A New Hope – Sermon on Luke 3 for Advent II

Triplex adventus Christi—some fancy Latin words, for you. What do they mean? Triplex adventus Christi—the trifold coming of Christ. So what does that mean? It means that there are three ways that Christians have understood that Jesus shows up. Jesus shows up in the flesh—in many and various ways, but most particularly in the man of Jesus Christ. Jesus also shows up where in the flesh the Word of God’s promise becomes real—in our daily acts of goodness for example. The second way that Jesus shows up is through the means of grace—through the preaching of the Word, in the bread and the wine, in the water. Jesus promises to show up there, and because of that promise, our relationship with God is strengthened, and there Jesus shows up. Jesus comes among us. The third way that Jesus shows up among us is in glory—the great and glorious day when Christ returns, the living and the dead will be judged, and the reign of God will break into life in its fullness.

For us Christians, these are the three ways that Christ comes among us. And so as we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” we pray for all three of these to come to pass—Jesus to come to us in flesh-and-bones lives in a real way; Jesus to come to us in ways that strengthen us in relationship with God and one another; and Jesus to come and crown creation with the glory of God, with the goodness that God first envisioned. And what’s more, we believe that we as Christians have the blessing of living into—that is, experiencing—these three comings of Jesus even now, even his coming in glory. As we gather he for worship, we live into the foretaste of the coming day when all things will be made new and God’s glory fills all life. Heaven comes down and we are taken up in worship—because Christ, the one who comes down from heaven for our sake, brings us to God and is present with us even now. And so as we go into the sermon today, I challenge you to think more broadly, more deeply, more widely how God seeks ways to come to you through Jesus. For where God comes to you, there is advent—the advent of Christ.

Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.

A long time ago in a Galilee far, far away….

I think at some of you got the nerdy reference. As I read the opening lines to the gospel this week, I was struck by the similarity to the opening crawl of the Star Wars movies. That crawl is an effort to root the story director George Lucas wants to share with us all in some kind of grand narrative, into history if you will—even if it’s a fictitious history of his own creating. As we read those words, accompanied by the heroic music from John Williams—can John Williams write a soundtrack for my life?—we are transported to a place and time that we can almost feel. We enter into the story where the Republic is battling the Empire, where Luke Skywalker faces his own dæmons and comes to learn that, yes, indeed, Darth Vader, the imperial warlord par excellence, is his father. That story becomes real for us. We believe that it really happened because we’re transported to that time long ago, to that place far, far away…

That’s what St. Luke is doing for us today. He’s telling us the historical context for the ministry of John the Baptist—who, by the way, we have the joy of hearing from next week again. His words this week are a little more palatable to our ears. Brace yourself: John the Baptist is coming. But what Luke is doing is telling us the where and the when of John’s ministry. It happened in the Middle East, when all those bigwigs like Tiberias, Pontius Pilate, Herod, and Phillip, were doing their thing. But for all intents and purposes, this John fellow is a nobody. He doesn’t make it into the annals of Roman history. Tacitus didn’t write about John the Baptist. Neither did Herodotus. He didn’t register on their radar, yet here we are, over 2000 years after his ministry, dedicating not only one but two Sundays in a row in the weeks before our celebration of Christ’s coming to this nobody named John the Baptist. What can it mean for us?

What it means for us is simply this: God breaks into the everyday history of everyday people’s lives. We see it in John the Baptist, and we will see it again in the birth of Christ. God comes to those of no account and makes a dwelling among those society doesn’t care to look at. And it happens in our history, in the midst of our stories, if you will. God breaks into our everyday, humdrum human stories and becomes part of them with us. That’s the message that Luke is trying to tell us today. You remember when Tiberius was the Emperor, at the same time Pilate was governor and Caiaphas high priest? That’s when the Word of the Lord came to John the Baptist, like it did hundreds of years earlier to the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.

