Video of Evening Prayer is here. The sermon begins around the 21:35 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is very simple: God or someone else. The contrast goes like this: either you can praise and trust the one who made everything, who keeps everything, who guards those who are vulnerable or weak or helpless, who is over all things as God and King and Lord; or you can praise and trust someone who is dust, and returning to dust, like you are, finite like you are, dying like you are, whose thoughts and plans and agendas and promises are going to perish along with them. Seems like a simple choice! Who wouldn’t choose the eternal and the lasting? Who wouldn’t choose the one who can actually save and deliver, who can actually do something about everything that has gone wrong in the world? But human beings consistently choose what is near, what they can see, or touch; we constantly choose what we think will give us immediate gratification, instead of what might take time or trust.
I mean, does anyone actually still believe that the rulers and authorities in this world can solve the problems of this world, save those who are dying, keep everyone out of poverty, off drugs, and gainfully employed toward the fulfillment of the American dream? If anyone does believe that, they have not been paying attention for, oh, the entire history of human society. As we heard earlier in Advent, even when authorities do some temporary good, they themselves are temporary. Nothing—not even the relative gains and benefits for people—lasts forever in this creation and in this age.
But even though we know better, we continue to choose the temporary over the eternal, the human over the divine, the inability to save over the salvation in Jesus Christ. Perhaps it is because we no longer believe in any God. If there is no God, then you have to make do with what there is, and what there is is whomever happens to get elected by 51% of the people (because that’s about all the margin anyone gets on the national political stage). Besides no God, our other difficulty is the limit death places on every person’s life. Not only do we have to make do, then, with whatever earthly authority happens to have some power at the moment, but we also have to hurry, because this is our only chance. We have just this time and we either burn ourselves out trying to make the most of every moment, or we despair of ever doing that, and settle for whatever little happiness we can find.
Because we are temporary and finite, we put our trust in and praise what is temporary and finite. But then both we and whatever it is last only as long as we are breathing and our hearts are beating. But that is not what God intended for us or for the rest of His creation. So, the infinite and eternal enters into our finite and temporary bodies and time. He takes a body, and He takes the sins of the world on Himself, so that the result of that sin is His death. But the eternal, deathless one has joined Himself to a body, so that body cannot stay dead. The resurrection of Jesus’ body is the assurance that He is our help and hope; it is the assurance that He cares for those who are oppressed and hungry in their bodies; He is the one who will set the bodies of prisoners free; He will open blind eyes. “All you, beneath your heavy load, by care and guilt bent low, who toil along a dreary way with painful steps and slow: Look up, for golden is the hour, come swiftly on the wing, the Prince was born to bring you peace; of Him the angels sing” (LSB 366:3).
He alone, made deathless in His own body, watches over and guards the sojourners; the orphan and widow He surrounds. He loves His righteous ones, and makes their ways straight and smooth; but the ways of the wicked He bends and breaks, and makes crooked. While all earthly authorities, fashioned in the image of their father Adam, will return to their dust, Yahweh will reign forever, from generation to generation, in His eternity.
We, of course, are still in Advent-tide, both in the Church Year and in the world, which means that we are caught between the temporal and the eternal, the finite and the infinite. We live in this world, but we belong to the new creation world of Christ’s resurrection body. We are subject to the same death as everyone else, but our life, who is Christ, will appear in glory and we will have the full and eternal life that God has prepared for us. We know that Jesus has been born and has accomplished our salvation, but we have not yet seen it, and we are still waiting for His second Advent with the shout of an archangel and the blast of the trumpet.
But between His Advent in the womb of Mary and His Advent in glory, He has not left us alone. His Advent in flesh and His resurrection leads to His coming to us in His word and sacraments here and now. This is how the King keeps us with Him until He is revealed to our eyes. The Eternal One holds our temporal lives; the Infinite One holds our finite and passing days. We come near to the night of death when no one can work, but the Lord is our Light now, and the Day is coming, as Isaiah prophesied: “the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day when Yahweh binds up the brokenness of His people, and heals the wounds inflicted by His blow” (Isaiah 30:26).
So we continue to pray, tonight and until that Day dawns: “Abide with [us], fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens; Lord, with [us] abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, O abide with [us]. … Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away; change and decay in all around [we] see; O Thou who changest not, abide with [us]” (LSB 878:1, 4). Do not put your trust in princes, in a son of man who cannot save. Your trust is in the Son of Man and the Son of God who saves and delivers, in Yahweh who reigns forever! Hallelu-jah! Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Blessed is the one whose hope is in Yahweh his God!
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, 12/14/22