Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sermon: Wednesday of Advent 2 (Populus Zion)

12 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 12:35-50 (Isa 12:2-6, Phil 4:4-7)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

As mortal human beings, we exist in time. We accept the limitations our temporal existence puts on us without even thinking about it. Like the cripples that were carried to Jesus, we are paralyzed when it comes to being able to go back in time. We are simply unable to walk into the past and undo our mistakes. Similarly, we’re like the blind men that groped their way in the darkness to our Lord, in that we cannot see beyond the present. Our sense of vision doesn’t have the ability to look ahead in time.

Of course, God, being outside of time, doesn’t exist under the same constraints. He is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. He is the Alpha and the Omega. Time for Him is not a prison to live in, but rather just another of His creations over which He has dominion. However, God willingly places Himself into time “for us men and for our salvation.” In order to rescue us, He takes on flesh and occupies space, and He comes wrapped in that flesh at a specific time.

That is why the coming, the Advent of our Lord, is past, present, and future. Our Lord appeared inside the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was born according to our calendar in 4 BC. And though we are crippled from physically joining the shepherds twenty centuries ago in adoring Him, we do see the original scene of the Holy Nativity with eyes of faith through the Word of God.

Likewise, our Lord is coming in the future. We are blinded as to the nature of future events, but through the eyes of faith, once again, by virtue of the Word of God, we confess that “he will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.”

But we live in the now, in the present. And our Lord has promised that He would not leave us. He continues to break into space and time here and at this moment. He has pledged us His abiding Spirit, “the Lord and giver of life.” And He dwells with us in flesh and blood, in Word and in Sacrament, here and now, in His body the “One holy catholic and apostolic Church” and in His physical presence through water and the Spirit in “One Baptism for the remission of sins.”

Our Lord has not simply broken into time only to be a part of our distant past and a promise for the unfathomable future. He is here with us now.

When Jesus breaks anew into our present, people are confronted with the very Word of God. That Word bears life, tossing a lifeline to all of us who are drowning in our own sins and in the storm-tossed seas of this fallen world. According to the words of our Lord Himself: “I have not spoken on My own authority, but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”

Jesus has not merely spoken, nor merely will He speak at some point. Our Lord uses the present tense when He says: “I speak.” In His Word, our Lord speaks to us in the here and now. This is why our Lord tells His ordained servants: “He who hears you hears Me.” The Word of Jesus is the Word of God, a Word that gives life – not merely the dubious “pie in the sky” of the future, nor the academic stuff of musty history books about eras long forgotten. No indeed, our Lord has come, will come, and does come to us where we are.

And notice what our Lord says happens in response to this present coming: some will hear and believe, while others will hear and reject. Jesus nowhere explains this mystery, why some believe and others don’t. Belief, that is faith, cannot be proven like a Geometric theorem or a mathematical puzzle. It is not only for the intelligent, nor for the ignorant. It isn’t a matter of a great deal of Biblical knowledge or lack thereof. Faith is a mystery rooted in the present coming of our Lord. Faith comes by hearing, and we hear in the present as sound waves batter our eardrums right now.

In response, some will choose the darkness of rejection over and against the light of belief in Him who is the Light of the World, the “God of God, Light of Light.” Some prefer the darkness out of selfishness, like the Pharisees who “believed in Him” but would “not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.”

For no-one chooses to believe anything. Belief is simply being convinced that something is true. You can’t make a decision to believe. You can’t will yourself to believe. But you can make a stubborn decision not to believe. You can indeed will yourself into disbelief.

Nobody has ever been argued into faith either by an appeal to past history nor to threats or bribes for the future. Belief in Jesus is a mystery, a supernatural response to His coming to us in the here and now.

Notice the stubborn lack of faith even among those who shared the present with our Lord in His earthly ministry: “But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him.”

But thanks be to God that many did believe in Him, do believe in Him, and will believe in Him.

His Word comes to us bearing good news that God has taken on flesh in the past, will recreate the universe anew in the future, and is present for us in the here and now! And again I say “Thanks be to God” that in spite of our stubbornness, our own temptations to walk in the darkness, our own “love of the praise of men more than the praise of God,” we are permitted to likewise see great miraculous signs in the present, as we witness the miracle of rebirth at this very baptismal font, we hear again and again the Word of the Lord proclaiming you absolved of your sins week in and week out in this very sanctuary, and that we are privileged to eat His holy body and drink His holy blood – even though we are separated from our Lord’s earthly ministry by some two thousand years in the past, and likewise separated an unknowable amount of time from His future advent.

The present reality enjoyed by God’s redeemed and holy people is having one foot in time and one foot in eternity. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims: “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid” and “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

It is in this present life of forgiveness, peace, and sanctification that St. Paul writes not only to the Philippians in the first century, but to the New Orleanians in the twenty-first century: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice!” For there is life and salvation here and now. This is how it is that even surrounded by death and destruction, amid persecution and calamity, seemingly outnumbered and overcome by evil, and suffocated by relentless attacks on our faith, we can “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving,” we can indeed let our “requests be known to God.”

For He hears us now. He knows what we need before we ask, and even before the foundation of the world, was drawing us to Himself and carrying out the plan for a new heaven and a new earth when time shall be no more.

And though we are blind to the future, in faith we can indeed see that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guide [our] hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

That promise was delivered to us in the past and will be brought to completion in the future – but it is ours now, my dear brothers and sisters. Our blessed Lord speaks to us now. Hear Him. Heed His Word! Now is the day of salvation. Now is the time to repent and no longer abide in darkness. Now is the day of our deliverance.

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

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