Monday, December 26, 2016

Advent Midweek service (Psalm 85)

“Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.” You acted in salvation, you saw your people in distress and you did not remain idle. You rent the heavens and came down; you came down to deliver, you came down to save, you came down bring your people out of captivity. When your people languished in slavery, with backs bowed in hard labor, you came; when your people dwelt in exile, far from home, you came; when your people were threatened with annihilation again and again, you came. “You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.” You were angry with your people, and justly, for they sinned, they turned away from you. They rebelled again and again, but in love, in mercy, you turned back to them. You rent the heavens and came down, releasing them from the bondage they deserved, the cruel overlords who were the agents of your wrath. But all of this was preliminary. When your people dwelt in the dark night of sin, subject to death, in the captivity of Satan, you came. You rent the heavens and came down, taking up residence in the womb of the virgin, and coming forth to walk the way of the cross. You came to die, to die in the place of your rebellious people, to die bearing their iniquity. You are the God who comes, and you came in humility, you came in victory, you came with healing in your wings.

“You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin.” You did not ignore my sin, you did not turn your face from it, you did not make an exception in my case. No, your hot anger burned against my sin with as much intensity as it deserved. My sin deserved death and hell, and that is what you poured out against it. You did not spare one ounce of your wrath, but you raged against your Son, not against me. You did not ignore my sin, or the sin of anyone on this planet, but you placed it on Jesus, and your hot anger burned against Him. You covered my sin with the blood of Jesus, with His righteousness; because He died under your wrath, your wrath will not come upon me. “You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.” That is what happened at the baptismal font: your anger turned away, your wrath was withdrawn. I am saved, I am delivered, because you came, you came to this world at your first Advent, taking on flesh to walk the way of the cross, and you came on the day of my baptism, rending the heavens and coming down to make me one of your dear children.

You acted in the past; will you not act again? “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!” We are languishing, dying in this world of sin and death, a world filled with decay, a world that still faces the just penalties of its sin. The sin and suffering of this world seems to have no end; every day we hear of violence and poverty, the incredible cruelty that humans show to one another only reaches new heights, terrible things happen to the innocent. A seven-year-old was hit by a car crossing the street last week, trying to get to school; will you not act? “Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?” How long will you wait, O Lord, how long will you delay? How much more suffering must this world endure? Why don’t you do something? You acted in the past, will you not act again? The world has been in the throes of death since the day Adam and Eve fell into sin, death has reigned over man and beast since teeth sunk into the fruit. How much longer must we endure this penalty? How much longer must we return to the dust, must the ground bring forth thorns and thistles?

“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Make us alive, we are dying! Bring us some joy, we are filled with sadness! This world sucks the joy from us, it brings us down into the depths of sorrow. We face the pain of loss, the shame and humiliation of our own weaknesses, the guilt of our sin. We live with aches and pains, our bodies rebel against us, they are racked with cancer, our hearts are ticking time bombs, diabetes lurks around every corner. This world fills us with tears, as we mourn those who are lost to us, those who have died and those who are estranged, those we don’t talk to anymore, those who have hurt us or we have hurt, and the relationships left tattered and torn. All who have hurt us, all who have left us, leave a hole in our heart. Deliver us from this corrupted world! O Lord, how long? “Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.” Show us your love, we are drowning in hate, the false and fleeting love this world offers. Grant us your salvation, we are surrounded by sin and its corruption. We can’t endure this world much longer, we are hanging on by a thread—do you want us to fall? We are at the end of our endurance—would you have us give up? Your people are dying—what do you have to say for yourself?

“Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly.” What you have for me is a Word. A Word, not a miracle, not a spectacular show of strength, power, and majesty. A Word. You won’t take all my problems away, you won’t give me heaven on earth, you won’t remove every instance of suffering from my life. Health and wealth aren’t your promise; an easy life is not your guarantee. Instead, you will give me a Word, a Word of peace. “Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land.” In the darkness of sin, in the bleak night of death, under the shadow that envelops this earth, the Light shines. The Light comes into this world, and the darkness of this fallen creation cannot overcome it. His salvation comes near to His people, His glory shines in the night. He rends the heavens and comes down this Advent, speaking peace to His people, His saints, those who fear Him, and His glory dwells in the midst of our land. His glory dwells in this place, it dwells wherever this Word of hope, this Word of peace is spoken. Do not turn back to folly, dear friends, do not give into despair, do not cry out to return to Egypt when the scarcity of the wilderness overwhelms you. Do not take comfort in the pleasures of sin, but in the assurance of the Word. A Word is His gift to you, a Word that assures you in the midst of your suffering, a Word that gives you His promises, a Word that guarantees for you sure and certain victory.

Because Jesus came at His first Advent, sin, death, and the devil have already been defeated, they will not triumph over you. Because Jesus comes every Lord’s day, you are constantly reassured in the midst of your sufferings that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Because Jesus will come again on the Last Day, you have the assurance that nothing, and no one, can destroy you, that no suffering will last forever, that death itself is an empty shell. In Jesus, “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet, righteousness and peace kiss each other.” God’s faithfulness and justice met with His love in Jesus, as the sinless Son of God was put to death in your place, fulfilling God’s justice against your sin to bring you His perfect, abundant love. God’s perfect righteousness and His everlasting peace kissed in Jesus, as the sinless Son of God fulfilled all righteousness upon the cross, dying to make you righteous so that you would be at peace with God forever. In Jesus, “Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.” God was faithful to His promises, preached by His prophets of old as they walked this earth, and righteousness, perfect righteousness, rent the heavens and came down to cover you on the day you were baptized into Christ’s name.

“Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.” There is a place where suffering will be no more, where death will not even be a rumor, where conflict will be erased, where the divisions we once had will no longer matter. In that place, “Righteousness will go before him, and make his footsteps a way.” Righteousness, perfect righteousness, will characterize that place, and it is your home, the Promised Land that is your inheritance, when at long last, and for one final time, Christ rends the heavens and comes down, answering your prayers, and the prayers of the Church of all ages, forever. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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