+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 1:41
Theme: A New Temple
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The mercy of God is constant and His ways cannot be manipulated by humans. Always wanting to tinker, the sinful human ego will still make no progress trying to influence the methods of the Almighty. Christian maturity involves learning to appreciate that God’s ways are not only best; they are truly liberating. Advent points us to the final emancipation from sin, Satan, death, and hell. Christmas reminds us of the humble beginnings that will one day give way to dramatic conclusions.
For a span of nine months, at the dawn of a new age, the most holy place was not in the Jerusalem temple, not in the synagogue, not in the palace of the high priest, not in any sacred shrine; it was in the womb of a humble virgin named Mary. This is the unassuming beginning of the revelation of God-in-the-flesh. What higher honour could be bestowed on any human being than to be the mother of the Son of God? In His infinite wisdom the Almighty chose a humble woman from a small Judean town to bring the Messiah into the world.
Startled by the visit of the angel Gabriel Mary was understandably full of fear and perplexity. How overwhelming it must have been. To what degree did she understand what it meant? Mary now becomes a symbol of the church and her faith a model for all who would enter therein. Every human soul enters the church only through repentance and faith. The Scripture says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”1
The conception of Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary sanctifies every life in every womb in every age. Life is sacred because God the Father has created it to be so and God the Son has come to redeem it. Despite the cry for rights and freedoms in modern democracy or the discoveries of modern medicine God still has jurisdiction over human life. It is arrogant and dangerous to usurp His authority. It invites His wrath. It is therefore the solemn privilege of the Christian church to make prayerful intersession on behalf of every mother or couple contemplating an abortion. It is the duty of the faithful to tenderly support all who are traumatized by regret. Far from being a taboo subject during this sacred time it is very appropriately an implication of His incarnation. Christmas is about hope for those who are most vulnerable. Who are more vulnerable than the unborn, the aged or the incapacitated? God Himself will come to their aid. He leaves no one destitute.
Dear friends, as the words of the prophets come to fulfillment and the old covenant is absorbed by the new we see a shift in the presence and activity of God. In the time of the patriarchs the revelations of God were ad hoc- when and where He pleased. When Jacob was at Bethel he had a vision of a ladder reaching to heaven. He said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”2 At the burning bush God said to Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”3
But then God took up residence. The people crossed into the promised land. God said, “You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit…to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for His Name- there you are to bring everything I command you.”4 God could be found in the tabernacle, then in the temple in the holy of holies. When Isaiah saw the angels circling the throne of God the Scripture says, “At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook.”5 Isaiah’s vision had crossed the threshold into the holy of holies.
But the threshold of the temple is now no longer traversed by the high priest bearing blood. The infant of Bethlehem and prophet of Nazareth says to His Father, “‘Here I am, I have come to do Your will’…and by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”6 His humiliation effects our exaltation. What does it mean for us?
It means all the humanly-invented means of acquiring God’s favour are laid to rest. The approaches we devise to cross the threshold into the divine are obsolete. Our piety, our knowledge, our generosity, even our pleading or tears cannot penetrate the divine presence. Our best negotiations have no effect. But gone too is the burden. Gone is the fear. Gone are the hopelessness, doubt and despair. Gone is the terror of the sinner cowering before the righteous judgment of God. God is not aloof or inaccessible. He has come to us. Christ is Emmanuel, God with us! “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you.”7
Jesus now says, “I am the gate for the sheep.”8 He is the only access into God’s eternal kingdom. The Redeemer says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; He has crossed over from death to life.”9 The portal to heaven is now precisely as narrow as Jesus’ body. And for the contrite sinner that means it extends far beyond our vision of the horizon.
When God speaks His word of grace the hinges creak as the door to heaven opens wide. When Christ forgives we are drawn right past the threshold into the eternal love of the Trinity. When the Holy Spirit comforts we are calmed not by the voice of One who thunders from a distance but by the close presence of Him who cradles us with compassion.
Moses was told to take off His sandals. We need only to undress our egos. The wisemen bore precious treasures. We need only leave our transgressions. The shepherds were honoured above emperors. The baptized are honoured above the high and mighty of the world.
When you are called to the remembrance of your baptism you are transported again under the protection of His Name. When you kneel here at the railing you are kneeling at the gate of heaven. When you receive His body and blood in, with, and under that bread and wine Christ promises to dwell with you- the Holy One with the sinner. The shepherds left not with presents but with faith. And faith cannot keep silent.
Today we join with Mary in rejoicing that she was the provisional temple of the Son of God. Crucified, risen, ascended, and enthroned, when He comes again it will be neither to the manger, nor the temple, nor to establish one. He will come to resurrect the faithful to a scene and celebration that far excels anything we will experience this Christmas, or ever. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fourth Sunday of Advent
23 December 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 3:36
2 Genesis 28:17
3 Exodus 3:5
4 Deuteronomy 12:8-11
5 Isaiah 6:4
6 Hebrews 10:9-10
7 Luke 2:10-11
8 John 10:7
9 John 5:24