In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Maybe you’re sitting in your parents’ or grandparents’ house, which has been in the family for many years, and you’ve just finished a holiday meal. You’re looking around at the walls, maybe at the brick in the walls, and you say, “If only these walls could talk. What would they say? What have they seen?”
Maybe you’re just inside the walls of Jerusalem, getting ready for the feast, watching a Man ride into the city on a donkey (of all things!), and you look up at the walls of the city and you think, “What if these walls could talk? What would they say? What have they seen?” And in the middle of the shouts and singing, the palms and garments on the road, you hear the leaders of Israel tell the Man, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” And—you can barely hear it over the shouts of “Blessed is the King coming in the Name of Yahweh”—He says, “If these were silenced, the rocks would cry out.” But He’s not looking at the pebbles on the ground; He’s gesturing to the great stones of the walls of the city and the temple. The stones would cry out, not in praise of God—although certainly the whole creation does that. They would cry out in judgment and reproach against those who refused to recognize their God when He came to them.
Just as the prophet Habakkuk said. Speaking of Babylon, whom God had used to bring judgment and discipline upon His people in 586 BC, Habakkuk said that the walls of Babylon would be torn down, and when they were, a stone from the wall would cry out and a beam from the woodwork would answer (2:11). This is what happens when a city is built on the foundation of bloodshed, violence, and idolatry. And in the last verse of chapter 2, Habakkuk cries out: “Yahweh is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep reverent silence before Him.” Not the silence of nothingness; but the silencing of apathy, ignorance, and a refusal to believe in the God who had come upon and among them. So while the crowds cried out at the entrance of Yahweh into His chosen city, Jesus warned Israel’s leaders against their silence. And when Jesus entered the temple, there was not reverent silence; everything went on as it had before, in the hustle and bustle of the business that had to be done. Everything went on just as if nothing had happened. Yahweh was in His holy temple, and the earth did not keep reverent silence. So it is that the stones of Jerusalem would bear witness against such silenced praise: twice in the Gospel of Luke Jesus says that there would not be one stone left upon another. The stones would cry out against them, because they did not know the time of their visitation. They did not recognize their God when He came to them in the Temple of Jesus’ flesh, bones, and blood.
What if these walls could talk? What would they say? What have they seen? When they come down—and eventually they will—will they cry out in judgment and reproach against us because we did not recognize the time of our visitation? That our God has come near to us in flesh of Jesus, by word and sacrament?
This is my 37th Advent on this earth, and I hope and pray that it is my last. That’s what we pray for, after all, when we pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” We are praying that this Advent would be our last Advent. Many of you have seen many more Advents than I have. But the Church has seen them all. The Church has seen thousands of Advents, thousands of years, and she has been watching, waiting, and praying throughout all of them: Come quickly, Lord Jesus. And this Church, which encompasses all those who have entrusted themselves to the coming Lord, all the baptized believers of all times and all places, the whole company of heaven, along with angels and archangels—she waits patiently for the fulfillment of the promise. But she knows that we, her individual members, are sometimes swayed, sometimes moved, sometimes carried away from the promise and the prayer. My vocation as your pastor forces me to look again and again at these Advent Scriptures, to try and hear them again and hear them new here and now. But that contains its own danger of hearing them so often that I grow numb to the Word itself. My preparation can cause me to miss the actual days of visitation, to miss the God who is present in the body of His Holy Temple, Jesus. And your vocation does the same, in its own way: that your preparation with family and the hustle and bustle of business as usual might turn your head and eyes away from the God who visits us. We are always tempted to apathy and complacency; as the year turns around again, we are tempted to think that things will go on as they always have. But the Lord is not slow in keeping His promises, as some understand slowness. But He is patient, not wanting any to perish. His patience means salvation. But that does not mean the Day will not come. So together we need to be reminded of the promise and the prayer: Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Behold, I am coming soon. To gather in reverent silence as Yahweh visits His people once again, week after week, Advent after Advent, year after year to speak His forgiveness, who comes to us humbly in bread and wine (of all things!). This is the time of our visitation, until the Day when He visits us once and for all. Until then, the walls of the holy Church will ring and echo, stones and wood crying out and answering the same song, made new every day. The song of the angels at His birth, Glory to God in the highest, and peace to those on whom His favor rests. The song of the crowds in Jerusalem, Blessed is the one who comes in the Name of Yahweh. When He entered this world, the heavenly host sang its praise; when He was about to return to His Father, men sang back their note of praise. And so it goes, whether this is our last Advent, or there are a thousand more: Blessed is the coming King, who visits us with His salvation.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/28/15