Advent 1, December 2nd, 2012
Bethel Lutheran Church, Gurnee, IL
A happy and blessed Advent to you, and as well a new church year. The season of Advent is a time of expectation and preparation for the celebration of Jesus' birth. It's a nice contrast to the hustle bustle of the secular world preparing for its mostly secular Christmas. Advent calls us to stop and think, meditate, listen, and pray. It is a bit of an alien idea to the world around us whose commercialized festivities seem to be encroaching earlier and earlier. But Advent says, “Wait. Watch. Repent. Pray.”
Even the word “Advent” is one of those church words you don't hear too often outside of the sanctuary. It simply means “coming”. But if you told someone we're observing the season of “Coming”, that might lead to a few questions. Maybe it's good to remind ourselves, too, this morning, of some Advent Q&A, questions and answers....
“Who's coming?” Well, maybe that's the first and most obvious question, but then again maybe not. Of course, Jesus is coming. But do people believe it? Do we even believe it? How different would our lives look if we took seriously Jesus' words about his return? What would it look like if we really did “stay awake” as he tells us in our Gospel reading?
This is Jesus, who is coming, not some fat man in a red suit. He is the Lord of all creation, God of God, light of light, very God of very God. He is the Good Shepherd, the True Vine, the Light of the World.
He is the one who once came in lowly fashion, was swaddled up and laid in a manger. But he is coming again in glory, to judge both the living and the dead. He's the judge, you see, and the conqueror who will put all enemies under his feet. He is master and commander of all the angels. He is Yaweh Sabbaoth, Lord of Hosts.
When such an important person is coming, another question becomes very important.
“Why is he coming?”
Anytime finite and sinful man encounters infinite and holy God, you get a reaction. Isaiah cried out, “woe is me, I am ruined!”. Peter exclaimed, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”. Sinners cannot bear his holiness any more than his holiness will tolerate sin. So his coming presents a problem for sinners.
If this Jesus really is the judge coming to proclaim a final judgment, must I not be judged for all my sins? Who can stand in the judgment? If he really is God of Gods, and knows all things, then doesn't he know my sins (and yours)? Like the demons who shrieked when Jesus confronted them, our sinful nature might also cry out, “why have you come here Jesus, to destroy me?”
But that's not the answer, at least for us. As Christians we have the blessed assurance of the Gospel, and that makes all the difference in the “why” of his Advent. “Why has he come?” To save us. And “Why is he coming again?” To save us.
He came once to procure salvation. To live a perfect life in our place. To defeat all the temptations of the evil one, a Second Adam, who succeeded where the First Adam failed. He kept God's holy law, which we cannot. He perfectly submitted to his Father's will, in place of us who can only rebel against it. He did all things well, and he did them for us.
And he came to die. To suffer and die, cursed on a cross, becoming sin for the sake of all sinners. He came, the Lamb of God, to take away the sins of the world. He came to shed his holy precious blood, his life for ours. He came to destroy death by his death, to take the curse by being cursed, and to secure us the victory through his most bitter humiliation. That's why he came. That's why Christmas matters. Because of the cross.
“When is he coming?” Surely the Old Testament believers waited with eager anticipation for the Messiah. The air was thick with that hope when Jesus came on the scene, even if they got the “why” question wrong. But his second Advent is also to be eagerly anticipated. His disciples wanted to know when all of these things would happen.... and so do many today.
Jesus is coming, but we don't know when. Like a thief, suddenly, at just the right time, in His time, not ours. But we know this. It will be good. It will be good for us, his people. Lift up your heads, your redemption draws near. Wait with bated breath, on the edge of your seat, for it will be... like Christmas. Wait for his coming with all the joy of every child who ever hoped for presents under the tree. Wait for his coming with faith and trust and hope that he who has won your salvation will deliver it in person. Wait for his second Advent, even as you celebrate his first, and rejoice in the surpassing riches of his grace.
But know this – he also comes today. He comes to strengthen and awaken us for that day. He comes to his people, wrapped not in swaddling clothes but by his Spirit in words of law and gospel. He comes, even today, not across the Jordan, but in the waters of holy baptism. He comes, even today, even here to you – under the forms of bread and wine which he promises are his true body and blood... for you.
When is his Advent? Bethlehem, long ago? Yes. In glory, someday to come? Yes. But also here, now, today – the day of salvation.
He comes to all who hear his word and receive his gifts, in Gurnee, in Illinois, and across the world – even in Singapore. God grant a continual Advent of Christ to sinners in need of saving, that we may all come with him to glory on that day when he returns.