Sunday, December 2, 2012

Carrying Christ to You

First Sunday in Advent
Ad Te Levavi
December 2, 2012
It’s not sacrilegious to compare God and the way He works to mundane things, even things we might think beneath ourselves, let alone Him. Why it’s not? Well, because He does it all the time. The holy, spiritual, all-powerful God is at home in the mundane. In an ironic twist of our considerable this-worldness, God is much more at home in this world than we are. Part of that is that we are not fully who we have been created to be because this world is tainted by sin; our flesh is tainted by our sinful flesh. Part of it is that as the people of God, the holy Christian Church, this is not our home. Heaven is our true home, we are strangers and pilgrims on this earth.

But God? He’s not afraid to get dirt under His fingernails. This is easily seen in the person of Jesus. He’s God, fully, completely, true God of true God. But He’s every bit as much of a man, a human being, flesh and blood, as you and I are. God is at home here in our realm, our earth, our day to day existence.

And He loves to operate in and through the things of this life. And not so much the spectacular; the amazing, the stunning. Go to the Sierra Nevada Range and witness an awesome display of God’s power. Go to the Fjords of Norway and behold the majesty of God’s amazing creation. And there’s no doubt He makes Himself known in those places. Travel the globe and witness that He is the Author of an amazing globe, full of life and beauty. Set your eyes to the Hubble Telescope and marvel at the universe that is really beyond our ability to comprehend. God indeed places upon our hearts the knowledge that there is a Supreme Being.

But He’s much more at home in the mundane things of this world, the simple, everyday things of this universe. You can see that in the ways He truly makes Himself known to us as who He really is. In Baptism, what does He use? Water. Water’s pretty straightforward stuff. What about the Lord’s Supper? Bread. Wine. Simple, ordinary things; the stuff of daily life, of what millions upon millions of people have been partaking of in their meals down through the millennia. How about His incarnation? Flesh and blood. Now it’s true that the human body is beyond compare to anything else in this universe. At the same time, you meet people every day. They’re ordinary. You don’t go around in awe each time you see a person, because people are the stuff of ordinary life. Yet, God became one of them. He put on flesh and blood, ordinary personhood, and walked around as everyone else does, most people not giving Him half a notice. He wasn’t glowing or anything.

So it’s not blasphemy or anything to say that the ways in which God comes to you is very much like a pack animal carrying a person to a destination. I’m sure there are people who have a tremendous understanding of the intricacies of donkeys, but most of us I suspect don’t bring to mind a donkey when we think of the wonders of nature and specifically of the animal kingdom. A donkey is, well, just a donkey. They serve their purpose. And yes, they’re much higher on the list than, say, roaches or mosquitoes. But donkeys are just donkeys. They serve their purpose and for that we’re grateful.

And how we should be. If it weren’t for those ordinary things in life that serve their purpose, where would we be? God is definitely not afraid to use ordinary things to carry Christ to us. You might even say He loves to operate this way. And this is what we are given to note on this day, the first day of the Church Year, the first day of the season of Advent, the first day where we are shown the true beauty of how our Lord works. When we are met on the first day of the Church year with the account of Palm Sunday we are shown immediately that the Church Year doesn’t operate the way a normal year would or in the way we would expect. It doesn’t begin at the beginning. No, it begins with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.

We know why He was doing that. And that is our key to why we begin the Church Year this way. He is going to the cross. That is how we are directed at the beginning of the Church Year. The Church Year as it unfolds will be all about the cross. Our Advent preparations will be centered on the cross even as we are contemplating why Jesus was born at Bethlehem and as we are continually mindful that our Lord will return again in glory. The Church Year will move us toward our observance and celebration of the cross of Christ and the resurrection of Christ. Jesus didn’t, after all, ride into Jerusalem because He felt like having a parade.

It was the opposite. His coming into Jerusalem was a humble coming even as the crowds were crying out in majesty. Those voices were eerily silent on Good Friday, when He was carrying out what He had ridden into town to carry out. This is where we could truly say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” They didn’t truly understand what they were doing in hailing Jesus as the one who comes in the name of the Lord even as we don’t either if we do not see it as true because of what He accomplished on the cross.

And that is what the liturgy is all about. A magnificent way in which our Lord comes to us. The liturgy is like that donkey, carrying Christ to you. On the Sunday before Jesus suffered and died, a donkey carried Him into the town where that would happen to Him. Now, He doesn’t use a donkey. But if we think a donkey is pretty mundane we can see how it’s similarly mundane to use liturgy to carry Christ to us. The liturgy is not just a ritual we go through, it’s a means through which Christ is brought to us in a way similar to that donkey carrying Jesus into Jerusalem on that particular day.

