Beloved. As the world around us is preparing for Christmas in its own way, we in the Church are also preparing—but in a different way. Around us all the decorating is seemingly done or getting done; the presents are being bought; the cards are being sent and received; the “holiday parties” are underway; the cookies and other specialties are being baked, etc. To be sure, that describes the Christians’ preparation for Christmas as well—but only in part. While the world around us may be satisfied with all these outward trappings, we Christians aren’t. We have a deeper, more penetrating and definitely more fulfilling preparation—and that preparation is the holy season of Advent. In Advent we prepare our hearts for Christmas, to hear that proclamation [Lk. 2.11]: There is born for you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And what is it that we hear today, this Second Sunday of Advent? Our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel: “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And on the earth nations will be in anguish, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the surging waves, 26people fainting from fear and expectation of the things coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28But when these things begin to happen, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.” We are being pointed forward to the day of Jesus return, His Second Coming—this time in glory and power. How does that prepare us—our hearts and minds—for the Christmas message? Simply by this: We cannot think of Jesus’ first coming apart from His second coming; nor can we think of Jesus’ second coming apart from His first. They are closely connected together! Jesus comes the first time as that Baby born of the Blessed Virgin but in all lowliness and humility and is rejected. But through His humility and this rejection He becomes our Savior from sin, death, devil and hell and He enters into His glory. He comes the Second time, on the Last Day, with power and great glory and this time as Judge, to bring all His dear Christians soul and body into heaven and to condemn to hell in soul and body those who rejected Him and the salvation He brought. Jesus’ first Advent/ coming is seemingly in the distant past; His Second Advent/ coming is in the unknown future. Because we, dear Christian, are living between Jesus’ two comings—which is what of this Sunday reminds us of—may Advent be for us a season of penitence, preparation and humble prayer. Let our prayer this Advent be the same prayer the blessed Apostle prayed for the Romans in our text: Now may the God of hope fill you with complete joy and peace as you continue to believe, so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The thing Advent reminds us of is that just like the OT people waited for Jesus to come the first time, so now we wait for Him to come the second time. But like we saw with the OT people, the wait was long and difficult and many gave up the wait and thus the faith. Read through the OT and you will see many accounts—not of boldness of faith and confession of that faith—but of falling away from the faith and of idolatry. Those sad accounts were for our instruction, for us to learn from/ to take heed and warning from during the time of our waiting—which has been our entire life. If anything, reading through these OT accounts—for example of the Israelites’ 40 year wandering in the desert and rebellion against the Lord—we see all the more how much we need to pray for the Holy Spirit and His almighty work to keep us and strengthen us in the faith, so that [we] overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our prayer for ourselves and all Christians: Now may the God of hope fill [us] with complete joy and peace as [we] continue to believe.
Notice our Advent prayer. We are praying for hope, joy, peace, believing. We pray for these things because they are God’s gift to us. We cannot conjure these things up by our own efforts and works; they only come by the work of the Holy Spirit.
In our Advent prayer we pray for hope. St. Paul begins our text: Indeed, whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that, through patient endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we would have hope. And notice what St. Paul calls God in our text: the God of hope. So what does this show us? Simply this: we do the hoping; hoping is our work. But our hope comes from God because He is our hope. The vital thing to remember during our lives of waiting is that our hope is not some groundless/ unfounded optimism that everything will turn out well in the end. Instead, our hope is in God—in who He is. He is our dear loving heavenly Father who is working all things for our spiritual good; He worked mightily to bring us to faith and is working mightily to refine and purify that faith and to keep us in that faith. As we look at the lives of the OT saints, we see God’s mighty working here. And not only that, but we see that He was faithful to the promises He made them—especially that most excellent/ prime promise of sending a Savior from sin. Was the wait long? Yes. Was the wait difficult? Absolutely! But was God faithful to His promise? Most definitely! That’s what we see with Jesus’ first coming: God’s faithfulness to His promise. St. Paul writes in our text: For I am saying that Christ became a servant of those who are circumcised [i.e. the Jews] for the sake of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs. When Jesus came that Baby born to the Blessed Virgin, He was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, etc. that one of their descendants would be the Savior. With Jesus’ coming, God was praised for confirming, bringing into effect, His promise. The hope of the OT Israelites was certain and sure. It was grounded on God’s word and promise. But to hope in the Lord—to trust His word and promise—was not easy. It went against every fiber of the OT saint’s being; it was against what s/he was experiencing. It will not be any different for us NT Christians as we wait for Jesus to return. That’s why our Advent prayer is for hope—that the Lord would give us His Holy Spirit and His gift of hope. Again, it’s not something we can conjure up in ourselves. Jesus has promised us in baptism the forgiveness of sin and eternal life in heaven, soul and body. He gives us the same promise in the Holy Absolution. He gives us certainty of it in the Blessed Sacrament where He comes and gives us His body and blood uniting Himself with us. But in our trials and sufferings—especially our spiritual struggles—the devil and our own sinful nature give us nagging thoughts wanting us to question God’s dealing with us, to doubt He is faithful to His promise. Pray for hope, dear Christian. God will not disappoint. Precisely in the midst of the cross, of suffering and trial, hear God’s promise to bring you through, in the faith, to Himself; see His faithfulness to His saints in the past, see His faithfulness to you in your own life and rely on Him without hesitation. That’s our Advent prayer for hope.
