THE ONE WHO IS, WHO WAS, AND IS TO COME
"Lord Jesus Christ, we implore you to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by your gracious visitation." Collect 3rd Sunday in Advent
IF you play the stock market there's nothing like having insider information to put you ahead of the competition. That's what we have with today's Collect. A prayer we know God will answer because it is based on His revealed will in Holy Scripture. There is much about God that we do not know and we cannot act on that, but we can have full confidence with a prayer like today's Collect.
The Collect is a special prayer used only in the Western church. It is called a Collect because it collects the themes of a given Sunday and condenses them into a brief, memorable prayer. You won't find such a prayer in the Eastern liturgy, but like the Western liturgy itself, the Collect is terse and to the point. It is the prayer of people who are hounded by enemies and don't have time for a lot of words, but only to cry out for help. We are those people, harassed by sin first by the sin we inherit from Adam -- the original sin that dwells in the heart of every man, that wreaks havoc throughout the world, that robs us of health and happiness and that sabotages our every endeavor -- then by our personal iniquities and sins and by our acts of rebellion and careless abandon as we heedlessly transgress God's will in search of dubious thrills that can never make us happy.
It is true that we cannot help ourselves, but that is an excuse and the fact does not let anyone off the hook on judgment day. People who have constructed pretty theologies in hopes of being found faultless in the final judgment are in for a rude awakening. Abandon any such thoughts, O Man, and pray this Collect. Ask the Lord Jesus Christ to lighten the darkness of your heart by His gracious visitation and He will do it!
We learn in St. John's Revelation that Jesus is "the One who is and who was and who is to come..." and we will consider this threefold visition by our Lord this morning.
When the Lord calls Himself "the one who was," He is speaking about the many previous visitations He made to His fallen world which climaxed with His holy incarnation.
The entire universe was constructed to be a temple for the honor and glory of God, with Eden as the chancel, as the place of man's holy communion with his God, but when sin entered the equation, rather than abandon His fickle creation or annihilate it, the Lord God set out to redeem us. He did it with a promise made to the woman that her Seed would come to crush the head of the wicked, murderous and lying Serpent. The Lord continued to reveal His grace and bit by bit to unfold the promise that would be fulfilled when the Word should become flesh to dwell among us full of grace and truth.
Between the Fall into sin and the birth of the Christ, our Lord made many gracious appearances. He did it through persons such as Noah, Melchizedek, Moses and King David, and by events such as the Exodus, Elijah's miracles, and by restoration from Babylonian captivity that we hear of in today's Psalm, and by countless prophetic promises like the one we hear in today's Old Testament lesson from Isaiah. Those divine prophecies became the lifeline of God's Old Testament people. They were woven into liturgies and became the foundation of Israel's worship. They were prayed, preached, taught, sung, memorized, confessed and glorified right up to the time of the holy birth, the one we will soon commemorate with solemnity and great joy! They scattered the darkness and kept faith, hope and charity alive until the Lord should appear in the fullness of time, and appear He did! Our Lord came, saw and conquered the darkness of night, for in Him there is no darkness at all. He lived a shining life of perfect love and devotion to God, a life that by God's mercy is attributed to you so that His life is now your life, His record your record, and His slate your slate, and there is nothing better than that. He died in your place in order to pay the ultimate penalty for your sin, and His death is become your redemption and your salvation; and He sprang again from the ground to give indestructible life to the sons of earth. You are those sons!
He is not only the One who "was" but also the One who "is." As He came to St John and His little flock in exile on Patmos, as they celebrated the Eucharist in exile, even so He graciously comes to visit us today. It happens each Lord's Day in His house where He comes to us dressed in His Word and clothed in the Bread and Wine to grant us pardon for our wrongs, double comfort for all that sin has robbed from us, and to visit us with healing in His wings for our bodies, souls and spirits.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is also "He who is to come." When He comes again it will not be to deal with sin, for that is done and finished; but rather to "save those who eagerly await Him" (Hebrews 9:28) We are those people. Scripture says that when He appears He, "will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body..." It says further that, "When Christ who is your life appears then you also will appear with Him in Glory." Further, that "If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."
This, dear Christians, is what we look for: the Lord's gracious visitation which for us will be "the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come." Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras