This sermon will be preached at Grace Lutheran Church in Houma, Louisiana. Pastor Rich Rudnik, whom I am pleased to call my pastor, has asked me to fill in for him while he's on vacation.
The Days Are Coming
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Before I begin this morning, let me say, “Happy New Year!” The First Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of a new year in the worship life of the church. The last few Sundays our readings moved our focus toward the end of the world, the Day of Judgment, the return of Christ in glory to judge both the living and the dead. This week we return to the life of Christ. As you may know, the word Advent means “coming”. Our focus especially during these next few weeks is the fulfillment of the promise of Immanuel, God in the flesh making His dwelling with us to accomplish the salvation the Father promised to us.
The prophet Jeremiah talks about that promise in our Epistle for today. Last week, Pastor Rudnik spoke of the persecution the Church faces as the Day of Judgment draws near. Jeremiah’s audience would find out about persecution not long after the prophet delivered these words to God’s people. God’s people were about to be taken into exile, taken away from the land which God had brought them to in the time of Moses and Joshua. They would be a people without a home, a people who were being punished for their faithlessness toward God. Yet even before that exile began, God spoke this promise, a word of comfort, to the people: they would be restored. What they would see—and what they wanted to see—was a restoration to the land to which God had brought their fathers. More than that, though, God spoke of the complete restoration of the relationship between God and His people—not only His Old Testament people, but all people of all times and places.
The Old Testament people of God spent a lot of time looking back. When they were in the wilderness, they looked back with longing at the glorious days of their slavery in Egypt. When they were in exile, they looked back with longing to their golden age under King David and King Solomon. Even in the time of Jesus, when the very fulfillment of God’s promise to Adam and Eve, the promised Messiah, stood in their midst, they looked back to their father, Abraham, and saw in their forefather the glory of their race and the assurance of God’s goodness to them. They were the people who had received the promise of the Messiah, but even having that promise fulfilled right before their eyes, they could not help but long for the glorious days of their past, the days of the great Kingdom of Israel. In their vanity over the past glories of their time as God’s chosen people, they could not comprehend that the Son of David was in their midst, the Promise fulfilled. They had received the promise, but the One who fulfilled that promise stood among them, unnoticed. Now they wait for someone who has already come.
This affliction is not just limited to Old Testament Judaism. We Christians know a good bit about looking back fondly at our golden years. Many Christians look back at the time before Luther and the Reformation as a great time in the Church, but in reality, people were being forced to pay for forgiveness and the Bible itself was not accessible to the vast majority. Many of us look back fondly on the 1950s as a great time for the Church, since congregation membership and worship attendance was so much higher than it is today. Yet the vast majority of churches offered the gifts of God only once a month or even once every three months, holding the Sacrament away from the people. We look back at our past with reverence and longing, forgetting the importance of what God gives us in the Divine Service, forgetting the nearness of the Day of Judgment.
But “the day is coming,” says the Lord. We saw in the readings for last Sunday how the signs have been and are being fulfilled in our sight. And in some ways, we should be looking back. We should look back and see the promises that God made to His Old Testament people, and we should rejoice in how gracious God was in perfectly fulfilling His promises. We should look back to Christ on the cross and see him bearing our sins there. We should look back to Christ as He taught the disciples and see in His teachings the very truth on which the Church is built—the truth which, when ignored, tears down individuals, congregations, and whole church bodies. And we should look back at how Jesus instituted Holy Baptism, His own Supper, and Holy Absolution as means of grace in which we receive the forgiveness of sins. We ignore these things at our own peril, for we see in these things the great salvation which Christ achieved for us and the great reconciliation He brought about between God and man.
Yet in looking back at these things, we also look forward to the day when that reconciliation will be complete. Christ died for us, yet we are still sinners in our sainthood. The day is coming when we will no longer be sinners, when we will have been restored in the image of God. The doctrine which we have received, handed down from the Apostles, is what we as sinner are able to know—what we see now through a mirror, dimly. The day is coming when we shall know and comprehend the full counsel of God. The Holy Supper feeds our souls and gives us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Yet it is only a foretaste. The day is coming when we shall be welcome at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end.
So yes, we do look back and see the grace of God throughout the history of the Church. We cling to the teachings of the past—not as an obsolete relic of a bygone era, but as a relevant and real revelation for the Church, the people of God, for all time. This is not only your father’s Church or your grandfather’s Church; it is your children’s Church and your grandchildren’s Church, too. God does not change. His teachings do not change. And His gifts—the forgiveness of sins, His body and blood, and eternal salvation—do not change.
In the season of Advent, we celebrate Christ as He comes to us. We celebrate Christ as Emmanuel, God coming to us in the flesh as a child in a lowly manger. We celebrate Christ as the Messiah, riding on a lowly donkey on His way to bear our sins on the cross and to rise again as our Savior. We celebrate Christ as the Lamb of God who comes to us in His body and blood, feeding our bodies and our souls. And we celebrate Christ as the King who will return again in glory. “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord. Christ is coming! Christ has come! And Christ will come again! God has made that promise, and you can count on it! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.