Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"The Miracle of Christ's First Coming." Midweek Advent 1

In the Name of the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, even Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

"You've just have to believe me! It's true!" We hear it again and again as we watch the season's holiday specials on the television. "I believe! You should believe it too!" we hear the children say to the doubting adults. And although the object of the children's faith in Hollywood specials is the existence of flying reindeer or chimneys turned into elevators to the rooftop, there is something very "good, right and salutary" in believing that miraculous things do occur in this special time of year.
You see, the season of Advent, the season in which God prepares us through his Word and Spirit for the coming of his Son, is a time of real, honest-to-goodness miracles; miracles that defy human explanation or human reason; miracles directed to the minds and hearts of each of us and for all who would truly believe.
For these three midweek Advent services we will be hearing about the miraculous, the unexpected, the unbelievable ways and times and events of Christ's advent; how the prophets and apostles pointed to the spectacular star of God's bright Gospel light that came to rest over the Son of Mary, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Son of God: the true "miracle baby" for all Christians of every time and place, language and nation.
This afternoon/evening we hear God's Word that points to the awe-inspiring miracle of Jesus' first advent — his first coming — into the world and into our very souls.
Now if anyone wants to challenge the importance of Advent, if anyone wants to skip right into Christmas and the birth of Jesus, if anyone wants to complain about Advent getting in the way of the music the stores have been playing for the last few weeks (the last few months), how would we respond? Where would we go in Scripture to support the discipline of the Church Year that observes the four weeks of Advent? How does the Bible make the case for a season of preparation before the coming of the Messiah?
The best case can be made when observing the interval from the first announcement of the Gospel of Christ and its fulfillment at Bethlehem. How many months was that? How many years was that? How many generations was that from Adam to Jesus?
In his perfect wisdom, God gave his people a good, healthy amount of time, that they might properly be prepared for the great day of the Lord, the coming of their Redeemer.
Prophet after prophet was sent to proclaim the coming of the Savior. Even though many did not listen or take to heart the words of Moses and Elijah, David and Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Hosea, Malachi, God was not moved in straying from his plan: to send in abundance the divine Word through the mouthpiece of the prophets, that repentance and faith and hope might be created and sustained.
And so even with Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, God continued to prepare the way of his coming Son in the sending of the final proclamation: John the Baptist. The time had finally come. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!" John cried out in the wilderness. And John would cry out to us this day, saying, "The Christ is coming soon! Let God prepare you for his coming by receiving his Word concerning our sinful condition and God's miraculous answer of rescue! The time of salvation has come!"
In these days and weeks of Advent, God gives his Son the honor due his name. He does not send his Son with the instructions to introduce himself, but he sends John and Moses and the Prophets to make an introduction worthy of the honored guest. The Messiah himself is coming! Look to God's Word that you might be rightly prepared for him!" they shout.
Moses said as much in one of the most telling verses in the entire Old Testament. Just before his death, in his farewell speech to God's dear people, Moses proclaims,

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him." (Deuteronomy 18:15-18 ESV)

Moses knew full well that although some saw him as God's deliverer, the true and rightful Deliverer was still to come, as the Lord had promised to Adam and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and all their descendants in faith. This time of preparation became even more focused with the establishment of the dynasty of David the king of Israel. It was David's mistaken notion that he had been called to establish a house for the Lord that prompted God to renew his promise that he alone would establish the household of faith by the sending of the Son of David. As we heard in the Old Testament reading (2 Samuel 7:1-16), the coming Son of David would establish forever rest from the enemies that threatened the life of God's own. Because of the Lord's steadfast love for his wayward people, the Son of David would bear the discipline of not only God's chosen, but the punishment of the entire fallen race of man.
God prepares his people through his Word for the coming of the Christ, a prophet greater than the great prophet Moses and a king greater than the great King David.
That's what Joseph, son of David (Matthew 1:20) was told as God prepared him for the advent of salvation. That's what the magi believed as they read the Old Testament prophets and were prepared to receive the Savior of the Nations in the city of redeemed David and his redeeming Son: Bethlehem.
In this Advent season, God is preparing us to receive the coming Son of David as we honor not only his birth but the true meaning of his birth: the Son come to bear our sin in his body upon the cross, that we might escape the final judgment and consequences for what we ourselves have done and failed to do.
"What shall we do?" was the response of repentance as God prepared over three thousand to receive Christ as he came into their lives on that first Christian Pentecost. And the announcement of the Disciples? "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ [the Son of David] for the forgiveness of your sins." (Acts 2:37-38 ESV) This is properly the theme of the season of Advent and of every day until Christ returns for his own.
For those who might sentimentally wish that they could have been there on the night when the Bethlehem star announced that the time of waiting had come to an end, for any of us who believe that our faith would be much stronger if we could have only seen with our own eyes the miracle of the first coming of the Son of David, we have only to look at the miracle of the promised Messiah as he has first come to each of us — in holy Baptism.
The same faith that led shepherds to abandon their flocks and greet the newborn King is the same faith that believes that the Word of God in, with and under water, miraculously washes away all sin. The same faith that led the magi to journey to the city of David is the same faith that believes Christ himself comes to the baptismal font as he takes our great sins and gives us his greater righteousness. The same faith that led Joseph, son of David, to take Mary as his wife, despite the difficulties and struggles that would surely ensue is the same faith that leads us to rest our trust solely on the promises of the Messiah, the true Son of David, the true Son of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the true Son of Israel, the true Son of Adam.
It is Christ Jesus who calls us to the miracle of his coming into our lives as he cries out,

"If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scriptures has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' " (John 7:37 ESV)

Advent is a season of preparation — of God himself preparing us for the miraculous coming of his Son. It is a season of God's Word doing its great and mighty work with our lips and with our hands and feet and with our mind and heart. Advent is a season of miracles as Jesus comes to Bethlehem, as Jesus comes in Baptism.
How does faith respond to the miracle of Christ's coming? In repentant joy, trusting in God's gracious Word and praying always, "Come Lord Jesus, come." Amen