+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Matthew 3:2
Theme: Present But Coming
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God speaks. Advents reminds us that His declarations have consequences. Yet God seems to take unnecessary risk with His communiques. He uses mere mortals to communicate His indestructible truth. Angels were not fitted for the task. Though privileged to deliver strategic announcements angels are not the regular servants in that capacity. God often equipped eccentric people to bear His message. The intriguing figure of John the Baptist is inseparably associated with Advent. His proclamation is the summation of all the prophetic voices of the past. He is the figure that straddles the Old and New Testament eras. Unconventional and undaunted he strides forth with the timeless message: Prepare the way; the Lord will come.
His message is direct and his actions are focused. He administers a baptism of repentance to prepare people for the coming kingdom. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”1 This truth has lost none of its relevance. The distance between the sinner and God is no different today. The chasm of sin is an impassible crevasse. Advent takes us back to the basics. The distance is covered only by Christ’s initiative and the Spirit’s work. For us this involves the journey of repentance and faith.
To believe God exists is not yet germane to your predicament. Your soul is in danger of exclusion from His eternal presence. The perpetual liability of humanity is the illusion of self-sufficiently. Somehow we think we’ll manage on our own. We’ll get through. We’ll mitigate the hardships of life with determined distraction, anaesthetizing intoxicants, or indulgent extravagance. We may end up jaded, depressed, sensationless, or ridden with anxiety. We may become ruled by fear, arrogance, or apathy. We think we’re coping, even flourishing, but really we haven’t faced the truth. The body deteriorates and the mind becomes frail. What happens to the soul?
The vicinity of the Jordan where John was baptizing was near to where the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land. Not coincidentally John is connecting the past with the future. He announces that God is preparing a new exodus. Centuries prior the Israelites were taken on a demanding physical journey during their desert wanderings. But the real journey was spiritual. It was an examination they did not pass. Grumbling and complaining they yearned even to return to slavery and finally committed idolatry by forging the golden calf.
Yet God did not forsake them. The work of Moses would be surpassed. Christ will break the yoke of sin by bearing it Himself. Freedom comes not by the outstretched staff of Moses but by the outstretched arms of the Crucified. The relationship to Abraham was also exceeded. Baptismal water is redemptive. Jewish bloodlines are not. Just as God can create ‘Jews’ out of Gentiles so too, He creates saints out of sinners. He makes light shine in the darkness and generates life where there is only death.
The paradox of Advent is that the coming Christ is already present. He is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End2. He is the same yesterday and today and forever3. He is the Coming One, the Advent Messiah, and at the very same time He is truly here. He chooses to be here in the bread and wine administered for the forgiveness of sins. And He is here in the bread and wine not through some pious aspiration of the heart or irrational acquiescence of the mind, but through the mystery of His promise to communicate Himself through His body and blood. He is here in the sacrament by virtue of His own oath and He achieves it with the Holy Spirit.
The omnipresence of God is one of the great tools of Satan. If we’re not informed enough in our Christian knowledge to make the proper distinctions then we are probably better off not referring to it. Of course there is no place from which God is absent insofar as He rules the universe with His power. He is sovereign over all His creation. But creation is not divinized. That is, God is not using creation as a whole to convict people of their sin or reveal the gospel to them. He is not lurking in the birds or the trees, the stars or the sea. He will not communicate His forgiveness to you in the beauty of a garden or tranquility of the river.
He can’t simply be found anywhere we wish Him to be. The intensity of our feelings cannot validate His attendance. You can construct an image of God in your mind- and many do. But apart from the parameters of Scripture it is only a fallacy. Oxygen is nearly omnipresent in our atmosphere but it will do you no good unless it comes in contact with your alveoli. These are the terminal structures of your respiratory tree where the oxygen enters your blood. You have about 700 million of them. Unless this exchange takes place you will die within minutes. In short, God’s saving presence is specifically located in the places He has ordained it to be. It is in the prophetic and apostolic word and it is in properly administered baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This truth has profound implications for the nature of the Christian Church. The gospel is not a private possession.
God has seen fit to entrust the unchanging message to hapless humans. Pastors are called to proclaim it publicly. He equips you too, a mere mortal to be a witness to His incomparable truth. He doesn’t require that you’re eccentric like John the Baptist. He doesn’t demand that you have the eloquence of Paul. He asks that you be faithful. There is no test you have to pass to qualify. He knows your weaknesses. He knows the temptations you are prone to. He will give you the passion that’s lacking, the knowledge that’s wanting, the generosity that’s missing.
St. Paul said today, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”4 Advent hope is conviction that the particularity of God’s presence in Christ will mean something fabulous in the end. God has ‘decreed’ it in person. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.”5 This very Son died and rose for our salvation. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Second Sunday of Advent
8 December 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Matthew 3:2
2 See Revelation 1:8, 17-18
3 See Hebrews 13:8
4 Romans 15:4
5 Hebrews 1:1-2