+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Matthew 24:44
Theme: Constant Readiness
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Repentance has a deadline. And there will be no allowances for late submissions. The coming of Christ will be arresting. The full scope of life’s activity will instantly come to a halt. Both revelry and drudgery will end. Indulgence and poverty will cease. Activity and apathy will stop. Instantly, the window of opportunity will close. The curtain of history will be drawn. But the vista to heaven will be opened. And the dawn of eternity will penetrate the believer’s vision. Advent involves anticipation and preparation for this spectacular day.
Today is the beginning of a new Church Year. Advent is meant to jolt us out of our spiritual slumber. “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”1 The word advent means ‘coming’. Advent is a short season leading up to Christmas that primarily focuses on Christ’s coming in glory. The theme is preparation and repentance. St. Matthew says, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man…they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.”2
So what was it like in the days of Noah? People had become habitually self-absorbed. Habits are good when they foster stability, godliness, and physical and spiritual well-being. They keep us grounded. Conversely, habits are destructive when they reveal and participate in the dominance of sin. God ordered the cosmos in such a way that its creatures were to live in rhythm with His design. The daily cycle of light and darkness, and the observation of the Sabbath Rest governed the routine of Adam and Eve from the very beginning. Sin threw that routine into chaos. No longer did Adam and Eve walk with God in the Garden in the cool of the day3. No longer did humanity follow its Maker.
Integral to the message of Advent is God’s impending judgment for sin. As we consider the gravity of Christ’s word we do well to block out all speculation about others and focus on our own need to repent. No one else will account for our sins. No one else’s circumstances matter. Still, it should not escape our notice that history is filled with foreshadowing and repetition. Humanity has been there before: Absorbed in the pursuits of this temporal life but completely oblivious to the coming judgment; dazzled by the lights of the world but teetering on the edge of the abyss. God rendered judgment.
No wonder St. Paul says today, “Let us behave decently…not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”3These words are nearly 2000 years old yet who can accuse the Holy Spirit of being outdated! Human nature hasn’t changed.
Do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature, says the apostle. Let’s not kid ourselves, that’s a big ask in our media-saturated, consumer-driven society. At every turn we are blitzed with advertizing encouraging us to indulge. The seed is planted in the mind again and again. It is nurtured and cultivated. “Everyone else has it!” “Everyone else is doing it!” “Don’t miss out!” “You deserve it!” “You’re worth it!” Even the most basic things are promoted as “must have”, “must buy”, “must own”. This relentless agenda often governs not only our economic choices but our emotional and spiritual well-being. It can lead to anxiety and even contribute to depression. Christ assures believers that their worth and identity are in Him.
There are few things more unsettling than unpleasant surprises. We like to be prepared for every eventuality. Nice surprises are always welcomed, but unexpected adversity tests our resolve. Yet in the hour of trial faith does not dawdle. Faith is a gift sustained by the Almighty Himself. Believers survive the storms of life anchored to the Rock of Ages4 We can be inspired in our troubles by those who have gone before. Who can speak of the loneliness of Noah? How surreal to see humanity wiped away! Would decades of hostility and ridicule, while the ark was being built, ease the profound sense of loss? The Scripture says, “By faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”5 What about the agonizing grief of Job? All his children were killed and his prosperity ripped away. He did not know that later on blessing would be restored. How did he escape complete despair? Had his faith not already moved him to the future life? So too, our faith exists in the here and now but is buoyed by eternal promises.
The coming of Christ will disclose all hypocrisy. The packaging is no guarantee of the content. The book cannot always be judged by its cover. How many will be immersed in preparations for Christmas but never give a thought about Christ? The trappings are there but the substance is missing. It’s like a car without an engine, a bank with no money; a body without a soul. Jude says, like “clouds without rain…autumn trees without fruit.”6 And so too, a church without a confession of truth is merely a gathering of people without a higher purpose. Through the proclamation of God’s Word the Holy Spirit creates and nurtures living faith.
He promises to do this first in baptism. He does it not by some magical incantation but by speaking the Word of Life. He crucifies and makes alive. Today Addison has gone through a death and resurrection. Her life is now bound up with the Redeemer. She has been clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ. Her sins are washed away. And she is a fresh example in an ongoing succession of souls embraced by Christ’s love. She is also a new illustration of human frailty cradled by divine tenderness.
Advent is a call to reality. You are not a self-sustaining being. You are mortal. Christ is the self-existing source of life. He is immortal. You and I are sinners. He is holy and blameless. And yet He ends up being labeled as the most notorious of all sinners. This is the miracle of the gospel: The great reversal. He is accused. He is mocked. He is sentenced. He is condemned. He suffers, is crucified, and dies. And in so doing secures our salvation. You are acquitted. You are pardoned. You are cherished. You are spared the cross and rescued from eternal wrath. You have been spiritually resurrected by Him who is the resurrection and the life.
Everything a believer does can then be cleansed of duplicity. Your ‘doing’ flows from your believing. Love for God flows from vital trust in Him. It cannot be feigned but it cannot be suppressed either. Does the anxious parent not search for the lost child? Does the smitten groom not sacrifice all for his beloved bride? Do the redeemed people of God not overflow with gratitude and express it in their support for the kingdom? You cannot legislate devotion in the heart but neither can the true desires of the heart remain hidden.
Dear friends, Advent’s call to be prepared does not mean we are to live in a perpetual state of anxiety. The peace of Christ is otherworldly. God has re-created us to live rhythmically in Christ. This happens as we live liturgically within a worshipping congregation. It happens as the ebb and flow of our lives are governed by the certainty of God’s grace in Christ. It happens as our hopes, our prayers, and our pleas are directed to Him who gave His life for the world. Amen
+ In nomine Jesu +
First Sunday of Advent
1 December 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Romans 13:11
2 Matthew 24:38-39
3 Romans 13:13-14
4 See Isaiah 26:4
5 Hebrews 11:7
6 Jude 12