If you expect the God of the universe to come to you in the spectacle of His creation you are instead met with your Lord riding in on a lowly beast of burden. This is what your Lord does, He re-orients you. He gets you off the magisterial ways you’d think He’d come to you and the spectacular ways you’d like Him to work in your life and re-orients your thinking and your faith to see how He actually and graciously comes to you. His ways are not your ways and the liturgy teaches you this.

Think in terms of how the Introit for today has done this. It is similar to the explanation of the Creed, a very personal confession of faith. When we confess in the Creed that we believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, we go on to understand that what this means is that “I believe that God has made me and all creatures.” It’s not just true stuff about God, it’s a personal confession of faith of who He is for you. And in the Second Article of the Creed we confess that what it means is that “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.” This is not just information that’s out there, to make note of, that’s helpful in an informative way. This is the very personal confession of faith.

So in the Introit we prayed along with the Psalmist, “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.”

Everything in the liturgy, and along with it the Church Year, is driving us to think the things of God, to be re-oriented on Him and His ways; in short, carrying Christ to us. And so we pray in the Collect for the Day that we are in no way preparing in Advent for the birth of Jesus. He has, in fact, already been born. It is a past event that we look back to. No, our preparations are, as preparations always are, for the future. The Collect directs us toward what we should be preparing for: “Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

We pray our Lord to come. And yes, we know He is going to come on the Last Day, but we don’t just wait and pray for that. We pray He would come to us now, to protect us, to rescue us, to deliver us from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by His mighty deliverance. We too often pray our Lord to come to us in ways that suit our perceived needs much better than mighty deliverance from our sins. All the past events, of the promise of the coming of Christ, the event itself of His coming, His birth and His life, His coming on Palm Sunday, and the event of the fulfillment of it all in His suffering and death, all of these past events are brought home to us in the liturgy, in the mundane way of carrying Christ to us.

This will be our prayer as we are about to receive the Lord’s Supper, in the Proper Preface: “It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, whose way John the Baptist prepared, proclaiming Him the promised Messiah, the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and calling sinners to repentance that they might escape from the wrath to be revealed when He comes again in glory.  Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying.”

John was in a sense an Old Testament prophet just as Jeremiah and the others were. He was preparing the way. He was proclaiming Jesus as Messiah. The difference, perhaps, is that Jeremiah and company pointed ahead to one they could not name by name, namely, Jesus, whereas John pointed straight at Him, saying, “This is the one!, the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And why did he do this? He was calling sinners to repentance that they might escape from the wrath to be revealed when He comes again in glory. It’s one thing to look back to the historical event of John the Baptist pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God, and it’s the blessing of God using the liturgy to show us that in the Sacrament we look, and there He is, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, the one who takes away your sin, in this bread and wine, in His body and blood, given and shed for you.

The liturgy, which is the substance of our gathering together in worship, re-orients us and we see that our lives are here in time and also something else; in eternity as well. In the Epistle reading Paul wrote after the fact, after the historical events of the birth of Christ, His coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and His death and resurrection. Now in the Epistle He is speaking of an event in the future, the coming again of Christ on the Last Day. But Paul speaks of it in the same way, as a fact. This is the way we live, in this waiting, trusting, living by the promises of our Lord, taking into ourselves the very means by which He comes to us in the meantime, because our Lord is carried to us in these means.

The liturgy is infused with the language of the Means of Grace—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In the Epistle Paul uses Baptismal language, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” This is in contrast to what he has described as the ways of the flesh: orgies and drunkenness, sexual immorality and sensuality, quarreling and jealousy. Instead, let us walk properly as in the daytime. How do you do that? You put on the Lord Jesus Christ. You live in your Baptism. When we gather for worship we begin with the name of our God placed upon us in the Invocation, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” When we depart we depart having had the name of our God thus placed upon us again in the Benediction, “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.” The liturgy thus teaches you that your whole life in Christ is from beginning to end one as a Baptized child of God, the name of your God having been placed on you and you having access to Him—you know His name; you know Him.

Baptized children of God are in Christ even as they waiting for Him to return in glory to take them home to Him in heaven. It is here in worship where we learn this. The Lord’s Supper is intricately wrapped up in the liturgy and perhaps nowhere else is this notion of Jesus coming and our waiting more keenly shown than in Holy Communion. What does our Lord do in His Holy Supper? He comes to us. In and with bread and wine He comes to us. His body and blood are given to us in that bread and wine. Yet, there’s anticipation because we are not yet communing with Him in the fullness of His glory. Even as we are communing, as will be said in the Proper Preface in a little while, with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, certainly they realize this Communion in the fullness of its glory while we here on earth still wait for our Lord to return in glory and bring us to the fullness of the Banquet He hosts in eternity. So yes, you do await that day, and as you do, you raise eternal thanks that in that simple, even mundane, bread and wine, you eat and drink things that carry Christ to you. Amen.


No comments: