+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Matthew 24:36-44
Theme: The Coming Redeemer
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Advent is the season of anticipation. For this new Church Year Saint Matthew’s account of the Good News in Christ is the primary source of our gospel selections. “Keep watch,” says the evangelist, “because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”1Advent is not the beginning, per se, but the expectation of the completion. Advent looks forward to the fulfillment of promises. It reminds us that God constantly comes to us. Christian life involves the anticipation that the nature of His coming will one day dramatically transform our existence. This requires patience, perseverance and trust.
Imagine the expectation there would have been when God was about to create the universe! Only initially there was nothing and no one in existence to enjoy it. But then what joy there was anticipating the new creation in Christ. Advent points us forward to the experience of that new creation. Meanwhile, we are warned today not to fall into spiritual lethargy. This existence won’t go on indefinitely. The ancient record is called on for testimony. Judgment has come swiftly before.
The time of Noah was characterized by blatant ungodliness and immorality. There was no fear, reverence, or love of God. And there was only hatred, jealousy and fear in human relationships. Moses describes the situation this way, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”2 We know the consequences were dramatic. Suddenly the cesspool of unrighteous humanity was swept away by the flood.
But it wasn’t without warning. Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Only he had no converts. People assumed Noah was crazy and God was jesting. We should be careful not to make assumptions when it comes to the motives of others, especially God’s motives. There is the story of a visitor to the zoo who noticed one of the keepers sobbing quietly in a corner and on inquiry was told that an elephant had died. "Fond of him, was he?" the visitor asked. "It's not that," came the reply, "He's the one who has to dig the grave."
Modifying the image of God to suit our own tastes is one of humanity’s more accomplished pursuits. We like to fit God into our mold. We like to hold Him captive to our definitions of prosperity and have Him toe the line to meet our expectations and values. We like to have Him condone and accept our sins. We make Him into a paper tiger and in this way disarm any threats. Of course this is foolish and dangerous thinking. Never assume. Take God at His word. Repent, because He will judge sin.
But Christ comes to bring salvation to His elect. Whatever it is that you long for relief from- grief, temptation, pain, loneliness, bitterness; the resolution is found in Him. And that is what we desperately want to do for people. We want to reassure them that their struggles will soon be over. We want to comfort them, console them and be the bearer of good news. But we must take heed lest the good news we bear is nothing more than wishful, empty thinking. Human emotion, no matter how intense, is no substitute for divine truth. Life is messy and we cannot by-pass the struggle. Healing and relief come in Christ’s time and way.
Police stopped a teen-age girl in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, after complaints that a car had been seen going around her neighbourhood in reverse for some time. The girl told police that her parents had let her use the car, but she had put too much mileage on it. "I was just trying to unwind some of it," she said. Wishful but naïve thinking. We can’t simply ‘undo’ the past experiences of life. We can’t unwind the mileage racked up from years of traveling down the road of selfishness, dishonesty, or unbelief. Our travels through life cause us to accumulate scars.
But the coming of Christ changes things. He doesn’t rewind us so that the past is erased. Your life is written in history. But He does absorb all the damage; the intentional damage, the incidental damage, the collateral damage of sin. He absorbs the damage caused by your evil intentions, your ignorance, and the damage that comes about because you were a victim. He gathers it, compresses it, and destroys it by living and dying through the consequences. That’s how salvation was accomplished. That’s what His sacrifice means. He suffered the punishment of sin, death, and hell so that all believers might be spared. This is the Good News of Advent.
The Good News prophesied in ancient times, recorded by the evangelists in sacred Scripture; the Good News conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary; the Good News of the incarnate Son of God born in Bethlehem, crucified on Calvary, and raised from the dead- this Good News, Jesus Christ in the flesh, is the only news that is truly good, sacred and holy. It is not merely news that peaks your curiosity like secular tabloids. It is the life-giving, life-changing gospel of the forgiveness of sins in the person of Jesus, Immanuel. He comes to sinners lost in darkness and unbelief and there He brings light and life. He does this through the Scriptures proclaimed, through baptism, through Holy Communion.
Now why does God choose this method and these means? Water and words? But not just any words. Spirit-activated words, words from the mouth of the Son and the heart of the Father. It is His gracious way of affirming that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was accomplished for every person in every time and every place. Forgiveness and faith change the advent of Christ from judgment to acquittal and acceptance. That is what happens in baptism.
The sacrament of baptism is not only a reminder to parents and sponsors of their solemn responsibility of nurturing Poppy’s faith (whose baptism we just celebrated). It is a message to parents that something; Someone bigger and more powerful is the primary player in the child’s life. Baptism involves a sort of surrender of authority. Christ alone will do for Poppy what no parent, godparent, or anyone else can do. Only the Holy Spirit can gift a person with faith. Now, that in no way diminishes the tremendous charge parents, family and even the whole church has. God works through means. Paul says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”3 But, thankfully, final outcomes rest with God.
In this life Advent is a continual reality. Jesus Christ is ALWAYS the Coming One. In His coming He is not aloof or inattentive. But presently He is disguised, hidden in word, water, bread and wine. His methods are disguised even in hardship and trial. He blesses us with our own special “thorns in the flesh.” Through these we come to understand that His grace alone is sufficient. In this life, glory is a future expectation, while grace is a present blessing. Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +
First Sunday of Advent
28 November 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Matthew 24:42
2 Genesis 6:5
3 1 Corinthians 3:6