In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death.” St. Augustine strikes at the crux of sin and salvation with these words. Apart from Jesus’ humiliation, His descent into your unhappiness and death; apart from the undeserved revelation of Christ for you, you would have remained forever asleep in your sins, unaware that the slumber grows deeper and deeper each day. And so Augustine continues: “You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.” But He did hasten to your aid; He did come. “Not by human flesh and blood, By the Spirit of our God, Was the Word of God made flesh” (LSB 332, stanza 2). He came to this earth of God’s own free choice and will.
Because He has come, you have been awakened from your death-sleep. Wipe your eyes clear and see the cost of God’s Love for you! From the beginning, it was promised: “Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh” would crush the head of the serpent who tempted the first woman to trust a word other than her Creator’s. But the curse has worked its way through the entire creation, through our ancestors, into you and into me. Every sin you commit is your own personal attempt to dethrone God, to bring Him down to you, to make Him understandable, and believable, and controllable according to your own reason and ideas about what is right and what is wrong. You want the ability to decide things for yourself; to produce a system of morality that makes sense to you and try to live by it. That is, you want to be the Creator, rather than the creature. You want to be king, rather than let God be the ruler of all things. You want Him off the throne. And that is exactly what happened, but it happened not as sinners wanted, but as we need it. St. John has proclaimed to you that the only one who ascends to heaven for you is the one who descended from heaven, down from His throne.
Our sins, from the smallest to the most monstrous (as we consider them), cry out for our God’s humiliation. At the same time, we pray with Israel of old, sighing and longing for our Lord to stir up His holy power and come down. But His power is not in the destruction of sinners, which we think would be beneficial because all of “them” would get what they deserve. Instead, it would mean our destruction, no matter how lightly we think of our sin. He comes down, in the powerful weakness of an infant body, to be both our death and our life. And the blessed Virgin hears the promise and the Gospel of joy from the angel that His Name would be Yahshua—Yahweh’s salvation—and in this way He would be God with us, in our flesh, in our death. The Lord of all things left the throne of God and in the womb of the Virgin “this truth was shown: God was there upon His throne” (stanza 3). “Then stepped forth the Lord of all From His pure and kingly hall; God of God, yet fully man, His heroic course began. God the Father was His source, Back to God He ran His course. Into hell His road went down, Back then to His throne and crown” (stanzas 4-5). This is the path prepared for this King: descending into flesh, humbled to be born of a Virgin, down, down, into hell before He followed His road back again by resurrection and ascension to His rightful throne and crown, now bearing forever human flesh: God and man joined inseparably for eternity.
That joining in the body of Mary, making a temple out of flesh and blood and bone, meant sacrifice for the infant high priest. A new temple prepared for the destruction of the cross, prepared for the altar of Calvary. From there, and ever after, God is present. The cloud of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night, the Most Holy Place in the temple, became the beating and sacrificial heart of the Messiah, Jesus. God had spoken a promise to His people and Simeon held in his hands the promise made flesh, and gave us the words we have sung ever since, when we have eaten and drunk that incarnate Promise: Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word. For my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel. So it is, as we return from the altar in this place, that word assures us that we have tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord, who descends from His throne; or, rather, that He makes His throne in the depths with us.
So let us sing in gladness: the night is ending and the dawn approaches. We give thanks this night for the coming Advent of our God. The temple has been moved to the flesh of Jesus. Toward that temple you have called, and the Lord has heard. “Savior of the nations, come! Virgin’s Son, make here your home!” (stanza 1). “For You are the Father’s Son Who in flesh the vict’ry won. By Your mighty pow’r make whole All our ills of flesh and soul” (stanza 6). In the light of the manger faith now abides, because there our victory is present to be riven and risen. Soon will come the glory that is forever, and you will see it. But for now, dear Christian, wait. Christ approaches, and our eyes have and will behold the light of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.
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, 12/8/15
*The theme for this Advent series, much of the outline, and some of the material is taken by permission from Pr. Gaven Mize, of Augustana Lutheran Church, Hickory, NC.