In Between

Video of Evening Prayer is here. The sermon begins around the 22:05 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

One of the reasons I love Advent is because it reflects life in this world; that is, Advent is very much in between. It is stuck in between Jesus’ appearance in humility and His appearance in glory. Its color is violet or blue, like the color between the day and the coming night, or between the night and the coming day. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

And don’t we live in between? In between Jesus accomplishing our salvation and having the fullness of it in eternity? In between our resurrection with Christ by faith and our bodies being raised and given undying life? In between faith and sight, the promise and the fulfillment. It is an in-between very much as it was for the Old Testament people of God, life lived between the promise and the appearance of the Messiah. When would He appear? How long will we have to wait? Has God forgotten us, or His promise?

Psalm 85 takes place in between: in between God’s salvation in the past and the possibility of salvation in the future. These are the things that God has done: “You favored Your land, Yahweh; You returned the captives of Jacob. You lifted up the guilt of Your people; You covered all their sin. You gathered up all Your wrath and took it away; You turned from the burning of Your anger” (Psalm 85:1-3). Those first three verses are all things that God had done, the way that God had acted toward and for His people in the past.

But the sons of Korah, to whom this psalm is attributed, live, like us, in between. Here is what God has done; will He do it again? Return us again, O God of our salvation. Break and turn aside from Your anger from us (now). Forever will You be angry with us, and stretch out Your anger generation to generation? Will You not turn and let us live, for Your people to rejoice in You (now)? Cause us to see Your steadfast love! And Your salvation give to us!

This is always the trouble for those who live in between. Sure, it happened in the past, but that was then and this is now. The past, including the scriptural past, can easily become unreal to us, which makes the future just as unreal. We weren’t there then; we’re not there yet.

But the psalmist’s confidence is in his ears, not in his eyes or his mind. I will hear what Yahweh my God will speak. And that confidence is tied both to what God has done, and what He will do. What He did was lead the people out of Egypt to the land He had promised to give them. He led them out of Babylon and restored them to the land. And it was in the land where the Glory of God’s salvation was revealed, dwelling among His people and near to them. The glory of which the angels sing in Isaiah 6: Holy! Holy! Holy! Is Yahweh of the heavenly armies! The whole earth is full of His glory! That is the same glory of which Isaiah speaks later: The glory of Yahweh is revealed and all flesh together shall see it, because Yahweh has said it (40:5).

Those words are tied to what John does as a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way for Yahweh Himself to appear among His people. He did appear, as the angels sang to shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth” (Luke 2:14)! At that time, the glory of Yahweh didn’t appear as people expected, either. The Glory of Yahweh was wrapped up in the womb of Mary, in her flesh and blood, in the form of a baby, in swaddling cloths, in a manger, in Bethlehem. Who would look for the Glory of God there, dwelling in the land as the son of Mary and Joseph? And who would look for His Glory on a Roman cross, in a borrowed tomb? Raised up on the cross, the glory of God was revealed for all flesh to see. He has made His salvation visible and given it to us freely.

Thus has Yahweh spoken. “Look!” He says: “My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen, in whom my soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon him; He will bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1). “Delight” there is the same word as “favorable” in Psalm 85:1. He favors the land by giving His Son, in whom He delights, in whom He is well pleased. It is He who will bring about justice. It is He who will bring back all the captives, from all the ends of the earth. And now, because His chosen servant has gathered a people for Himself, “Yahweh delights in His people; He adorns the humble with salvation” (Psalm 149:4). It was not by Israel’s “own sword [that they won] the land, nor did their own arm save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face, for you delighted in them” (Psalm 44:3). It is God who has done this. God has made His salvation near to those who feared Him, like shepherds and magi, as near as flesh and blood; as near as the hands and feet and side of a crucified and resurrected Man.

It is through that one Man that His salvation is still near to us—as near as the Word that is in your ears and the confession on your lips. As near as water on your skin and bread and wine in your mouth. And it is in Him that the in-between is resolved. It is in Him that Advent will finally give way to the eternal Mass of Christ. The God who forgave and who took away all His wrath, who covered all our sin with His mercy in Jesus is the God who will restore us again, who will not leave us here forever, who will show us His enduring and everlasting love and give us His eternal salvation.

That Day is what the psalmist sees in the final verses: heaven and earth joined together, steadfast love and faithfulness met, righteousness and peace kissed; faithfulness from below and righteousness from above. It all comes together in Him who is the Truth, who is the Righteousness of God come down from heaven to the earth to give life to the world. Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory! What we will see on the last day has already happened in Jesus’ own body, the Person who is God and Man. And when we see Him in the Glory of God coming with His holy angels, then there will be no longer any contradiction between what we see and what we hear, what we feel and what is promised, what God has done and what He will do. What we hear now, what our God speaks to us, is what we will have in its fullness on that day. Yes, Yahweh will give the Good, and our earth will give its produce, as in Eden. Every footstep of Jesus on the earth is the righteous way. Every word He spoke is what we hear: Let us hear what God will speak! He speaks peace and wholeness and eternity to us in Jesus. He speaks Shalom, which encompasses all of God’s saving action, past, present, and future. The way prepared in righteousness is where we will go; He guides our feet into the way of peace; as Zechariah prophesied of his son John, his preparation of God’s ways is to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins. This is what Jesus has given, and will continue to give, to you.

In Jesus and Jesus only will our Advent in-between be resolved, the now giving way to the not-yet, and heaven and earth brought together as the New Jerusalem descends from heaven, the dead are raised, and we dwell on that new earth under that new heavens, where righteousness and peace kiss each other. The night of darkness is already passing away. And the “King shall come when morning dawns and light triumphant breaks. … Not as of old a little child, to bear and fight and die, but crowned with glory like the sun that lights the morning sky. Oh, brighter than the rising morn when Christ, victorious, rose and left the lonesome place of death despite the rage of foes. Oh, brighter than that glorious morn shall dawn upon our race the day when Christ in splendor comes and we shall see His face. … Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray: come quickly, King of kings!” (LSB 348).

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, 12/14/21

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