of the Springs
|December 12, 2010 -- Third Sunday in Advent
-- Service Guide
And blessed is he, who takes no offense at Me. [Matthew 11.6; RSV]
This day on the church calendar is known as “Gaudete,” which is Latin for “Rejoice!” The church designates this day, the 3rd Sunday of Advent as a day of refreshment within a season of repentance. Lent, the other penitential season of the church calendar, also has a day of refreshment, the 4th Sunday in Lent, called “Laetare,” which also means, “Rejoice!”
So, the theme of this week presents you with the concept of rejoicing in the midst of a focus on one’s sins and one’s need of forgiveness.
The truth is that this fallen life in which we all live is life that is in need of fundamental, lifelong repentance and forgiveness. God did not start life out this way. God created life in the awesomeness of His glory, a reflection, an image of the very divine nature that is God. But sin has corrupted this awesome and perfect life of peace and joy in God’s presence, and since the fall into sin, life in this daily world of ours has become fundamentally sinful. And, “Merry Christmas” conflicts with the burden of that sin.
You don’t want to hear this. Your sinful nature rebels against this truth. No! It cannot be that life is now fundamentally corrupt. No! Rather, we just make mistakes now and then, but life itself remains incorruptibly and perfectly happy. We just need to pursue our happiness, and everything will turn out fine.
This is a lie of the devil, and only he wants you to believe it. God does not want you to believe it, neither does the church, neither do those Christians in your life who have come to know better. The devil succeeds when you believe the lie that life is fundamentally good. Life is fundamentally corrupted.
In the Holy Gospel for this Sunday, John the Baptist has sent his disciples to Jesus, so that they might see that Jesus is the promised Messiah about whom John had preached, and so that they might join Him. Jesus affirms what they will see from Him: “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”
Christ points out what we’ve already seen, namely, that this fallen world is a life that is fundamentally corrupted. The corruption is all around, for you to see. Here are the blind in this world, and over here are the lame. Over there are the lepers, and beyond them are the deaf. Here is the crisis of death, and all over everywhere is the poverty of not knowing what on earth to do about all this corruption.
John the Baptist, in his God-given message as the forerunner of Christ, does what prepares people for the arrival of Christ. He calls his hearers to repentance. The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia,” which means “change of mind.” It is more than just being sorry for having done wrong. John calls for a change of mind about the whole issue of living this life, a change of mind that stops wanting life on one’s own terms and instead accepts what God has revealed about life.
“Metanoia: Repentance, Change of mind!” John preached this repentance in order to prepare a people to trust, to bank on, God’s Christmas gift of His only-begotten Son. And when the Eternal Son of God, now in human flesh, appears, He demonstrates two truths: Fallen, sinful life is fundamentally corrupted, and He, the Christ, comes to bring the joy of restoration in the midst of fallen life. Hence, the miracles that bring joy out of pain and peace out of suffering.
The ministry of John the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus come together in the Holy Gospel for this day so that you might see two things about your life: Your life, too, is a participation in fundamental corruption, and your life in Christ brings relief from this corrupted state.
So, how does this sad state of fallen human existence get its grip on you and your daily life? The easy answer is to point to the sinful nature. The sinful nature produces the fundamental corruption in which you live. But, how does it do so?
Here’s how: The sinful nature is your nature. The things that are true about your sinful nature are things that are true about you. You ARE your sinful nature. Your sinful nature IS you.
So, cling to the Word of God, for what it says about you also is true! But to do this, you must be made a child of God, and you can’t do that yourself. You must be reborn, born from above, made a child of God by the actions of God the Holy Spirit. And that is what has happened to you. You know this by Holy Baptism. You know this by the fact that the word of the Law convicts you and the word of Gospel forgives you.
God sends His Word to you precisely because you are His child, caught up by this dreadful dynamic of the sinful nature and its truths. God’s Word comes precisely to deal with the condition of your life brought on by your sinful nature. Because the sinful nature is a living word speaking to you from inside yourself, God sends His Word as a living word coming to you from the outside. Here is how this Word of God works.
The message from God does not come to your life to change you. It does not come into you life in order to get you to change yourself. You have no power to change yourself, because we’re talking about what is in your sinful nature.
No, God sends His message to you to do one thing. And that is to work on the second nature in you, the one that He created in you in Holy Baptism, the one that He created by giving you faith and the forgiveness of sins.
Now, the old nature and the new nature together are truly you! What the sinful nature shows you is you! But what the new nature clings to is also you. Each nature now struggles to grab and control of your mind. What each says about you is the truth. You are the sinner that the old nature reveals, but at the same time you are the saint that the new nature proclaims.
Now, as the sinful flesh begins to have its way with a Christian, leading to despair over what is in that sinful nature, the new nature takes a beating. The more that this fundamental corruption drives a Christian, the more beaten and silenced the new nature becomes. God knows this, and He sends His Word, not in order to change the old nature, but to rescue and strengthen the new nature.
Thus, again today, in this world of fundamental corruption, the Gospel comes to you, not to change your old nature and what it says to your mind, but rather to strengthen the weak and struggling new nature within you. The message comes so that this often-battered new nature can raise a renewed voice within you and declare the truth that makes and keeps you God’s saint.
The new nature has but one thing to say. It says it again and again, as long as it lives within you. It is but a single sentence, but it is a sentence that brings relief and culitivates new life. God’s Word comes to you that the new man in Christ can speak this word, however haltingly, however weakly.“God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”
That plea blasts away all that the old nature can gloat about and hold over your head. “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” is the truth of the new man! Each time God brings forth this truth in your life, forgiveness sends you down life’s path justified and righteous and at peace with God. This truth about you lasts forever. It is the winning truth and brings joy amidst all suffering and peace amidst all pain. This fact, that you ARE reborn, freely, without asking, brings about a truly “Merry Christmas!”
This is why we have Advent repentance and, on this day, why we have the refreshing call to “Gaudate” - Rejoice!