Advent Midweek 3
Christ’s Continued Advent
December 18, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church – New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ’s first advent was over 2,000 years ago, a half a world away. Born as a child in his ancestral town, yet born as a stranger, born to a virgin mother and laid in a manger, the Son of God came in humility as the Son of Man. Godhead clothed in flesh. The wood that held His infant body would also hold His mature body—beaten and bloodied for the sake of sinful men.
But the babe who was born in Bethlehem was reborn, in a sense, in Jerusalem. Three days after He breathed His last, He rose again from the grave. But no sooner had He come from the grave, He went away again, ascended into heaven on the clouds. He now sits at the Father’s right hand, from whence He will come in the same way to judge both the quick and the dead.
In the season of Advent, we turn our hearts and minds to Christ’s coming, but the unavoidable, proverbial elephant in the room is that He’s not come, He’s gone. Gone away. And because He is gone away, we behave as if He’s nowhere to be found. And this behavior can be found in two ways.
The first is behaving like rebellious teenagers whose parents are away for the weekend. They are the ones who treat Christ’s absence as a license to descend into debauched living. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow mom and dad come home.
But when He delays His return, they find out how much they’ve come to love His absence. At first they may try to cover up their excessive indulgences, but soon even that becomes too much of an impediment to what they consider to be a good time. They are the world, the sons who squander the heavenly Father’s good gifts in prodigal living.
There is another way to treat Christ’s absence—the way of the older brother who follows all the rules. They are the ones who treat the Word of God as a checklist of rules to keep while mom and dad are away—no parties, no boys in the house, keep your room tidy, don’t take dad’s vintage Ferrari on a joyride through Chicago. They are the Christian people, the morally upright and outwardly righteous.
These are the ones who treat God as some kind of abstract, spiritual entity, who’s left a set of rules of Christian living, as well as an example of how to follow them. For these, the essence of Christianity is what they do from day to day, and worship is a time to sing about a pray to a spiritually present, but bodily absent God, in order to thank Him that He has not made them like other men.
Now, you may fall somewhere in between these two poles, between licentiousness and smug self-righteousness. In reality, human nature is more of a blend of the two. Your flesh is both inclined to indulge its lusts and to justify itself with the things you imagine would fulfill God’s Law.
Outwardly these two ways of behaving in Christ’s absence appear to be polar opposites, but they are the same at the root. Both ways of thinking spring from the belief that Christ has gone to God’s right hand and has left you in charge of your own life. But it’s not as if Christ is the bookends of New Testament history, that His only important work is at the beginning and end, leaving you to chart your own course through life. He has ascended to the Father’s right hand, not to leave you to choose your own adventure, but precisely so that He could come to you again, and again, in grace, to forgive, renew, and strengthen you.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “God works in mysterious ways”? People say that when something bad ends up being not so bad, or some unlooked for good thing happens. It’s one of those things that sounds like it should be in the Bible, but it’s really not (like the phrase, “This, too, shall pass”). It’s really more of a pious cliché than a Word of God. But I think it can be understood properly.
The Greek word mysterion shows up a few times in the Bible. When the Greek was translated into Latin, that word mysterion became sacramentum. A mystery is a sacrament. So to say that God works in a mysterious way is really to say that God works in a sacramental way. And that’s true. His ways are mysterious because He comes in a way that’s hidden to plain sight, but revealed in other ways (that’s what a mysterion is), and through these means by which He hides Himself, He renews His vow to us (that’s what a sacramentum is).
The Sacrament of the Altar is the way in which Jesus continues to come. In this Sacrament, He hides His true body and blood under the humble external forms of bread and wine. It is a mysterious union—we can’t see how bread can be body or wine can be blood—but it is revealed to be so by His Word. Eyes can’t make out this coming, but faith believes what He promises.
Jesus truly comes in the bread and wine. This is truly a Sacrament—not that you make a vow to God to be obedient, but that He renews His vow to you. He forgives your sins, creates in you a clean heart and renews a right spirit within you. He pledges Himself to you again and again.
Jesus is not gone. He promises His disciples, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age,” (Matt 28:20), “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” (John 14:8). He keeps these promises, borne by the Holy Spirit upon the means of grace, to visit you with His favor and forgiveness. Again and again.
This is the weekly rhythm of the Church from Christ’s ascension until His return. One of the great comforts of Christ’s continual Advent in the means of grace is that it’s not an earth-shattering event. Newspapers don’t report it, the television crews are not on hand to record it. There may be a few random Facebook statuses or tweets, but by and large, Jesus’ sacramental return goes unnoticed.
But the comforting thing is that despite how unremarkable it is, Christ continues to come in these means, every week, on altars and from pulpits across the world. In New Haven, and outside New Haven off of Beouf Lutheran Road. In Washington and Hermann, Port Hudson and Beaufort and Union and Drake and Freedom and Owensville and Belle. In St. Louis and Kansas City and Columbia and Jefferson City. In Chicago and Milwaukee and Los Angeles and New York City. In the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, the southwest deserts and the Gulf Coast. In Germany and Britain and Sweden and Latvia and Russia and Siberia. In Nairobi and Africa’s west coast. In Singapore and Japan and Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong and Australia and New Zealand.
Christ continues to come upon Christian altars and from Christian pulpits across the world. He comes to prepare you for His final Advent by delivering what He earned for you by His first Advent. When He comes on the Last Day, it will not be a day of fear or dread, because you’ve already experience His coming.
Christ Comes Each Week in His Word and Holy Sacrament for Your Continual Preparation
Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard