Friday, December 4, 2015

Are we using Advent to race around and busily ignore the coming of our Lord?


"And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." Romans 13:11-14

As the days get shorter, the bed gets harder to leave in the morning. Yet the night comes to an end. Sooner or later the alarm clock sounds. We hear that piercing, accusing, condemning sound, that relentless type of the Last Judgment, unmistakably preaching God's Law to us. What does an alarm clock say? It says we can't do what we like. We aren't in Eden any longer. The judgment that drove the first people out of the garden has placed us into a hostile world. If we want to survive, we have to get busy, now!

Now not every day is a work day. Some days we have reasons to want to get up, like children on Christmas. On days like those we don't need an alarm. So on that first Palm Sunday, as we heard in the reading, Peter and John didn't need an alarm. They had been looking forward to that day for a long time. Jesus was going to enter the religious capitol of the world. The Son of David was entering David's city. Everyone had preparations to make, not just the disciples who went around with Jesus, but also those waiting for Him to visit. And St. Paul is telling us that our everlasting holiday is going to begin. The dawn will be a dawn of celebration. The time to get ready for it is now.

Or do we prefer to daydream? Can we afford to do that? Have we already won the final victory? So much darkness still remains -- darkness around us and darkness within us. All the carousing, the immorality, the quarreling … all the bondage to the herd mentality, the sleepy old flesh wants to stay in bed. It's OK to have opinions about heaven, to dream about it, but today the Church would have us arise. The flesh has problems with a collect that begins with the words, "Stir up." It's uncomfortable to be God's people. We must not look like everybody else. We don't belong to everybody else, no matter how loudly they demand our allegiance. We belong to the coming day, not the present night. Therefore we want to stand out from the darkness.

There are various ways to do it.  Jesus has given us tremendous liberty in our style of life, but it is important to avoid the fashions of the times. We want to be different, our clothes, our spending priorities, our language, all these must be better than the society around us. Do people talk about us because we're different? Good! That means we made an impression, we were seen and heard, our difference was enough to count.

God is also making preparations for the Great Day. All along He has been very careful and methodical. The climax of His plan came when He sent His Son to redeem the world. When He made the world He saw that it was good. He mourned as it became flawed and soiled by sin. He gave it hope by becoming part of His own creation. He had so much love and mercy within Him that He was willing to pay for our atonement, to be wounded for our transgressions, battered for our iniquities, bearing our afflictions, sorrows, and pains. That First Advent, 2000 years ago was when He came to Jerusalem to withstand the furious assaults of the Prince of Darkness. He was the True Light that shone in the darkness. In spite of the fact that the darkness did its worst, it did not overwhelm the True Light. It gave way to the dawn of Easter. The victory that began with the First Coming will end at the Second Coming. The darkness can make no permanent claim. St. Paul stirs us up with cheers as he says Our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. It isn't here yet, but it is on its way.

The whole civilization around us is restless. The large majority have no idea why they're restless, and we who know the truth are nevertheless distracted by it. Merchants and mothers run themselves silly busying themselves with Christmas sales. Children are restless as well. Our society has presented Christmas as a kind of mini-judgment day for them. All that distraction and all that busyness are evidence that the darkness is still here. The Christian Christmas doesn't begin for four weeks yet, but the Pagan Christmas is in full swing now. The commercial Christmas cashes in on the Christian holiday. It may be willing to talk about angels and peace, but seems little interested in prophecies and fulfillment. Pagans think the world goes on forever. Some modern churchmen also disbelieve in the doctrine of the final things. They try to tell us that the goal of faith is faith itself. Don't believe it. That is like saying that hunger exists for its own sake, apart from food. Full salvation requires a returning Lord.

When the alarm clock rings, we have to get dressed, so St. Paul tells us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. You wouldn't want to go to work in your pajamas. You wouldn't want to meet people looking as if you just got up.  So it is important to wear the righteousness of Christ. The devil might be strong, but the Stronger One has bound him. We speak of walking with the Lord. It is more likely the Lord who walks with us. When we resist the devil he flees because he sees who is beside us. Without faith we cannot see the dawn of eternity, but we have faith, we have enough of God's light to walk in.

The time in which we live is ripe for new hope. Around 1900 it was very difficult to get people to seek fulfillment beyond the horizons of the secular world. That generation was comfortable with the idea of human progress, but the twentieth century deflated that balloon. Early in its second decade a prophetic event took place. The ocean liner Titanic, proudest of human achievements, showed how flimsy human achievement really was. It became a metaphor for progress and expertise of all kinds. Soon we saw whither progress leads us -- to the trenches of the Western Front, the bread lines of the Depression, the ashes of Hiroshima, racial trouble, psychedelic drugs, and the last helicopter of Saigon. Behold the accomplishments of humanity! The vain daydream of human goodness has been unmasked to reveal the nightmare of human reality, yet that despair is a great opportunity for us. We never did trust in princes, nor in their democratic equivalents. We predicted all the uncomfortable facts. We are still saying, in spite of what has happened, Our salvation is nearer to us now.

Not that we're anything great. We can't say that on or own. The Holy Spirit moves us to say it. God knows that it is impossible for us to free ourselves from the imagination of our hearts, so He has given us a new reality, the reality of our baptism, the objective reality of our baptism. As each new Christian is sprinkled with the washing of regeneration, as the Holy Spirit through the sacred water creates faith, we give the new Christian a white napkin, symbolic of putting on the Lord Jesus. We don't have to worry about how to meet Him. He has already met us. As we repent each day we make that baptism real again and again. We might drift into daydreams, or wander into the darkness, but Jesus is there, too. Through His Holy Church He offers us the Gospel and Sacraments of forgiveness, and encourages us by reminding us of the salvation which is nearer now than ever before. He who is able and willing to put the devil in his place walks with you. Wake up every day in hope. Let your clock be one that preaches the Gospel, telling you that the Second Coming is closer. AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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