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Lindemann on Advent 4

by revalkorn ~ December 10th, 2010

THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT

The ancient Church called this last Sunday before the Holy Nativity the Preparation. The Propers reflect the eager expectation of the faithful. “Let the earth open and bring forth salvation!” “Stir up Thy power and come!” “The Lord is at hand!” “The Lord is nigh!” “There standeth one among you.” From the preparation by the Bible and by the Church we are led to the yet deeper truth of preparation by Christ Himself. The inward and spiritual presence of Christ is needed if we are to be ready for the commemoration of His outward and visible coming.

The Introit. “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness. Let the earth open and bring forth salvation. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork.”

The Revised Standard Version translates Is.45:8: “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may sprout forth, and let it cause righteousness to spring up also.” The Psalm reads: “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). When the Christ Child came, God showered His love upon the world. The heavens opened, and a multitude of the heavenly host told the glory of God. But the introit reaches far beyond the Feast of the Nativity to Golgotha, where salvation sprouted forth from the earth. In Bethlehem the Tree of Life was planted. The Lord is at hand. Make ready for the planting. The heavens are about to open and tell the glory of God.

The Collect. “Stir up, O Lord, we beseech Thee, Thy power, and come, and with great might succor us, that by the help of Thy grace whatsoever is hindered by our sins may be speedily accomplished, through Thy mercy and satisfaction, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.”

This prayer is addressed to the Son, in harmony with the thought of this day, “Preparation by Christ for Christ.” His unseen presence and power, His inward Advent, prepare us for His outward Coming.

The Epistle (Phil. 4:4-7) adds the great Advent cry, “The Lord is at hand” and teaches the true preparation. We are ready when our hearts are full of joy, our lives reveal moderation and gentleness, our mouths are filled with prayer and thanksgiving, our souls possessed of the peace of God. “To Bethlehem hasten to worship the Lord.”

The Gradual. “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call Upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth. My mouth shall speak the praise of the ]Lord, and let all flesh bless His holy Name. Alleluia! Alleluia! Thou art my help and my deliv-erer; make no tarrying, O my God. Alleluia!”

The presence of Christ is the source of all preparedness. True preparedness is within our reach, for the Lord is near to all that call upon Him in truth. We shall not be disappointed. We, too, shall praise Him for being our Help and De-liverer.

The Proper Sentence. “Alleluia! Remember, O Lord, Thy tender mercies; for they have been ever of old. Alleluia!”

The Gospel (St. John 1:19-28). We see the Herald in action, preparing the earth for the great event. His purpose is to direct attention away from himself to Christ. “This is the testimony of John…. He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed…. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.” He is here. He stands among you. This testimony strikingly illustrated that Christ alone can prepare us for His Advent.

The Proper Preface. “Whose way John the Baptist prepared, proclaiming Him the Messiah, the very Lamb of God, and calling sinners to repentance that they might escape from the wrath to be revealed when He cometh again in glory.”

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE EPISTLE

The Realization of Christ’s Presence

A. The Source of joy. The importance of Christian joy is indicated by St. Paul’s double command “Rejoice; again I will say, Rejoice.” Its possibility lies in the words “in the Lord,” for only in the service of Christ and in connection with Christ can we be glad in a world of so much sorrow. In union with Christ the believer gains the joy of Christ in the unbroken consciousness of divine love.

B. The Source of Forbearance or Gentleness. What the Authorized Version translates with “moderation” is gentleness in spirit and temper. It is en-forced by the nearness of Christ’s Advent. This will make us yielding as to our personal rights, for the end is so near when all things shall lose their value; patient under insults and annoyances, all so soon to be forgotten; gentle in the expression of opinion, for He is so near who knows all things perfectly and will prove us all to be more or less mistaken; ready to resign the world’s joys, ambitions, gains, and engagements; for when He arrives, all this poor world will vanish. This argument may well make us gentle and yielding in spirit, since He is coming who was the very King and Prince of gentleness. Let us hold nothing very tight except the Gospel, Christian truth, and moral principle. Let us be ready to drop all that is ours, so that we may hold fast all that is Christ’s; ready to drop earth that we may better grasp heaven.

C. The Source of Freedom from Care. If Christ is at hand to reverse our hasty judgments, He is at hand to hear our prayers. In such a Presence anxiety is a sin and altogether unchristian. The Epistle contains a prescription and a promise.

The Prescription Is Prayer. “Let your requests be made known to God.” This is a universal prescription applying to everything, for nothing is too large or too small to bring to God. Prayer covers all we desire, supplication all we fear. The prescription includes thanksgiving, for God will give little to those who seem to think that He has given them nothing.

The Promise Is Peace. God bestows the peace that comes from prayer, and it is like Him who bestows it, “the peace of God which passes all understanding.” It shall dwell in the heart and hold its own, like a garrison keeping all enemies away. This peace the heart can feel, the mind accept, and it comes in and through Christ, and Christ alone. From Him comes peace with God and the peace of God. The source of all these benefits is the presence of our Lord. Our joy is “in the Lord,” our gentleness flows from the knowledge “the Lord is at hand,” and our peace is “through and in Christ Jesus.”

