Sunday, December 11, 2016

It was a time for repentance, it was a time for hope

THE TALE OF TWO ADVENTS


ONE of the greatest blessings we inherited from our fathers in the faith is the Liturgical Year.

Its chief benefit is that it brings order and structure to Christian worship, which is Christian life.  It has seasons we celebrate year in and year out that trace human history from our fall into sin which still plagues us today, to the salvation that is ours by grace through faith in Christ, who was crucified and raised again for us, but it doesn't stop there.  The Liturgical/Church Year takes us into the future as well, to the end of the age when the Lord will return to make His dwelling with men, and then all things will become new!

Presently we celebrate the seasons of the Liturgical Year called Advent, which historically has two focuses.  Until the ninth century it was a season of hope, a time of great expectation that God would fulfill His promise to redeem our fallen world, that as our Lord once came in human flesh, that He would quickly come again in glory to cut off the thorns of sin and death, but beginning in the ninth century Advent took on a different tone and became a season of repentance, much like Lent, but in our lifetime Advent is both.

The historic lectionary prescribes violet, the color of repentance, as the color for the season and to observe the season as such is a good thing.  It reminds us of the stygian darkness that covered the earth "till He appeared and the soul felt its worth," and of the message of John the Baptist that repentance and faith are always necessary until the Lord's Second Advent, the one we enact and earnestly hope for when we celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday.

Indeed, any religion that does not cry out against sin as the Baptist did, and call hearers to repentance, for which he was imprisoned and beheaded, is a defective church and has no Gospel to preach.  From this preserve us, heavenly Father!

Yet in the last 30 years nearly all LCMS churches have changed the color of Advent to blue, returning to its original focus as a season of Hope.  This, too, is good because St. Paul writes in Romans 8:24 that, "We are saved by hope."

We cannot say which is a better theme, but neither need we, because the lessons this third Sunday in Advent provide both a word of repentance and a word of hope.  It is this:  Comfort, comfort ye my people says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.  Cry out to her that her warfare is ended, her iniquity is pardoned, and that she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this prophecy is that Isaiah gives it before it is ever needed or accomplished!  He lived in the middle of the 8th century before Christ, but this prophecy was uttered to give hope to Israel in her Babylonian captivity which was still 150 years in the future!

What does this mean?

It means the same thing that St. Paul does when he says that God chose us in Christ, before the foundation of the world!  It means that long before trouble ever begins our Lord has planned and devised salvation for us!  It lets us know that He is ever at work on our behalf, ever interceding for us, ever making all things work together for good for those who believe and are baptized, so don't ever despair.  Don't ever give up hope because the storms of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.

"Comfort, comfort ye my people says your God."  When we hear such words they should fill us with confidence and joy because God who pronounces them is faithful, but at the same time we should not think of them as mere verbiage alone; as simple sounds formed by the tongue and lips and lungs, but as the Word of God made flesh, as Jesus who is the Hand of the Lord, the Glory of the Lord, the Mouth of the Lord, and who brings all the promises of God to fruition, so that all flesh shall see it together.

This goes to the heart of Advent and of Christmas which is so close we can almost taste it, because when God speaks, His words don't remain mere words only, but they take on shape and form, flesh and blood; the very thing we celebrate now:  that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth; grace and truth of which you are the blessed object, despite your present sadness, your sorrows, troubles, fears or sins.  Our Lord Jesus Christ was not a phantom or a holograph, but "was made man" for us.  He "put on our humanity, and raised up our mortality" as an ancient liturgy of the church proclaims (Addai & Mari), thereby sanctifying every person, and raising up all of human existence.

What God promised when He said, "Let us make man in our image and likeness" Christ accomplished by coming into the world.  By His incarnation, life, cross and resurrection, He makes us beloved sons of God.  By His victory over the devil our warfare is over.  Our iniquity is pardoned.  Our judgment is canceled.  This is the Christian faith and the deepest joy of our lives.

From Jesus, who is the Lord's hand, we have received not only adequate salvation to cover our sins but double salvation, remission twice over, so that we might never think of ourselves or any other person as beyond hope, beyond salvation, beyond redemption, or anything less than fully acceptable and beloved sons of God in Christ.  It is as St. Paul says, "Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more."

Therefore today let us look to the One whom John preached by whom "the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  Jesus is that Lord.  We are those people!  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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