Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sermon: Wednesday of Advent 1 (Ad Te Levavi)

5 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 1:26-36 (Gen 3:1-15, Heb 10:19-27)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. We worship the one who was, who is, and who is to come.

God is not bound to time as we are, but for us men and for our salvation, He breaks into our world of space and time in order to redeem us.

And so we meditate and ponder the mystery of the mighty and yet merciful God who is infinite, but who willingly enters the existence of the finite: the One who comes to us in our past, our present, and our future. The One without beginning or end, who yet is born and who dies.

Advent reflects this threefold coming of our Lord. We call to mind the past advent of our Lord even as we prepare for the commemoration of our Lord’s birth twenty days from now. We celebrate the mystery of our Lord’s coming to us in the present through his promised means of the Word and the sacraments. And we celebrate His future advent at the end of time when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The coming of Jesus in the past was the most extraordinary event in human history. And that coming was long expected. All creation yearned for the Promised One to break into space and time to redeem all creation.

The promise goes back to the Garden of Eden itself. For after the fall, when God confronted Adam, Eve, and the serpent to give account for their sins, there were devastating consequences and yet hope-inspiring promises. For unto us a Child would be born, the One who would bruise the head of the serpent and reclaim our fallen creation from its ruin.

The people of Israel waited for centuries, even millennia, for this Champion to appear. He is prefigured in the Old Testament as generations of priests sacrificed unblemished male lambs to God, as the smoke of their sacrifice mingled with the prayers of God’s people, rising like incense heavenward to plead for redemption.

For the blessed Lord Jesus is a priest, and more. He is our great High Priest, bearing the blood that enables us to enter the holiest of holies in the presence of God. It is in this priest’s name that we are washed with pure water. For this priest is also the victim, and the blood He bears pours from His wounds.

Even as we gather in this holy sanctuary to carry out our priestly work of the evening sacrifice, as our prayers rise before Him as incense, we are surrounded in space and time with reminders of this past coming of our Lord.

The poinsettias remind us of the lushness of paradise, even as the flowers remind us that Jesus is the pinnacle, the very flower of our race. The trees not only remind us of creation, of life, of the Garden of Eden, they also bear witness to the wood upon which our Lord was crucified. And from the wound of a tree flows the sap that hardens into frankincense – which is combined with myrrh and placed into the golden thurible as a memorial of the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh the magi offered to the boy Jesus. The incense smoke makes its way heavenward, not only reminding us of our Lord and His sacrifice for us, but also calling to mind the past of the Church. For it was over incense that thousands of saints were martyred in the distant past of the Christian Church.

The early Christians were tortured and killed, offering their bodies and their witness as a thank offering to the Lord Jesus who saved them, since they refused to burn incense to Caesar. For we Christians will not burn incense as an act of worship to anyone other than the Triune God – the second person of which took on our flesh as well as the gifts of the magi.

All of these symbols of the past, all of the promises of God in the Old Testament, the testimony of the prophets and the blood of the martyrs – all point to the same event: the incarnation of God into human flesh.

The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to carry out His ministry and mission is the pinnacle of all human history. If any event of the past is worth remembering, it is this: “The angel Gabriel from heaven came, with wings as drifted snow, with eyes aflame. ‘All hail to thee, O lowly maiden Mary, most highly favored lady.’”

For when our most highly favored lady consented to this miracle, our Lord’s incarnation began: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.”

Gabriel summed up four thousand years of prophecy and promise: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

We worship a God who has come in the past to save us. Not a distant, murky past of the stuff of fairy tales and legends, but of the flesh-and-blood past of names, dates, places, and landmarks. Our Lord God took on specific, real, and even vulnerable flesh – for in his wounds (His vulnera in Latin) our vulnerability was bound up, cleansed, healed, and never to be revisited. The festering and gaping wound of sin that we opened up at Eden has been stitched shut at Calvary.

But before He was offered up as our sacrifice, before He began His ministry as our High Priest, He entered human history as a baby inside a virgin’s womb. As we ponder the past coming of our Lord, as we meditate upon the Holy Word of God given to us for the proclamation of the Good News – what a joyful time of anticipation we call to mind, as the world and the church vicariously experience the last month of the most wondrous pregnancy of all time.

And calling to mind a real time and place in our human past as the Blessed Virgin Mary sang, we join with her in the present to blend our voices with hers: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. We worship the one who was, who is, and who is to come. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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