Beloved. Today, with this First Sunday in Advent, holy Church begins a brand new Church year. Whenever something is brand new, there’s always an air of excitement and anticipation. There’s always a sense of a new start, of leaving the old behind us—old in the sense of something we want to be rid of/ change, something that is weighing us down—and beginning something new/ making a change for the better. That’s why New Year’s resolutions are so popular.
But a new year also gives a sense of uncertainty. What will the new year bring? Will it bring joy or sorrow, health or sickness, wealth or poverty? No one knows what the new year will bring and so a new year always holds in our mind a feeling of mystery and unease. Precisely here, though, the new Church year is different than the calendar’s 01 January. That’s because in the new Church year we know exactly what to expect. We know that we will once again hear the account of Jesus’ life and work for our salvation. Not only will we hear once again all that Jesus did for us and our salvation, but we will also receive its fruits and blessings as in the word, the absolution and sacraments Jesus gives us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. We know that in this new Church year, the Holy Spirit will be mightily at work in that holy word and sacrament to strengthen and deepen our faith; He will work on each of us, personally/ individually. We know that whenever we come into the Lord’s house, come to church, Jesus will be here welcoming us and giving us His gifts and graces. We know that He is here in the Blessed Sacrament giving us His very body and blood, uniting with us. So far from any doubt or uncertainty, a new Church year brings us only the greatest blessings.
To put it a bit differently, the Lord’s gift to us of a new Church year shows us/ is proof positive to us of His great zeal to save us. The Lord doesn’t just come once to us and call it quits. Instead, He continually comes to us with His blessings and graces; and the new Church year just now beginning is a glorious reminder of that. If in the past, we were lax or even spurned our Lord; if we allowed our faith to grow cold; there is still hope—the Lord is coming to us once again and anew this Church year. If we welcomed our Lord last Church year, if we were richly blessed by His grace with an increase of faith and love, He will come and do the same again. It’s a brand new year. With the new Church year beginning today, it is a new year of grace. The portals of God’s grace are thrown open to us. It is a new year of grace!
That’s the image we have in our text from St. Isaiah: Go through, go through the gates; prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway; clear it of stones; lift up a signal over the peoples. The gates of God’s grace are flung open wide to us. Let us go through them this new Church year.
What’s interesting about this imagery from St. Isaiah of the gates is that it could go either way: we could go through the gates and leave, or we could go through the gates and enter. Go through, go through the gates. Perhaps this vagueness is a good thing because it points us to the two-fold action of our faith. In this new Church year, we will again hear God, in grace, calling us in His holy word to leave a life of sin, to turn away from serving our sinful desires, to turn off that path leading to death and hell and instead to go through the gates of the Church to receive His gifts of forgiveness of sin and eternal life. That’s what St. Paul describes in today’s epistle: It is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost over, and the day is drawing near. So let us put away the deeds of darkness... So to put it a bit differently, may we accept the Lord’s gift of this new Church year and prepare ourselves to enter it with repentance. We don’t have to be stuck in a life of sin and death. Let us hear our Lord: Go through, go through the gates. Just like a prisoner believes that once he goes through the prison gates he is free and then actually does so, so also we, by faith, believe that in Jesus we have the full and free forgiveness of sin and eternal life, and so we Go through, go through the gates—the gates of sin, slavery to devil, hell. We leave going through the prison gates to freedom and life in Christ. That promise of forgiveness of sin and eternal life is what God is offering us again this new Church year. We hear that promise of God, we hear in this new Church Year all that Jesus did to bring it about, and by Spirit worked faith we believe it; we Go through, go through the gates—leaving behind slavery to sin and devil and the eternal damnation awaiting.
Do we then hear and believe the promises of God and trust in the work of Jesus—that is Go through, go through the gates –and then just wander about aimlessly? No! In the new Church year we still hear: Go through, go through the gates, that is, enter into the gates of the Church. In the Church, the Lord will strengthen your faith, strengthen you for the battle against sin and devil. In the Church, the Lord will shower upon you every heavenly and spiritual blessing in Jesus. In the Church, you have our Lord’s holy word and sacraments. In the Church, whose gates you enter, you will be safe under the Lord’s protection, come what may. In the Church, in this new Church year, you have all that really need for life and eternity.
