First Sunday in Advent
December 2, 2018
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
Make me to know Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day long.
Psalm 25:4, 5 (ESV)
If the theme of this season of Advent can be summed up in one word, that one word would have to be hope. It is a hope not yet fulfilled, but nevertheless a certain hope. While we struggle with the present and long for the future, we are comforted and encouraged because we know that the joyful outcome of the future is guaranteed for us. In a sense we are not unlike captives waiting for freedom--prisoners waiting for release--wounded people waiting for healing--sufferers waiting for relief. Because we as Christians know that Jesus has come and has done all that needed to be done to secure our future and to realize all of our hopes, we can have a confidence as we look to our future. But knowing how good that future is going to be for us only makes us long for it all the more. We get tired waiting--especially when we're waiting for something good. We want it to be here--right now. And yet, no matter how impatient we may be, we cling to our hope and are comforted in it.
Of course there are those in our world--the great majority, as a matter of fact--who think that we are quite foolish for holding on to hope. And if we bear in mind that all that they are looking at is human history, we can easily understand why they might feel that way. Man's intelligence has enabled him to achieve great things, but he lacks the wisdom to know what to do with his great achievements. There is so much that we can do in this "hi-tech" age, but no one seems to know what we should do. It seems that the more we've progressed, the more complicated and confused our life has become. This is what causes so many people to look to the future not with hope but with fear and trembling. How are we to respond to all of this? Saint Peter writes: "Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). So that we might be reassured in our hope and also so that we might be prepared for sharing that hope with others, let's meditate this morning on the psalmist's words before us and discover anew what it is that we are hoping for and why we cling to that hope.
One thing that we hope for in this hopeless and confusing world of ours is the Lord's teaching. The One who became human for us and for our salvation has many things to teach us, not only in practical terms but, most important of all, the spiritual lessons that will prepare us for facing judgment and receiving the gifts of forgiveness and everlasting life. The apostle Paul writes to the church at Rome: "'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" (Romans 10:13, 14). Thank God that there are many preachers in the world who proclaim the Good News of salvation in Christ, but it is the Lord Himself who is actually preaching through them. It is He (specifically God the Holy Spirit) who teaches us to know that we are saved through the grace of Christ.
Another thing that we hope for is the Lord's guidance. Even though our salvation is certain, having been purchased by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross and we having been sealed by the Spirit in our Baptism, there is still a period of waiting between now and heaven for each of us and we have to spend that period of waiting here in this world. I suppose that, the older you are and the more cultural changes that you have witnessed, the more you come to realize that this world is not a very hospitable place for Christians. It is place where we are surrounded by people and things that Satan uses day in and day out to tempt us, trying to drive a wedge of mistrust between us and our Savior with the intent that he might eventually destroy our faith and thus deprive us of our salvation. Now this may come as a shock to you, but we're not really smart enough to be wise to everything that the devil is up to, nor are we strong enough to resist the things that we are aware of. But the guidance and strength that our Lord gives us in His Word prepares us for the struggle that we are engaged in and will have to be engaged in for as long as we live in this world of temptation and sin.
So why is it that we continue to hope for these blessings in a world that lets us down over and over again? We continue to hope because our hope does not rest in anyone or anything that is earthbound. There are some fine people in the world--people who you love and respect--people who have treated you very well. But sooner or later every one of them will let you down--not necessarily with malicious intent, but just because they are merely human. But the One in whom our hope rests is God Himself. It is He who created heaven and earth and everything in them simply by the Word of His mouth. It is He who identified with us so intimately as to become One of us in Christ to overcome the things that trouble us the most, including death itself. It is He who, with the power of His Word and a few drops of simple water, made us new people in Jesus Christ, forgiving us all of our sins and declaring us to be righteous in His sight. The One who can do all this can also teach us and guide us in the way that leads to everlasting life.
But He is more than just powerful; He is also loving. And He is more than just our God; He is also our Savior. The One who is able to do all things for us has demonstrated in the life and ministry of Christ that He is also willing to do all things for us. He is never too important, too busy, or too distant to be bothered with us and our problems. He who willingly left His throne of glory in heaven and came into this world of sin to take our place under the Law of God, fulfilling it perfectly, and to endure the consequences of our sin when He suffered and died on the cross, is One who has made it unmistakably clear that He cares about us and about everything that we care about.
There can be hope for us even a hopeless world if our hope is not in ourselves or in anyone else who is a mere mortal. No matter how noble and well-intentioned any of us may be, because of sin we always act out of mixed motives. And no matter how strong any of us may be, our ability to realize those good intentions is limited. But there is One who is perfect in His power and perfect in His love. That One is the Lord Jesus Himself, who entered our miserable existence to deliver us from it. He is the One who speaks to us even today, teaching us and guiding us in His truth so that we might have everlasting life in Him. He is the One whose coming we await with confident hope, knowing that His power and love can do all things for us.
May the One who once came as an Infant in Bethlehem prepare you for His coming again in glory by His means of grace, through which He comes to you even now. May He equip you to be His witnesses so that you, like the Baptist in the wilderness, may prepare the way of the Lord. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.