Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Sermon -- Advent Vespers: Week 2 (December 7, 2016)

PSALM 14:1-7

Advent Awaited.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Psalmist notes that with the Lord is refuge, salvation, and rejoicing.  But apart from the Lord, there is nothing good and there is no one who is good.
     This is hard for people to understand.  People do not believe that there is no one who is good.  We would say that see people do good all the time.  Brain surgeons save lives.  Stock-brokers enhance 401k's for clients.  Garbage men keep the city sanitary.  In general, people put in an honest day's work, pay their bills, take care of their families, and do no harm to their fellow man.  That is what we expect of people, and that is what most people are like.  Most people do not go to jail.  Most people are nice.  Most people know how to behave themselves, and they do not even need to go to church to figure that out.  
     We judge based on outward appearances.  We can only see what people do and listen to what they say.  Our assessment of a person being good or bad is measured only by his behavior, whether he is obedient or rebellious.  And since most people know how to behave, at least most of the time, we live under the assumption that all people are basically good.  We assume that all people are approved by God, and that only a few have been wicked enough to have earned God's wrath.
     The Lord's judgment, however, is different.  This is what the Lord says: The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.  They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)  It is understandable that people assess good and evil based on outward appearances.  That is all we have to go on.  But God is able to peer deeper than that.  As he declared to Samuel: “The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)  
     The Lord looks into the hearts of people and he sees that the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. (Genesis 8:21)  No one has to teach children to be selfish, to take toys from their playmates, or to lie.  As soon as a toddler is old enough to prove he is a sinner, he does.  And while people learn to become more sneaky with their sins, no one roots them out.  In our hearts we hide feelings of jealousy and bitterness.  We think horrible thoughts about other people, and we smile as we quietly ponder what kind of evil things we wish would happen to them.  We keep an enemy list in our heads, and we make keep track of who has sinned against us so that we will snub them when we get the chance.
     This does not describe felons, but all people, even Christians.  If God is to call you good, it means far more than you have been good most of the time or have done more good than harm.  It means that you do only good all the time.  And no one measures up to that.  Therefore, God's assessment is correct.  The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see...   He has seen, and he has assessed us all: They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)  
     Apart from the Lord there is no good.  There is only guilt and shame and regret and death.  But with the Lord, there is salvation and refuge and even rejoicing.  That is what the Lord revealed when he announced Advent back in the Garden of Eden.  And it is what the penitent prayed for as Advent was awaited.  Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! (Psalm 14:7)   
     Salvation comes from Zion, which is the presence of God.  It is the only place salvation could come from.  We cannot erase our sins.  Hiding our shame does not take it away.  And the burden of regret gets heavier as we dwell on what we could have done better and what we wish we could take back.  The problem is not that we are basically good people who have a few regrets, the problem is that we are corrupt people who are haunted by regrets.  We are all flawed, broken, and hurting.  But the Savior whom the Lord promised promises to remove all this burden and shame from you.  Advent is awaited, and the people who yearn for relief from their sins cry out fervently for the Lord's promised Savior to come.  Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! (Psalm 14:7)   
     Of course, you know the rest of the story.  Jesus has come.  Jesus Christ alone is good—perfectly loving his fellow man in words and actions, perfectly obedient to God's word in doctrine and practice, and perfectly pure in his thoughts and selfless in his motives.  Jesus did not merely put on a good outward show; he outwardly showed his good and pure heart.  And yet, Jesus died as a criminal and under the condemnation of his Father.  That is because he has borne our sin and shame.  He settled the account for all our sins.  His blood was poured out to cleanse our filthy hearts and to cover over all our shame.  Instead of letting us pretend that everything is alright when we know it is not, Jesus pardons us of all guilt.  He does not ignore our sins; he forgives them.  Instead of letting us try to find ways that we can take back our sins, Jesus takes them away.
     The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see that there is none who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)  Therefore, Jesus Christ credits us with his goodness.  He does not command, “Do better!”  Instead, he declares, “I have done it all for you.  The Law has been kept.  The sins have been removed.  It is finished, and it is done for you.”  Therefore, you do not have to wonder if you are good enough for God, or if you have done enough for God.  It is all done.  Jesus brings salvation out of Zion.  He is your refuge in God's judgment.
     Advent is still awaited by us, for we are looking forward to Jesus' return from heaven to deliver us from our struggles to do good and from our continuous battle against our conscience which continually reminds us that we are never good enough.  Therefore, our prayer continues with the Psalm, “Oh that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!” (Psalm 14:7)  For when our Lord comes for us, he will free us forever from the sinful nature that clings to us.  We will finally be free, perfectly free, to live without sin, to speak and act without regrets, and to laugh and think without shame.  We will never be plagued by what we should have done or said or by wishing we could take something back.  Instead, we will be perfected.  We will rejoice in the goodness of God.  He will restore the fortunes of mankind, making us the saints he always intended us to be.  And we will rejoice in it.
     For with the Lord there is refuge and salvation and rejoicing.  Therefore, we flee to the Lord for all things good.  And just as he comes to us now to grant sinners comfort and salvation, so in heavenly bliss he will have us rejoice in his goodness forevermore.

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

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