Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I don’t know if you have this problem. But I sometimes have this problem where I begin a project and have a little trouble finishing it. I’m not very mechanically inclined, but I’ve worked a little on my motorcycle and my car. And sometimes I begin a project, or start a repair, and then I run out of time on that day. Or I realize I don’t have something I need, a tool or a part. And then I have to stop. And sometimes it takes me some time to get back to it. Parts are not where they should be, tools get left out, pieces get lost. It’s frustrating—mostly for my wife. Beginnings and endings are not the same. A beginning doesn’t necessarily mean an ending.
But Paul writes to the Philippians that when God begins something, He’s not like me. He always finishes what He starts, and He does it in His own time, which is always better than our time. Paul says that he has been convinced that the One who began a good work in you will bring it to completion. God will finish what He started. But the English here is a little misleading. This translation says that God will bring it to completion at the Day of Jesus Christ. And, certainly, everything will be brought to its completion on that day.
But what it actually says is that God will bring that good work to completion until the Day of Jesus Christ. In other words, God isn’t like us, where He starts something one day and then, maybe, He’ll finish it whenever He gets around to it, like on the last day. God is not idle. He is not lacking in anything to do His good work. He doesn’t need to wait for anything to be different from what it is now in order for Him to work. God didn’t start something, stop working, and then He’ll finish it on that last Day.
No, God will bring it to completion until that Day, when it will be fully and finally brought to its proper end. But He is working now. He is doing, right now, the work of finishing what He started. What is the good work and when did He begin it? Well, of course it has roots reaching all the way back to the Garden, but the revelation of His good work is in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus’ own body, a new creation is begun, which He will bring to its completion when all of creation is restored. And that new creation was begun in you and me when we were put into Jesus’ death and resurrection in Baptism.
He began His work in the womb of Mary, and worked that good work in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then He began the same work in you when you were crucified with Christ and raised with Him. But that work that He began is not stuck in the past or in the future. Which is why we say that we are baptized, not we were baptized. The work of God in baptism is done once and continuing ever after. He is bringing that work to completion now, daily. He drowns and kills that old flesh bound to Adam and his sin, and daily He raises up the new creature remade in the image of Jesus.
And that is the same work that He will bring to completion on the Day of the Lord. Just as Jesus’ work didn’t end with death, but was completed in His resurrection, so the work He is doing in us will be brought to its completion when He raises our bodies from the dead.
Of course, to say that He is continuing His work of bringing us to completion in Christ means that it is not complete—we are not complete—now. That doesn’t mean that there is anything lacking in what Jesus has done. Everything He does, today and always, flows eternally from Jesus’ completed work. But what He finished once and for all, He has not finished delivering to us and to everyone for whom He died. We live between the resurrection of Jesus, given to us in Baptism, and the resurrection of our bodies when He completes our baptism.
And so Advent is a baptismal season. Our hope is a baptismal hope. Our longing is a baptismal longing. The work that God is bringing to completion is making us abound in love more and more, in knowledge and discernment about the things of God; in testing and approving what is excellent, or what really matters; and the purity and holiness and the fruit of righteousness that flows from Christ to us to those around us. And Advent is a refreshing of our longing for the day when that work is complete, when we love completely, and there is no need for more knowledge and discernment because we will be perfected; when purity and righteousness are filled up in us as they are in Christ. Advent renews our longing for the completion of all things. Advent brings us back to the waiting, watching, praying stance of God’s baptized people. Advent renews in us the hope for what we have not yet seen, for the resurrection and redemption of our bodies. And that hope is tied inseparably to Christ and His resurrection and His appearing.
And it may seem obvious, but it is God who is doing this work. God has not saved us and then left us to figure out what we’re going to do until He finishes everything on the last day. He is not idle and He is not absent. God is doing the work. Which means we are dependent. We cannot be on our own, solitary individuals, me and Jesus. As Paul writes to the Galatians, what? Do you think that what was begun by the Spirit, you’re now going to bring to completion by the flesh, by your work and believing and self-determination? No, what was begun by the Spirit will only be finished by the Spirit. What was begun by God in Christ will only be finished by God in Christ. We are dependent upon God in Christ, which means we are also dependent on the Body of Christ, the Church. There is no such thing as a solitary Christian, even if the Christian might be alone.
Today He reminds, restores, and renews us in our baptismal hope that He is still doing His work, which He will finish and complete until it is finally fulfilled on the Day of Christ. He reminds us that we cannot live apart from Him, so He gives us His life in His body and blood. He is doing this work, not us. He reminds us that we are forgiven children of God—His work, not ours. He speaks to us the only words of life—His, not ours. And as we long for that final day when, pure and blameless, we will see our Lord, He assures us that what He started, He will not fail to finish, today and every day until that Day.
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, 12/7/18