Mid-week Advent: How Has He Saved Us?

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“They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you’” (Isaiah 35:2b-4).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Almost plaintively, the cradle hymn cries, “Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay close by me forever and love me I pray” (Lutheran Service Book, 364:3). How every Christian’s heart burns with this desire! To have the Lord near us, to have Him so close at hand, you can see Him and hold Him and hear Him! That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?
As we have heard repeatedly this Advent, the Lord has heard our cry. Jesus became Incarnate and lived among us, starting His life here on earth humbly, His glory hidden as the Baby in the manger, fully newborn man though fully eternal God. As St. John reminds us in our Gospel: “We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:18).
In our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah tells us that at Christ’s second coming He “will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you” (Isaiah 35:4). Jesus came once, conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, and He has promised to come again to judge the world. To raise those who have died in Him to eternal life, and take us to be with Him forever.  
But how does Jesus respond to our cry now, caught as we are between these two “comings”? Must we manage without His nearness now? Has Jesus left His Church without a head? Of course not! Jesus continues to come among us in His Word and Sacraments. There is no “best before” date on His promise to be with us always. You might say the “manger” is never empty.
Even as the Christmas Eve service always includes a crude wooden manger—and always the same manger—so our Lord uses the familiar and seemingly crude means of speech and water and bread and wine to be among us. Like our Savior, these means of grace have no outward beauty that should attract us to them. They, too, share the apparent weakness of the little Lord Jesus, “asleep on the hay.” They, too, hide the glory of the Child, as did the clothes in which Mary, His mother, swaddled Him. But common, ordinary words, water, wine, and bread are now employed by God to bear heavenly blessings to His people.
The Word of God—whether in its spoken or visible forms—bears God to us. Every time the manger of the Word is opened, it is a little Christmas as God comes to us. As we read and pray and preach Scripture, God comes near to us through the Word. Martin Luther says of this coming: “It is in Scripture and nowhere else, that He permits Himself to be found. He who despises Scripture and sets it aside, will never find Him. We heard earlier that the angel gave a sign to the shepherds [Luke 2:12]; but to Mary or Joseph or to any other man, however pious they may have been, He gave no sign except the swaddling clothes in which He was wrapped, and the cradle into which He was laid, that is, the Scripture of the prophets and the Law. In these He is enclosed, they possess Him, they speak of Him alone and witness to Him and are His sure sign” (AE 52:171).
Such a sense of weakness surrounds the Word of God that some among us choose to ignore, blaspheme, disregard, or ridicule it. Yet Christ places this Word in our hands, in our ears, on our lecterns, on our desks, and on our nightstands. But this Word is most powerful in our mouths and hearts, as St. Paul says. “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (Romans 10:8). If we have the inscripturated Word, the Word that is God Himself, swaddled in the pages of Holy Scripture, we have the Incarnate Word conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary in a form we can grasp—literally and figuratively.
Let me give you an illustration to show why that’s important: Young children often are frustrated by the limits of their immaturity. For example, they may be able to stand, but they cannot reach the cupboard or refrigerator handle or have the strength to pull it open themselves. This has been a matter of frustration for my grandchildren. Unable to open the door themselves, they would pout and cry. As time went by, they figured out how to get help faster. They come over to Papa, lead me by the hand to the refrigerator or cupboard and say, “Show me,” which I’ve figured is toddler shorthand for “Let me show you what I want.” Now understanding the source of their frustration, I was able to get out the juice or milk and pour them a cupful, or take out a slice of bread, spread a little peanut butter on it, and put it on a little plate on the table where they could reach it and eat or drink.
In a similar way, our heavenly Father understands our spiritual needs far better than we, His children, do, or are able to express even when we think we know. Through the Sacraments, God brings Christ, our salvation and our heavenly food, to us. God puts the gift of life into the bowl of the font, in the cup, and on the table of our church, so to speak. We do not have climb up to the divine cupboard; God opens the storehouse and pours out His abundant gifts to us here, right where we need them, in the way we can access them.
When we cry, “Be near me, Lord Jesus,” He responds, “Here I am in the Sacraments.” Water combined with the powerful Word of God is applied to us through the apparently childish means of the washing of Baptism to cleanse us and wash away our sin. Wine and bread combined with the powerful Word of God are placed in our mouths for the forgiveness of sins. Cradled in our hands, placed in our mouths, this precious gift of Christ’s body and blood now resides within us. He can come no closer than this, until He comes to rescue us from this present evil age (Galatians 1:4). And His true body and blood deliver His forgiveness and strengthen us in body and soul unto life everlasting
Sinners constantly need to hear the words of God giving us forgiveness. We need to hear these words often and personally, because in our weakness we doubt that God could truly be gracious to the likes of us. Our pastors uses their filthy mouths cleansed from the altar to speak God’s Holy Absolution in His stead and by His command: “I forgive you.” We cry for the Lord Jesus to stay, and He sends ministers from whom “we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor and from God Himself” (Luther’s Small Catechism, 26).
In His first coming, Jesus paid the ransom to make us His people with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death on the cross. He rose on the third day and ascended to the right hand of God the Father Almighty, promising to be with us always to the end of the age.  Now we receive the fruits of Christ’s ransom through the means of grace, God’s Word and Sacraments.
Long before our asking, Jesus has determined to stay close by us forever. He has used the mundane means of Word and Sacraments so that between His first coming as the Babe of Bethlehem and His second coming on the Last Day there is still a coming of grace for us sinners. The manger is never empty. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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