Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in Advent (December 9, 2012)

PHILIPPIANS 1:3-11
YOU SHALL SEE THE SALVATION OF GOD.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Adam and Eve saw the goodness of God.  He granted them every blessing in the Garden.   But rather than live in righteousness and innocence, Adam and Eve chose rebellion and guilt.  As soon as they plunged themselves into ruin and death, the Lord promised a Savior who would bring restoration and life.  The Lord had begun a good work – proclaiming that there was hope for those covered in guilt and marked for death.  Adam and Eve rejoiced in that promise and hope.  They also repeated God’s promises to their sons and daughters and subsequent generations.  But when Adam and Eve finally died, it was still a promise.  They had heard God’s promise, but they had not seen God’s salvation. 
     That’s the way it continued for centuries.  God repeated his promise.  God added more and more detail to his promise.  The people heard about the Savior who would come, but they would not see the Lord’s salvation.  Finally, the Lord raised up John the Baptist – “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.   Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:4-6)
     John was called to prepare the people for the Savior.  Therefore, John urged the people to repent.  John warned the people to flee from their sins.  The world promises that your sins will bring you nothing but good times; but the Lord warns that you will only find death there.  If you delight in your sins, you will never see God’s salvation.  You may know about Jesus, his death, his resurrection, and even the promises of eternal life; but if you cling to your sins, you will never see God’s salvation.  It will elude you.
     That is why John the Baptist called people to repent with such great urgency.  Let nothing stand in the way of Jesus’ coming to you.  Remove the obstacles.  Fill in the gaps.  Straighten out whatever is crooked.  Do not be comfortable with your sins.  Do not find excuses for them, much less to continue in them.  Repent.
     John called the people to prepare for the Lord with repentance.  The Lord’s salvation was nigh.  The Lord would complete the salvation he had promised, and all who humble themselves would receive it.  When you confess your sin, you are merely acknowledging that God’s word is true.  Each of us must confess: “I am wrong.  I have sinned.  It is my fault, my own fault, my own grievous fault.”  Confess your sins and hold God to his promises.  This also acknowledges that God’s word is true.  He does have mercy.  He forgives sins.  He demonstrated his loving compassion through Jesus – his innocent life, his sacrificial death, and his resurrection from the dead.  Jesus not only fulfilled these things, he fulfilled them for you.  Therefore, you have been shown mercy.  You are forgiven of your sins.  You have seen God’s salvation.
     The Philippian congregation had seen the Lord’s salvation.  They believed in all that Jesus had done, and they believed that it was done for them.  St. Paul wrote to them, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)  St. Paul rejoiced that God had brought these people into his kingdom.  They had repented of their sin.  They had confessed the faith.  But that did not mean they were in heaven yet.  For the Philippians, bearing Jesus’ name meant also wearing a target.  In addition to the struggles against their own lustful flesh, they also had to contend with other Philippians who despised Jesus.  They faced ridicule of strangers, rejection of friendships, physical harm, and material loss.  While confessing the faith brought much joy, it also resulted in much hardship.  St. Paul knew the hardships they would face.  He had originally been driven out Philippi for preaching the gospel.  After St. Paul left, he wondered if the Philippians had continued to seek the Lord’s salvation or if they turned their back on him.
     St. Paul expressed such thanks and love for the Philippians because not only had the Philippians seen the salvation of God, but God had also graciously seen to it that they still sought God’s mercy and love.  God had begun a good work in them when he brought them into his grace.  And God was continuing his good work in them—not only sustaining their faith, but strengthening it as well. 
     St. Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is the prayer of the Church for all of its members: It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)  You have seen the salvation of God, and it is God’s desire that you remain in his salvation.
     Therefore, the Lord builds you up in your Christian faith.  He teaches you to discern what is good and what is evil.  He fills you with the fruits of righteousness so that you delight in what is good and despise what is evil.  You know your own sinful flesh.  It leads you to crave what is evil.  Because of it, on good days you are lazy about the word of the Lord.  You wonder if it is worth hearing the word and receiving the Lord’s Supper.  You wonder if it is worth trying to exercise self-control.  You wonder if anyone really cares that you are doing what is good.  You see the examples of so many others whose lives appear to be just fine without church or prayer or faith.  Your sinful nature still wants to drag you away from Christ, and your sinful nature can still get the better of you.
     That is why you still need to seek after God’s salvation.  You still need his mercy.  The good work which God began in you must be continued and increased.  He brings you to repent of your sin—not just your sinful words and actions, but of the very sin that dwells in you.  You confess with St. Paul, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” (Romans 7:18)  You will only find your salvation and your righteousness from outside of you.
     You will see the salvation of God only in Jesus.  He reminds you that all the Lord has done for you is for you.  He supplies the holiness.  He pours out his mercy and forgiveness.  He grants new life and increases the love of God within you.  The fruit of righteousness comes through Jesus Christ.  And he continues to come to you in his promises and in his absolution.  He builds you up as he feeds you with sacred food and as you ingest his salvation for your forgiveness and for the strengthening of your faith.  This faith the Lord puts to work in your life so that you do not give in to your sinful flesh or temptations.  Rather, you continue in the faith—both in what you confess and in how you live, knowing that God’s will is right and good no matter what anyone else thinks or does or tells you. 
     Jesus began a good work in you when he revealed his salvation to you.  And Jesus continues this good work in you so that you remain in his salvation.  Cling to Jesus and be confident in this: that he who began a good work in you will keep you holy and blameless until the day he comes back.  For, God is faithful; and he will do it.

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

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