Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sermon: Wednesday of Advent 3 (Gaudete)

19 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 24:1-14 (Zech 6:12-15, Jas 5:7-10)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The second to last verse in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible includes a portion of a table prayer many Lutherans say before eating: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

The early Jewish Christians used to say this very thing using the Aramaic expression: Maranatha. It can mean “the Lord has come” in the past, “the Lord is coming” in the future, “the Lord is come,” which is to say, He is present with us in Holy Communion, or it can mean the prayer: “Come, Lord!” And, of course, all are equally true.

Back in the 1970s, the name “Maranatha” was adopted by a new company that produced cheesy Christian folk-rock music that has ruined the decorum of a lot of our churches – causing many of us thirty years later to pray with even more vigor: “Maranatha!” “Come, Lord!” “Come Lord Jesus, while there is still some dignity left in your holy sanctuary.”

It is no accident that “Come, Lord Jesus” is St. John’s prayer at the very end of the book of Revelation. For we are, like John, in the last days. We’re waiting for the end to come. All around us, the world is coming apart at the seams – and so the whole Church on earth prays: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

St. John the Apostle was exiled for the Christian faith. All of the other apostles were dead – all killed as martyrs to the Lord. Only John remained, and he was under a kind of house arrest. If there was any time to quit, now would be the time – even as Christians were being slaughtered by the Roman government. But the Lord Jesus had more revelations to bring to His people, a final word of encouragement to close out the Holy Scriptures, to seal up the scroll until He comes again. And so, St. John prays at the end of this book: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

This prayer of Maranatha is the basis of the hymn we Christians are singing around the world, even as we will sing this evening as our Lord will come to us in the holy sacrament: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The traditional prayer antiphon for December 19 refers to our Lord as the Root of Jesse, which is sung in stanza 4 of “O Come Emmanuel” – translated as: “O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree, / Free them from Satan’s tyranny / That trust Thy mighty pow’r to save, / And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.”

And this triumph over death and Satan are prophesied by Zechariah, who has spoken to us anew this Advent night: “Behold, the Man whose name is the Branch!” The prophet promises that this Branch will branch out, will rebuild the temple, will bear the glory, will sit on a throne and rule, will be a priest, and will be a counselor of peace.

And though our Gospel sounds anything but peaceful, it is only so because Satan will not submit without a struggle to the Branch of Jesse, the Prince of Peace.

Our Lord warns us that when we pray “Come, Lord Jesus,” we are asking for the hastening of the end, a cataclysmic series of events that officially began when the temple in Jerusalem was leveled – exactly 40 years after our Lord’s death and resurrection. Indeed, not one stone is left on top of another, just as St. Matthew grimly reports according to our Lord’s warning.

Other terrible things will happen before the Lord comes: false teachers, bogus christs, wars and rumors of wars, all sorts of military invasions and political retaliations, starvation, epidemics of disease, and violent natural disasters will happen. And Jesus says that “all these are the beginning of sorrows.”

Then there will be more tribulation against Christians – not merely the refusal of a clerk to say “Merry Christmas” – but rather real physical persecution. Jesus specifically tells us that before He comes, there will be a period of intense “political correctness” that expresses offense at the name of Jesus. Should we be surprised at what we see around us? There will be an unleashing of lawlessness, of callous regard for human life, and a universal culture of lovelessness.

So, it is easy to see why the early Christians, who were being tortured, imprisoned, and executed prayed: “Maranatha. It’s easy to see why John the Apostle ended His final prayer to appear in Christian Scripture with “Come, Lord Jesus.” The Church’s prayer, the Bible’s prayer, the martyr’s prayer, is our prayer too, dear brothers and sisters. “Come, Lord Jesus.”

But we must also “endure to the end” as our Lord encourages us. “Don’t give up” He tells us in so many words. For in endurance you will find salvation. The Gospel will be preached all over the world, and then, the end will come. Our persecutions will cease, our enemies will be destroyed, and Paradise will be recreated anew.

But in the mean time, we must endure, and be prepared to endure much more. We need to fortify ourselves on the Word of God, in the consolation of the forgiveness of sins, in the eating and drinking of our Lord’s body and blood, taking refuge in our baptisms, and strengthening and encouraging our brothers and sisters who are under the violent assaults and attacks of the devil.

St. James exhorts us: “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.” Just as a farmer must be patient in watering the seed until it grows to the harvest, we too must be patient and be nourished with baptismal water and the nurturing Word. “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” We’re so close, dear friends. Our Lord’s advent is very near! This is why James tells us not to sweat the small stuff: “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!”

Advent is an important time for Christians around the world. This is not only a time for shopping, for parties, for sending out cards, and for baking. It is indeed a time to prepare for the Lord’s coming in the flesh – for He has not completed His work with our world, nor with us. He is coming again to save “those who endure to the end.” Those who endure will submit to His power, for only by His power can any of us have the endurance we will need to remain faithful, to not be swayed by false teachers nor be frightened by the rapid decline of our world into madness.

The last of the great prayer antiphons of the Christmas season is traditionally prayed the evening before Christmas Eve: “O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior. Come and save us, O Lord our God.” And the Good News, dear Christians, is that He is indeed coming.

And so we join with the Church catholic around the globe on this week known as Gaudete (which is Latin for “rejoice”), this week of the rose colored candle on the Advent wreath, as we sing in true Christian unity: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel / Shall come to thee, O Israel!”

In the midst of tribulation, we are bold to hope – for we have His promise. He is coming again, and He is coming soon! Come, Lord Jesus! Maranatha Come and save us, O Lord our God. Amen.

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

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