4 ADVENT 2021
A CELEBRATION OF THE BIRTH OF CHRIST AND OF OUR FIRST SERVICE IN OUR NEW CHURCH HOME
A LESSONS AND CAROLS SERVICE is a way to tell the story of the advent or the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. Or, as the Gospel of John says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as from the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). When the texts of that Lessons and Carols service instead focus on the second coming of Jesus Christ, on His return to judge the living and the dead and not His incarnation or “enfleshment” then we observing Advent and not Christmas.
Or perhaps a little bit of both Christmas and Advent, for the crucifixion would have been no more than another senseless and cruel execution like many before Jesus’ death and many afterwards if Jesus had not been born the incarnate Son of God. But it was the incarnate Son of God who died on that horrid cross two thousand years ago, divine and human, no mere human being, nor lamb. This last Lamb whose willing sacrifice of His incarnate life made all future sacrifices for our release from sin and death unnecessary was God Himself. He who was innocent of all sin, chose to bear our sins in His sinless body. He who was eternal, of one being with the Father, the Alpha and Omega, without beginning or end, chose to die. He chose to don human flesh, and with it human mortality, that He might make in Himself the One sacrifice forever and completely settle humanity’s debt for its transgressions against God.
For this reason we trust always in His grace, in His mercy and forbearance, for while He returns to us as Judge of our sins yet He is still the holy Lamb of God, who for love’s sake chose to suffer and die to preserve us holy and to save us from hell. We read the Advent texts, hearing two words, one of judgment over our trespasses against God’s law, and the other of grace. We trust in the grace of God through Christ, and so we do not fear His judgment as otherwise we would. But by no means do we believe that judgment is not real.
We often hear people hold up the though that we are all “good” people. That’s a secular understanding of the human being, one without foundation as any perusal of a newspaper informs us. In truth, it is only God who is good as Jesus Himself said (Mark 10:18). We depend on Christ’s goodness for life and salvation because we cannot depend on our own goodness or that of any other human being. Yet still we are prone to this error in part because we read the Ten Commandments and pat ourselves on the shoulder because we have not stolen from our neighbor’s mailbox or hit someone over the head with a shovel after an argument.
We are simply thankful that God has chosen to temper His wrath with mercy through His Son. But still we will see ourselves at the time of our judgment as God sees us, and it will not be the sins of commission that will bring shame and guilt so much as it will be the sins of omission. It will be the nasty remarks made to store clerks or co-workers, the eyes averted as we walk past a disabled person struggling with a door, our refusal to do more to feed the hungry or shelter the poor which will grieve us and our Lord at our judgment. Even so, God has chosen to temper His wrath with mercy through His Son, and we will receive that mercy.
An Advent Lessons and Carols service pounds and pounds again on this very truth. That when sin and death entered into the world, God chose to temper judgment with grace, that we might live. From the earliest of the Old Testament prophets, Moses himself, to the last, John the Baptist, the Advent of a Savior is foretold who will bear our sins on our shoulders, that we may be held blameless and righteous before God at our judgment. In the birth of Jesus Christ, in His ministry, in His conduct of Himself and in His preaching, in His holy Supper, in His death on the cross and His resurrection, we see the prophetic promises of our salvation fulfilled. Grace walks the earth; grace takes our sin to the cross and puts an end to it; grace saves us from death and damnation.
That has been the consistent preaching of this small part of the body of Christ since before our formal beginnings in January of 1756 when the baptism of four children was recorded. It has been the consistent preaching of those disciples who came before us at St. Jacob’s Lutheran Church, and is the consistent offering of those of us here now. We know from our past that neither our history, our heritage, the bodies buried in the cemetery, nor the building constitute our reason for existing. It is only this, that we offer to the world that consistent preaching of the vastness of God’s grace as shown us in Jesus Christ.
Those disciples that came before us, including those related to us not by bonds of blood but rather of baptism, kept this congregation alive with the help of the Holy Spirit because the preached consistently of the Good News of Jesus Christ, of Whom the prophets spoke and in Whom the very mercy and love of God are made flesh. We will not let them down by preaching a false Gospel, nor by neglecting to preach it altogether. We will hold onto what the Apostles held and pass it forward to people yet to come. We will grown in that grace together, and we will grow in the numbers of grace-filled people at worship in this place.