But leaving the prison/ captivity of sin, devil and death—going through its gates—and then by faith going through the gates of the Church receiving the gifts and blessings of God, there is that path St. Isaiah mentions: prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway; clear it of stones. Making a path to enter the Church to Go through, go through the gates, means a life of repentance; it means of getting rid of sin and all that gets in the way, all that could cause you to stumble and fail. This is the Advent theme—repentance. This is the quiet of Advent in which we, in the midst of all the hub-bub of the “holiday” season, take time especially to examine heart and life, to recognize our sin, to see sin that we “don’t mind”/ enjoy committing and root them out of heart and life by sorrow, by faith in Jesus, by following the Holy Spirit’s leading us into good works. Each of those sins is an obstacle, a stone on the path to prevent us from going through the gates to the Church. The Church is not made up of the sinless. Far from it! It is made up of sinners, great sinners, terrible sinners but sinners—no matter how great the sin—that repent of that sin and strive all the harder against that sin. That’s why they have gone through the gates into the Church. They want/ need God’s grace; they want/ need the forgiveness of sin; they want/ need the holy, perfect righteousness of Jesus; they want/ need the graces of God that He gives in His holy word and sacrament; they want/ need the gifts, power and working of the Holy Spirit. In short, they want/ need what God gives us again and anew in this new Church year. The Lord has given us the gift of a new Church year. Let us enter it with repentance: prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway; clear it of stones.
We need not be afraid or despair that perhaps we have sinned too much, that we haven’t done as much good as we could have. Why don’t we have to fear our unworthiness? We have the command in our text: Go through, go through the gates to the Church and to all my graces and blessings; and the Lord is calling this to us each week this new Church Year.
This new Church year is so wonderful and blessed because once again salvation is coming to us in it. What’s happening this new Church year is that in it we lift up a signal over the peoples. That signal is the standard, the flag around which all our Lord’s dear Christians rally. That signal [lifted] up over the peoples, is the cross of Jesus. His suffering and death for our sins and His Easter morning resurrection is the center, the proclamation of this new Church year. Our good and gracious Lord is calling you and all people to the cross of Jesus, gathering you into His Church by the proclamation of Jesus and His saving work and by giving you in the holy word and sacraments all the gifts and blessings Jesus won for us. Our text: Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” Jesus is our salvation. He has come! That’s what we heard in today’s Gospel as Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He entered Jerusalem in all lowliness to suffer and die for the sins of all people. He has come and has brought about the salvation of the world as He lived a holy and sinless life for all people and as He was loaded down with the sins of all and died on the cross, suffering God’s wrath and punishment for the sins of all. By this, He reconciled the whole of lost and condemned humanity with the holy God. In Jesus we have the forgiveness of sins and peace with God. That’s an accomplished fact; that’s history. But what do we hear in our text? Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes…”The Lord is gathering His Church; He is gathering sinners by proclaiming once again this new Church Year: Behold, your salvation comes. And not only is the accomplished fact being proclaimed, not only is the proclamation this new Church year that Jesus has come, but also that He continues to come to us in it—not to bring about our salvation; He already did that on the cross almost 2000 years ago—but Behold, your salvation comes, that is, Jesus, our salvation, again comes to us this new Church year. And how does He come? His reward is with him, and his recompense before him, that is, Jesus comes to us again this new Church year bringing the trophies of His victory over our enemies and offers them to us. Jesus comes to us this new Church year in His holy word, in the absolution, in the sacrament and gives us the fruit and blessing of His work: He gives us the forgiveness of sin; He gives us eternal life; He gives us every heavenly gift. When Jesus comes to you this new Church year, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him and He gives them to you! That’s why the Church year is such a wonderful, blessed thing—even though we have received these gifts in all the past Church years, the Lord still gives them to us fresh and anew as we gather this new year in his house and by faith we still receive them fresh and anew. This is precisely why Jesus comes to us each Church year—to give us these blessings we so desperately need. “Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” Dear Christian, treasure and hold tight to these gifts and blessings Jesus is coming and giving you.
Because of Jesus’ work—having come the first time in all lowliness and humility to suffer and die for us and now continuing to come to give us these blessings and gifts He obtained—we are in a truly blessed condition. Our text: And they shall be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken. We are a people of holiness: by the Holy Spirit we continue to fight sin and lead holy lives and when we fail, Jesus’ perfect holiness covers us. We are the Redeemed, receiving and enjoying the salvation Jesus won for us, because He did not forsake us sinners but sought us out to save us. This is who we are as we enjoy the Lord’s gift of a new Church year—thanks be to our gracious Lord. INJ