Now may the God of hope fill you with complete joy and peace. These next two things we pray for in our Advent prayer belong together: joy and peace. That’s because our joy flows from our peace with God. That peace that we pray for is the peace that the Christmas angel announced with Jesus’ birth: Glory be to God on high and on earth peace... With the coming of Jesus, there is peace. He is the One who by His holy life and His innocent suffering and death would bring peace between the holy God and sinful humanity. Jesus established peace between God and people as He, for us, lived a perfectly holy/ sinless life doing what God demands/ requires of us in His holy law—now God’s holy Law, which He demands be kept if we are to enter heaven, has been kept by Jesus for us; and the very sins we do that demand God’s punishment Jesus has taken on Himself and was punished for them/ suffered for us all. Now we sinners are, in Jesus, reconciled to God. Our sins no longer separate us from God. We have peace with God. That’s what Easter Sunday proclaims—our forgiveness, our reconciliation with God who accepted Jesus’ sacrifice and raised Him from the dead. When Jesus was born that first Christmas, the angel could sing Glory be to God on high and on earth peace because with Jesus’ coming His work was as good as done! He who would bring peace was here. This peace that Jesus brought about is the same peace that we pray for now in Advent. Yes, that peace is an accomplished fact. Yes, I am in Christ reconciled to God. Yes, things are right between me and God. But how we all need to hear it! How we all need that accomplished fact of peace to be established in us. After all, we still sin, we still feel the effects, our consciences still bother us. The devil and our old sinful self are always trying to rob us of that peace. That’s why we pray that God, by the Holy Spirit, would fill [us] with complete joy and peace.
This peace we have with God is not only between the Christian and God, but it shows itself in a life of peace with our fellow Christian. We live in peace with each other because we by faith know that God receives and forgives me, a sinner, so how can I not again receive and forgive the one who sins against me and show him mercy? St. Paul writes in our text: For this reason, accept one another as Christ also accepted you to the glory of God.
Where there is that peace of conscience, there is that complete joy. Our joy is in the heavenly goods, gifts and blessings that Jesus obtained for us and daily offers and gives us in His word, the holy absolution and sacrament. Notice, our joy is not in the things of this world. To be sure, if God gives us many earthly blessings that give us great joy, we receive them with thanksgiving; we don’t spurn them. However, our true joy is in the heavenly gifts Jesus won for us and gives us. These heavenly gifts and blessings—the forgiveness of sin and peace with God, the blessed assurance of eternity in heaven—truly still the heart and satisfy our deepest longings and desire. We must remember that worldly joy is not the same thing as divine joy. Worldly joy focuses our attention downward, keeps us bound to the things of this world; divine joy—flowing from that peace of conscience we have in Jesus—directs our eyes heavenward to the things of God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus points to the calamities coming before the Last Day and then says: But when these things begin to happen, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near. We pray in Advent that God, by the Holy Spirit, fill us with that complete joy. This is a solid joy that does not depend on outward circumstances, prosperity, things, ever changing feelings and emotions. Instead, it is a joy that is grounded on the Lord and His work and promise. This also means that even in the midst of all sorts of outward sorrow, adversity, and trouble we can have that complete joy because it is a divine joy that grows more and more perfect as we know God and in faith receive His gifts and blessings. This joy shows itself as with all the faithful we with one mind, in one voice … glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Advent prayer for hope, joy and peace is always and only as you continue to believe that is, by faith created, purified, and sustained by the Holy Spirit. The object of our faith/ what we believe is always Jesus and His saving work for us. That’s why doctrine is important—so we know Jesus aright. Whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction. Let us be diligent in our Advent prayer for hope, joy and peace and faithfully here in Church where we find Jesus in His holy word and Sacrament and where He gives us His gifts. INJ Amen