Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Sermon -- Advent Vespers: Week 3 (December 14, 2016)

MALACHI 3:1

THE LORD PROMISES THE COMING SAVIOR.
Advent At Hand.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The prophet Malachi is the last prophet in our Old Testament.  He is the last prophet in the long line of prophets who pointed ahead to the coming Savior.  The first promise was made by the Lord himself back in the Garden of Eden.  The Lord had foretold that the Seed of the Woman would come and crush the serpent's head.  He would deliver mankind from sin and death and would restore all things.  For centuries, the Church was reminded of that promise through patriarchs like Adam and Enoch and Noah.  And the Church hoped and waited.
     The Church continued her wait.  About 1000 BC, King David taught to Church to pray: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!  When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.” (Psalm 14:7)  The Church does not measure fortunes in gold or in dollars or in real estate.  The fortune to be restored is the image of God which was lost when man fell into sin.  Our prayer for salvation is that such fortune would be restored to us.
     “When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let us rejoice and be glad.” (Psalm 14:7, paraphrase)  We rejoice that we will get to live free from sin and danger, free from trials and temptations, free from sorrow and death.  The Church is glad that God and man will live together in peace and harmony.  We are glad that God will restore us to what he first created mankind to be and has always intended us to be—pure and blameless.  We long for perfection to be restored in us, and for our world to be restored to its perfect state as well.  So, the prayer of the Church continues: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!  When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.” (Psalm 14:7)  We pray, we hope, and we wait.
     But now comes Malachi.  About 400 BC, Malachi restated God's promise and he accentuated God's promise with, “Behold!”  In fact, twice!  The Lord promises our coming Savior.  Advent is at hand.  “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.  And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)
     The messenger whom Malachi foretold was John the Baptist.  He cleared the way for the Savior by proclaiming repentance.  Repentance is not merely feeling bad about your sins.  Repentance means putting off your sins and getting rid of what stands in the way between you and God.  This is how John the Baptist cleared the way for the Savior.
     It is still how we prepare today.  Every Sunday, we are summoned to approach God in repentance: “Beloved in the Lord, let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins to God our Father....”  This is not a “hurts-so-good” moment where we find some delight in feeling bad.  It is an honest moment in which we admit what we are.  We draw near with a true heart.  It may mean that your heart is heavy with guilt or sorrow.  It may mean that your heart is angry with God because he has not fixed all your problems.  It may even be that you don't feel particularly bad at all.  But this is not about conjuring up sorrow or emotion; it is about being honest.
     Advent is at hand.  Therefore, we recognize and confess that we are sinful human beings who never have nor ever will purge ourselves from self-serving actions or self-glorifying words.  Let us draw near with a true heart that recognizes we have made idols of ourselves, our children, our sports, our jobs, and our reputations.  Let us draw near with a true heart which does not merely feel bad about sins but gags at the thought of returning to them and resolves to amend what we have destroyed.  This is what repentance looks like.  It is a true heart that does not come before God to bargain, but humbly pleads for mercy.
     The Lord promised our coming Savior.  Malachi had foretold that John the Baptist would prepare the way for him, and then suddenly the Lord would come.  Advent was at hand, “and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)  The Savior comes to establish a new covenant, for we have failed to keep the old one.
     When we see world leaders make covenants today, each side negotiates the terms.  They may not get what they want in the deal, but they agree they will live with the compromise.  Then each leader will take his ceremonial pen and sign the treaty.  Old Testament covenants were bloody affairs.  The more literal expression is “to cut a covenant.”  The kings would cut an animal in two and separate its parts, leaving a blood trail in between.  Then they would ratify their covenant by walking together between the severed animal.  It was as if they were saying, “May I end up like this slain animal if I fail to keep my end of the covenant.”
     We have not been faithful to the word of the Lord.  A true heart acknowledges that.  But rather than strike us for our unfaithfulness, the Lord allowed himself to be slain for us.  He bore our iniquity and suffered as the one who has been unfaithful.  Jesus' body was cut and pierced and put to death for our guilt.  He was slaughtered as a Lamb so that we would be spared all punishment.
     By his sacrificial death, the Savior has established a new covenant.  He does not put demands upon us which we will not be able to keep.  There is no more demand for blood or a threat of slaughter.  Instead, our Savior pours out blessing upon us.  His sacrificial death has atoned for all our sins.  You have been washed in this blood in baptism, making you the saints of God.  The body and blood which were slain as the payment for our sins he feeds to us for the forgiveness of our sins.  By this, Jesus brings us salvation.
     Behold!  Advent is at hand.  “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)  The Church still waits for Jesus, but this time to return.  He has fulfilled the words of Malachi.  He came to his temple, and he has provided salvation.  Today, he still comes to his temple; for, you are his temple.  The Lord has made his dwelling within you.  He has begun to restore the fortunes of his people, transforming you into the new creation which he has always intended you to be.  And he keeps coming to you through preaching and feasting from the altar.  By these, he sustains you as his redeemed until he comes again.
     The Lord promised our coming Savior.  Malachi declared that Advent is at hand.  But after Malachi's promise, the Church still had 400 years to watch and to pray and to wait.  The final word of the Old Testament is: Your Savior will come.  And four centuries later, he did.  The final word of the New Testament through St. John's Revelation is: Your Savior will come.  Just as the Lord was faithful to his earlier promise, we know he will be faithful to this one.  It has been almost 2,000 years, and still the Church will watch and wait and pray: “Oh, that salvation would come.  Oh, that the Lord would restore the fortunes of his people.  Oh, that we will be delivered to Paradise.  Oh, that Jesus would come.”  Rejoice, for Advent is at hand.  And Jesus will bring us to everlasting glory.

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

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