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE HOLY GOSPEL
The Herald’s Confession of lnferiority

A. His Inferiority in Dignity. In three humble negatives he disclaims all distinction. With great emphasis he repudiates the very thought that he is the Messiah for whose Advent he was to prepare. No words can be stronger. “He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, I am not the Christ.” The prophet Malachi had spoken for God: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the great and terrible Day of the Lord comes.” St. John in very truth was this Elijah, yet he did not advance for himself so high a claim. Our Lord said of him that he was a prophet and more than a prophet, yet St. John could see in himself no resemblance whatever to a prophet. Such humility is a true mark of those best fitted to prepare others for Christ. They stand aside and let Him pass. If He alone can do this work, they must of necessity be humble.

B. His Inferiority in Office. He thinks of himself not as a speaker but as a voice; not as a messenger but as a message. He regards his Baptism as merely preparatory, there is need for a more perfect cleansing. He looks upon himself as unworthy to perform the service of a slave to the coming Master. His work was the humble duty of preparation, and the need for even that had passed, for the Christ was standing among them though they knew it not. His own final message was about to be delivered. “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

Christ stands among you! This is the last message of the Church before the great Day of His coming. By His unseen presence alone can we be prepared to celebrate His First Advent or to welcome the Second Advent. All personal ef-fort and all use of the Means of Grace provided in the Church are effectual only insofar as we cling to the personal Savior.

THE COMMUNION

The realization of Christ’s presence is the source of Christmas joy. We say that we visit the manger in spirit to rejoice. We give the appearance that Christmas is a joyous occasion. Is our joy genuine? Over what do we rejoice? Surely we have progressed beyond the point where the Nativity means only that since Christ came to die for us, we need not go to hell. Is there nothing positive? Christmas means that we who were separated from God now have Him with us. It means God present on earth, among us, in us. God is here!

To tell us that God is with us, the heavens open in Bethlehem and the glory of heaven streams forth upon the earth. God comes to earth and opens the gates of Paradise once more. They stand open ever since! “He opens us again the door of Paradise today.” Heaven is the Presence of God, and heaven has come to earth. Christmas means that God is present among men, to be worshiped on bended knee as He is adored in heaven. Christmas means that God companies with men and communes with sinners. Christmas means that we are traveling toward the open gates of home into the Presence of God. We are to spend eternity worshiping and adoring Him, in having sweet communion and fellowship with our Lord and King.

Do we truly rejoice over the prospect of spending eternity in heaven with God? Will our joy in Bethlehem be genuine? How much of our singing is merely the mouthing of pious and sentimental phrases? Heaven is the Presence of God. In heaven He is all in all, and there is nothing beside Him. He is all there is to heaven. Our sole occupation will be to adore and admire and worship, to have communion and fellowship with Christ. Have we a taste for this sort of thing? Shall we enjoy an eternity of worshiping God and communing with Christ? Is God attractive enough for us to rejoice over the prospect of admiring Him and having fellowship with Him eternally?

Many who in some manner rejoice at Christmas, must be bored exceedingly at the prospect of heaven. There is nothing to look forward to if we have no taste for worship and find no delight in fellowship with Christ. If communing with Christ is really a delight, we shall not haggle and bargain as to how much of it we must do in this life. We shall not question whether or not we must worship and have fellowship at every opportunity. There will be nothing more delightful and pleasant than to come into God’s presence and worship. We shall not commune with Christ only occasionally, when the calendar tells us that custom requires that we commune again. Worship, adoration, communion will not be an unpleasant, dreary chore.

Truly to rejoice in Bethlehem, we must rejoice that God comes to us and is present with us. To rejoice over His Presence means that we delight in fellowship with Him. Christmas means that we have a taste for such occupations. It means that slavish compulsion disappears from our religious life. We no longer ask how often we must do this or that, but we look forward to the next opportunity to do something we thoroughly enjoy. Christ comes and is present in a special way whenever the faithful gather for worship. The faithful have blessed fellowship with Him at His Table.

If this approach to Bethlehem upsets our religious routine and disturbs our pattern, if it seems as revolutionary as the Baptist’s message seemed to his contemporaries, if it means adjustments in our thinking and habits, there is no cause for alarm. All it means is that we shall spend a profitable Christmas in Bethlehem. Christmas brought something new into the world. Why should it not bring something new into our lives and our formal religion?

May we, then, on this Sunday of the Preparation rejoice in the Lord and His Presence. He comes to us this day in His Holy Sacrament. May Christ stir up His power and come, that whatsoever is hindered by our sins may be speedily accomplished. The Lord is at hand. Salvation has sprouted forth. This we commemorate: The Body given for us, the Blood shed for the remission of our sins. There stands One among us. Receive and welcome Him into a loving, be-lieving heart.

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