even from his mother’s womb, leaping for joy at His mother’s greeting. By the same Holy Spirit John would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God” and “turn the hearts of the fathers” “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord, was prophesied in the last Word from the LORD in the Old Testament. Malachi first prophetically proclaimed the words the Evangelists would later proclaim fulfilled in John saying: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” “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.” John would prepare the Lord’s people by the preaching of repentance to receive the promised comfort the Messiah Jesus would bring.
But Zechariah did not believe the angel when he heard the news. Though he and his wife Elizabeth were known to be “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord,” Zechariah could not see past their agedness and barrenness, he had no hope. Zechariah went through his priestly duties faithfully, but without hope. How many Christians today, both pastors and parishioners, do the same? Therefore, Zechariah was made to be mute until the promise was fulfilled, and the child was born and given the name proclaimed by the angel before he was conceived. In but a few days Elizabeth conceived, and she kept herself hidden for five months treasuring this in her heart, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Comfort and hope are what we need, but comfort and hope are meaningless to those who are comfortable in their sin. Therefore, we still need the voice of John crying in the wilderness of this world, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” We still need Advent, a time of preparation, that the mountains of our pride and self-righteousness should be brought low, and that the valleys of our hopelessness and despair should be filled with comfort and hope. We need God’s Word of Law, and we need God’s Word of Gospel, always. Lord, send us Your prophets still bearing Your Word that we should repent and be saved. Send us Elijah and John still bearing Your Word of Law and Gospel that our hearts and minds and souls might be prepared to receive our King in all the ways He comes to us – in Word and Water, Body and Blood.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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