+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 1:32
Theme: Son of the Most High
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Each day of participation in life is a gift. The question is whether it is embraced as such. We should hold no expectations about life’s duration or quality because we have had no promises made to us. Unfortunately we make assumptions. But about what lies beyond we have on the highest authority. This truth and its consequences are our highest priority. Advent reminds us that God does not remain aloof; He comes. He comes to us in the midst of sorrow and prosperity. He comes to us in the vigor of life and in the shadow of death.
Today He comes with ancient information that has the power to make new. The announcement of the birth of a child is always momentous. Today we hear it from the lips of Gabriel to Mary, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”1 This announcement, made privately to a woman of peasant status, exceeds all announcements that have been made in the history of the world. Yet it was scarcely known beyond the small circle of Nazareth. All that would change when this Son of Mary was put to death on a cross but then showed Himself alive on the third day. This life, HIS life, is announced to us again today.
Christ came to a human race largely oblivious to the dangers that are always immanent.
Human nature is unable to diagnose its own spiritual disorder. We cannot recognize the depth of our depravity using intuition. Nor can we by any natural wisdom come to understand the urgency of our need. The malady itself prevents self-analysis. Like a blind person who has never been told others can see, we are naturally blind to the full consequences of sin. Sin, left undiagnosed, unrecognized, or unaddressed is always terminal. It results in spiritual death.
If we disregard the Holy Spirit’s promptings to repent of our unrighteousness, thinking rather that we can do as we please without fear of judgment then Luther reminds us we should not “be comforted with much babbling about the forgiveness of sins and grace in Christ.”2 Defiance destroys faith in the promise. The unrepentant cling to nothing but a false hope; a salve of conscience that will eventually destroy the soul. The Scriptures pose the question this way in the Psalms, “Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, ‘He won’t call me to account’?”3 It is foolish to put God to the test. In the end justice and judgment are rendered.
The meaning of the gospel is that Christ came to bear that judgment. In doing so He requires no contribution from us. Freely and unconditionally He loves us from the beginning, from eternity. Baptism takes us right to the heart of what it means that God is a God of grace. In this sacrament God brings spiritual life from the condition of deadness. Baptism is a creative act of the Holy Spirit in which the Word of God gives what is promised- faith, life, and the forgiveness of sins. It connects the baptized to the death and resurrection of Christ and gives then entrance into the kingdom of God and the holy Christian Church.
Matthew and Sara scheduled Mia’s baptism many months before she was born. (No offense Matthew but I think it was Sara and her commitment to getting things organized that came into play there.) It is a great testimony in an age in which little priority is given to the spiritual well-being of children. The Bible commends to us the trust of children holding it up as the model for all believers. Today Mia becomes part of the greater church by virtue of her gift of faith. She is now clothed with Jesus’ righteousness. This has been the understanding for 2000 years. She bears His name. The Bible says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”4 This is truly Good News.
The age in which we live is very skeptical of the organized church. The church itself must shoulder much of the blame for forsaking the truth and pursuing misguided priorities. Much repentance and honest evaluation must take place. Yet these reasons should not serve as a convenient excuse for the individual. The nature of the church is perhaps misunderstood. The congregation of believers at any particular time and place is always a community of sinners. The integrity of the church isn’t constituted by the righteousness of its people. There are no perfect people. There are only forgiven people or people who will have no part of God’s forgiveness. The church’s integrity depends wholly on the presence and faithfulness of God and the means He employs. He we are gathered around His word. Here His sacraments are administered. Here forgiveness is proclaimed.
Christ alone is holy. Only the word of God is faultless. Only the Holy Spirit can consecrate our hearts and minds. Only the Son of God, Jesus, Immanuel, God-in-the-flesh possesses immortality as the very property of His existence in eternity with the Father. A church is always a spiritual hospital where the spiritually sick come for healing of soul and body. You should not be too put off knowing that the people around you are sinners. Of course they are. But God desires us not to be unrepentant sinners; people who defy God’s will but still want to claim His blessing. “Christian holiness…is found where the Holy Spirit gives people faith in Christ and sanctifies them[Acts 15:9], that is, he renews heart, soul, body, work, and conduct, inscribing the commandments of God not on tables of stone, but in hearts of flesh.”5
There is the story about the young children at a Catholic primary school who often forgot their sins when they went to confession with the parish priest. He suggested that teachers have the students make lists. The next week when one child came to confession, the priest could hear him unfolding a piece of paper. The youngster began reading the list, "I lied to my parents. I cheated on my exam. I fought with my brothers and..." There was a long pause. Then a small angry voice said, "Hey, this isn't my list!"
Dear friends, Christ’s list of sins isn’t His list. Yet it is so long it could never be numbered. He treats it as if He had committed every crime, every vice, and every treachery imaginable. He was our scapegoat. He is our substitute, our sacrifice- willingly and unconditionally. He took our punishment. This is the Good News of life for a dying world. At Bethlehem He joined the human race and in so doing He joined Himself to the sin of the human race. Now believers need not be separated from God. He suffered an agonizing death but rose again on the third day. He is the Resurrection and the Life.6
Every day we participate in the gift of life. This earthly life is only temporary. Death comes to all. But it does not have the final say. The children of God look forward to a new, transformed and abundant life. We await this even as we dwell in a crumbling world. Only in faith can we say, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”7 Sara is not here to witness Mia’s baptism. But thanks be to God- there is life! Today the Lord gives. He gives Mia the promise of the forgiveness of sins and entrance into the holy Christian Church. Today love triumphs. Today Christ gives the victory no matter how long our earthly days. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fourth Sunday of Advent
18 December 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 1:31-32
2 Luther “On the Councils and the Church”
3 Psalm 10:13
4 Acts 4:12
5 Luther, ibid
6 See John 11:25
7 Job 1:21