God’s busy and active, even now, in our everyday lives—while Joe Biden is president, at the same time Charlie Baker is governor, Jim Hazelwood the bishop, and Stephan DiNatale the mayor of Fitchburg.

Sometimes, we may wonder where God is in our world, though. Just this week we hear of yet another school shooting, this time in Detroit, and we what to beat our chest and cry out: “How long, O Lord?” Where is God in our history today? We hear in the news day in and day out about refugee crises, on this side of the globe on the other, and politicians the world over refuse to confront the humanity of it all in ways that make an actual, concrete difference, one way or another. In our own lives, friends are desperately sick. The certainty of our home seems anything but certain. Our own relationships are fraught with frustration and estrangement. “How long, O Lord? How long will we, your people long for your comfort?”

We pray during this season of Advent, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and we look with great anticipation toward Christmas, but around us the signs of a broken age infested and plagued by sin, by circumstances and situations that hold us back from full and abundant life that God intends for us—this sin surrounds us. Yes—Come, Lord, Jesus, and come quickly. Where is God’s action in the world today? Why isn’t God beating our guns into pruning sheers and our knives into plows? Why isn’t God stopping death in its tracks, so we don’t have to suffer the pain of real separation from those we love? Why, why, why? When, Lord, will you come?
We pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” because we know that Jesus will transform this world in its brokenness into something completely new.

That’s what John the Baptist came proclaiming when he told them the coming Day of the Lord was near. Did you catch the last line of his proclamation this week? It’s the hope that undergirds our prayer to Jesus to come…“all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” And before that, “every mountain and hill shall be made low,” and “every valley shall be filled.” “The crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth,” and “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” When Christ comes, we know these things will—and do!—happen. We believe it in the very fiber of our being. It’s for that reason that as Christians the tragedies in our world strike us so hard. We know the ways of this world simply aren’t aligned with God’s good order for creation, yet here we find ourselves. So we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus”—but does that prayer change us?

When we pray those words, what do they mean for us? Do we mean for the Word of the Lord to break into our lives and transform our existence? Do we mean for Jesus to really show up and shake up our lives, opening our eyes to our own brokenness and need of salvation? Prayer isn’t a magical incantation that we direct at God to control God. Prayer is our conversation with God, in these times it’s our pleading with God, and when we listen, when we truly hear the Word of the Lord coming back to us in our prayer, it will, it does transform us.

We aren’t left alone in our prayers. And we aren’t left alone with the brokenness and crippling effects of sin in our world. We have the hope of Christmas, of the coming of Christ once to defeat the power of sin in our world. We know that God has already defeated sin and handed us the victory in Christ. We aren’t alone because we have each other as the church, the body of Christ here and now, who can and does pray and acts on those prayers. We can and do hold each other to account, comforting one another when all seems lost and encouraging each other when we fall into complacency.

And we have Christ himself, even now, among us in the bread and wine. We hear those words, the same words that came to John the Baptist and prophets long before him. That same Word comes to us here today and every week when we hear Christ’s body and blood given for us, for our forgiveness and the strengthening of our faith, a relationship with God that embodies the truth that yes, indeed, God’s coming to us in our everyday lives matters. Yes, indeed, Christ’s dying does matter for us.

It matters because God loves us—and because God loves us, we have the peace of knowing that despite everything that might suggest otherwise, we can rest in the hope of God’s promise. Each and every day, we awake to this hope, we awake to a new hope—a new hope that looks forward each and every new day to how Christ comes again into our story, in, with, and through each other, in unexpected ways. We pray for the day when what we hold fast to, this blessed new hope each new day in and each new day out, is finally experienced by all flesh—the day that all flesh lives the salvation, the healing, the new hope that we live into even now…a coming of Christ when everything that falls short of God’s vision for us and for all creation is straightened out, is leveled, is filled in. We look for that coming day and pray it comes, and comes quickly. “Come, Lord Jesus—come quickly!”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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