Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tired of Fighting the Unbelieving World? We Still Have Reason to Rejoice

REJOICE O GENTILES, with His people

Advent is a season to rejoice. We no longer have to rejoice with God’s people like the believing Gentiles did in past ages, because in Christ we are God’s people! By faith in His name we are children of Abraham and heirs to all the promises and comfort the Scriptures give. (Gal. 3:7) And that’s no small amount dear Christians. The Word of God we confess has sustained people throughout the long night of sadness; and will continue to do so until the end of the age and beyond, because like God Himself the Word is eternal.

Before we can rejoice, however, we first have to repent. Advent helps us do that. It’s a season dedicated to knowing and confessing our sins. As Christians we know that our wrongs were pardoned on the cross, but we must never think of them lightly. Sin robs us of joy. It’s the cause of the enmity that exists between fathers and sons, and sons and fathers. Sin kills! And except for the healing death of Jesus on the wings of the cross, the Day of the Lord that Malachi predicts would be a Day of Wrath. But in Christ it will be a Day of peace and joy for us.

We don’t like to think about sin. Those who don’t know how it is forgiven, by faith in the blood of Christ, must deny it, minimize it or otherwise make it disappear. Sad to say even many churches have banished the dreaded “S” word from their vocabulary. They’ve replaced that “black sheep” of theological terms with the word: brokenness. We’re not sinners, they say, but broken. Like a car. Or a window. One that can be repaired and then it will work again. If only it were that easy.

Yes, before we can rejoice we must first regret, and so the church’s color for Advent is purple. Scripture doesn’t command us to use that color but the church has always done so with good reason. Purple is the color of the God-Man Jesus Christ who came into the world to suffer for sin. When God gave His Old Testament church instructions to build a tabernacle in the wilderness the color scheme commanded over and over again, was blue, purple and scarlet in that order. Why? Because Blue is the color of the heavens and therefore of God; and Scarlet (red) is the color of the ground and therefore of Man who was made from the dust of the ground. When you combine those two colors, as happened when God assumed human flesh, you get Purple. So Purple is both the Old Testament and New Testament color for Jesus who became incarnate to reconcile Heaven and Earth, God and Man, by His blood on the cross. It was no coincidence that Jesus was dressed in a purple robe before His death. His tormenters were unknowingly proclaiming that Jesus is True God and True Man come to earth to suffer for our sins.

Advent is a season of rejoicing as well because in it we contemplate the coming Christ, and the end of all our sorrows. Before Jesus was born, the promise of the coming Christ kept God’s people alive, alert and filled them with all joy and peace in believing (15:13). Through the dark night of sin the Scriptures were preached, taught, prayed and sung even as they are today. The Word consoled God’s people in all the mortal anguish they suffered both personally and nationally as the Lord’s Suffering Servant.

God’s Old Testament church looked forward, but we are different. We have a dual focus. We look back to the promise of God that was fulfilled so wondrously in our Lord’s incarnation. But we also look forward to His Second and Final coming. Jesus tells us that the last days, which began with His birth (Heb. 1:2), will be a time of great distress for the world and its people. Truer words were never spoken! In today’s Gospel lesson He teaches that men will stare in stunned confusion as they behold history’s final events. They won’t know what to make of the signs that will be evident in the earth and in the heavens above. But He also tells us that when we see these things happening, when we see the distress of nations that perplex everyone else, that we should stand tall! Stand tall and lift up our heads because they mean that the Day of our Redemption is drawing near.

Along with this Gospel assurance, our Lord also speaks a word of warning, like Malachi does in the very last sentence of the Old Testament Scriptures. He does so because, like the unbelieving world, we too can get weary of waiting, weary in well-doing. We forget to pray. Forget to trust. And just like the children of wrath we want to salve our present pain and future fears by intoxicating ourselves into oblivion. It’s all the rage. It’s how the world deals with spiritual angst. It should come as no surprise, because those who don’t have the instruction, endurance or consolation of the Scriptures have no other defense. Life hurts too much and men can only tolerate uncertainty for so long.

So Paul prays that God would endow His people with endurance, consolation and with a united heart and voice. We need endurance because we’re not allowed to quit. We’re not allowed to throw in the towel. Yes we’ve been shot by the devil’s fiery darts. Everyone’s been shot. But God’s Word, in ways we don’t even understand most of the time, gives us endurance. It gives us fortitude to continue in faith, hope and love and to do the work He gave us to do while it is day, “before the night cometh when no man can work.” (John 9:4)

We need consolation too, and we get it from the Scriptures, but the Scriptures don’t come to us naked. They come to us in the context of the church’s worship, where Jesus comes to us with healing in His wings by the appointed means of the Word and Sacrament. We come on empty but we leave on full, consoled by the forgiveness of our many, repetitive, repulsive sins and renewed by the word and promises of God.

Christian worship is the occasion where the words of our text, “Rejoice O Gentiles with His people” come to pass most perfectly. It’s the place where: with one heart and one voice we glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (15:13) We do that inwardly by faith, but outwardly as well by hearing the same Scriptures and praying the same prayers. It’s pre-written, canned, planned and engineered. Because short of a Script, one we believe with all our hearts, Christians will have no united voice of praise on earth. But we must, because the Mass is among other things, a rehearsal for heaven where there’s also a Script we will follow and believe unceasingly with all our whole mind and heart.

Rejoice O Gentiles with God’s people. We are God’s people. We were made so by the wings of the Cross of our Lord, who gives us endurance, consolation, and unity, so that with one heart and voice we can ever praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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