“The Lord is coming. Go ye out to meet Him.” This is the message of The Church, year in and year out, Advent I to Trinity Last, every year, “The Lord is coming. Go ye out to meet Him.” He Who came to earth as Mary’s Son wants to come into your heart now by means of His Word and Sacrament. Why? So that when He comes again to judge the quick and the dead, you will be found within His flock and not among the goats. “The Lord is coming. Go ye out to meet Him.”
How should we respond? with repentance. Advent is a penitential season. It’s not as strict as Lent, but the theme remains. St. John orders us: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is nigh!” The Collects tell us we need God’s help lest our sins condemn us and keep us from doing what is good in His sight. We need to repent because our sins will bring upon us threatening perils otherwise.
So repent. “Wake up! Cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” What is St. Paul saying? He’s telling you, the baptized, to act like it. Act like you belong to The Coming Lord, not the devil. For you have sworn off the devil and all his works and ways. You have sworn allegiance to Jesus. His Name is written on you and your name is written in His Book of Life.
But if St. Paul has to tell you to be who you are, that means one of two things. Either you need encouragement or you need a loud reminder because you aren’t doing what you should. Both are very possible. We’re still sinners. If we need encouragement, it’s because it’s easy for us to not want to do what’s right. The world is always beckoning us, telling us life is so much better when we do what we shouldn’t because “it just feels right.” The flesh likes that very much. It doesn’t want to be left out of the fun or lose an opportunity to have friends it can only have by doing certain things. St. Paul encourages us in the face of temptation to remember The Lord is coming soon, so we don’t want Him to catch us doing something we shouldn’t. As it is, He already (to borrow the language of a song we’re hearing these days) “sees us when we’re sleeping and knows when we’re awake, He knows if we’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake!”
That leads us to the second point. Is there some sin you won’t give up, some sin that consumes you, some sin that you want to keep doing, some sin perhaps you don’t even know it’s wrong so you keep doing, some sin you’re addicted to? It can happen to any of us. Perhaps we like to eat or drink too much, fight, or desire people we shouldn’t. Perhaps we like to take advantage of others or not give to others. Perhaps we just don’t find time each day for God to speak to us in His Word and us to speak to Him in prayer.
Repent! Wake up! Desire to do better! Do better! How can you? Only Jesus can help you. That’s why we pray Him to give us His grace, why we pray Him to stir up His power and come and stir up our hearts. Lift up your soul to Him and you will not be ashamed. He will show you His ways and teach you His paths. His Spirit will lead you as He shows you His mercy and grants you His salvation. God gives you the strength, the courage, the ability, the desire, to do what is right in His sight. He gives you the grace to put away fleshly lusts so that you may be ready for His Visitation, precisely because you cannot overcome them. He even gives you this encouragement (TLH 58:8):
What though the foes be raging, Heed not their craft and spite; Your Lord, the battle waging, Will scatter all their might. He comes, a King most glorious, And all His earthly foes In vain His course victorious Endeavor to oppose.
That’s why He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Our King rides such a lowly animal to show that He came down from heaven in order to help us poor, miserable sinners. He came not to condemn us sinners, but to save us. Only with repentant hearts can we receive His salvation. Only with repentant hearts can we believe in Him and trust in what He has done for us. Only with repentant and believing hearts can we cry, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that cometh in The Name of The Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
What does that mean? Hosanna means “Save us NOW!” “In the highest” is short for “O Thou Who art in the highest.” “Blessed is He that cometh in The Name of The Lord” reminds us that Jesus didn’t come down to earth on a whim, but His Father sent Him to die. He is blessed because He was going to accomplish, no doubt about it, His mission impossible. He is blessed because His mission impossible is accomplished so that you may be blessed with sins pardoned and eternal life restored.
The mission seems impossible: save sinful man, all of them; pardon the sins of an eternity of sinners who are corrupt at their conception; pardon them by being punished for all their sins on a Cross; pardon them and never sin once in His life and be totally unstained by it except by bearing it in His Body upon The Cross. That’s very hard. No sinful human could accomplish it. Only the sinless eternal Lamb of God could do it. That’s what He did when He offered His life on The Cross for you. That led Paul Gerhardt to pen these words (WH 44:3):
What hast Thou e’er neglected For my good here below? When heart and soul dejected, Were sunk in deepest woe, When lost from that high station Where peace and pleasure reign, Thou camest, my Salvation, And mad’st me glad again.
His Death for your salvation is His mighty deliverance. It rescues you from the threatening perils of your sins because He suffered all those perils on The Cross. It is your protection from Satan, the world, and even your sinful self. It is your protection on the Last Day when He will judge all flesh. Through that Cross, through The Blood He shed there, you will be found worthy to stand before Him righteous and holy in His sight. (TLH 58:5-7):
Rejoice, then, ye sad-hearted, Who sit in deepest gloom, Who mourn o’er joys departed And tremble at your doom. Despair not, He is near you, Yea, standing at the door, Who best can help and cheer you And bids you weep no more.
Ye need not toil nor languish Nor ponder day and night How in the midst of anguish Ye draw Him by your might. He comes, He comes all willing, Moved by His love alone, Your woes and troubles stilling; For all to Him are known.
Sin’s debt, that fearful burden, Let not your souls distress; Your guilt the Lord will pardon And cover by His grace. He comes, for men procuring The peace of sin forgiven, For all God’s sons securing Their heritage in heaven.
It is in this faith that your sins are forgiven that you can do and desire to do what God desires. It is in this faith that Christ Jesus died for your sins that you desire to repent of your sins, cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. This faith is His gift to you, given you and strengthened in you by His Word and Sacraments. Through these means He comes to you now at this pulpit, at this Altar. “The Lord is coming. Go ye out to meet Him.”