1st Sunday in Advent

  1. Advent 1.20 “O Lord, How Shall We Meet Thee?” Is. 64:1-9, Mark 13:24-37

“O Lord, how shall I meet Thee?”

Paul Gerhardt, the great 17th century poet, asks a great question here in the most lovely way. It is the question of Advent which begins a new church year today (happy real New Year!). Really, it is the question of Christianity, the question of Life, the only question that truly needs an answer. It is why Advent’s my favorite season. Because this is how it is with us, now: we live in a perpetual Advent-tide, waiting, watching, enduring scorn and trial and shame for the sake of the Name. We live as strangers and sojourners on earth, having here no abiding city, waiting for a better one to come…

We live like Strider and the hobbits in Lord of the Rings. In dark and difficult times, under the shadow of a tyrant who wants only to murder and destroy—on the run, hunted, hounded, hated by forces much more numerous and outwardly far stronger and more powerful than we are. We live as the denizens of a hopeless cause; a battle we can’t (humanly speaking!) possibly win. We watch as friends betray and fall away, as our numbers dwindle, as our own courage is tested, tempted to use the enemy’s own tools against him, slip the ring of power on our finger, cry havoc, and loose the dogs of war, ourselves…

But we know, in our brighter moments, that we need to throw that ring into the fires of Mordor and put all our trust in Christ our Lord to deliver in the nick of time. As Zerubbabel was told: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts…” When Jesus tells us to not resist the evil, to turn the other cheek, He isn’t counseling meek resignation to tyranny. He’s simply showing us another way to fight—His way, crossways, letting the enemy know he hits like a little girl, and is that the best he’s got, really? You call that fighting? Felt like a love-tap! This is the way…

The weapons of our warfare—and, here, now, we Christians are at war; not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places; and that’s not my human opinion, that’s the word of God through His Apostle Paul, Ephesians 6:12(!)—our weapons in this war are not human, fleshly, carnal, not rings of power, guns, bombs, legal coalitions, or protest movements, no. The weapons of our warfare in this fight are spiritual, heavenly, mighty for throwing down strongholds, destroying arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to Christ. Our two main weapons are fear, surprise, ruthless, uh… wait. Among our many weapons are such diverse elements as: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God)…

Because… this world has an End! Our earthly lives have an end—70 or 80 years, typically, max. This battle has a conclusion. And, just when all hope seems lost, when our ranks have thinned to Strider, Frodo, Sam, a couple elves, and a few guys against the countless hordes of orcs armed to the teeth, big and mean, with Sauron leading them, our Lord Himself will appear in glory and vanquish His foes with a Word, a wave, with a breath. It will be the greatest comeback, ever. (And it will happen, I have to tell you, whether or not any rings get thrown into any volcanoes. That really has no effect on the final outcome—Tolkien’s entertaining tale notwithstanding).

And then Christ will call us, as we heard last Sunday, as his blessed friends who never gave up the Faith, to come, inherit the Kingdom prepared for us from eternity. He will credit us with all kinds of deeds of kindness and valor and might and we will just go: “Huh? We were getting our butts kicked until You showed up!” And He will put crowns on our heads, rings on our fingers, robes around our shoulders and a Party will start that makes Burning Man seem lame…

But we still haven’t answered Gerhardt’s question, exactly: “how shall I meet Thee? How welcome Thee aright?”

Remember, a few weeks ago, we heard from Amos asking why would we desire the Day of the Lord? Because it is darkness, not light; as if a man fled from a lion and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall and a serpent bit him. You’re looking forward to that?!? Hey, Gerhardt’s just asking, and not only for a friend. Seriously, are you looking forward to the Day of the Lord with joy or with dread?!?

And Isaiah gives the most beautiful Lutheran “Yes!” to that question. In our OT reading, he joins the “Please, kill my enemies” prayer that is so beloved by so many of my vicars. “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, to make your name known to your adversaries, that the nations might tremble at your presence!”

It will be awesome to see Sauron and his orcs routed, and all who hated us for loving Christ’s Name swimming the lake of fire with the flesh eating worms. “The only difficult thing (for me) about the zombie apocalypse, when it comes, will be pretending I’m not excited”. Yes, but… there is one other little thing, Isaiah notes: we’ve all got a little zombie in us, a little Sauron on one shoulder, a tiny orc on the other…

We have sinned just as grievously as our enemies have! We have become like one who is unclean. All our righteous deeds are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon the Name, who rouses herself to take hold of God, which is why He’s hidden His face, made us melt in our iniquities.

So, yeah; we get a little dip in the lake of fire, too! Roh-oh Scoob!

But here’s the thing: getting rid of the zombie me, the orc me, the Sauron-submitting me will be great! Will it hurt? “Well, ma’am; I’m afraid it’s not an entirely benign procedure!” Yes, it will hurt like hell, literally! But then the itch, the ache, the sorrow, the sadness, the darkness in our own hearts (which cannot be trusted) will finally be gone! And then we will shine like the sun—true sons and daughters of the King, ourselves.

So, yes—for us, the Day of the Lord comes with joy and dread. But, knowing that it ends well, that the battle was won for us long ago on Golgotha by that terrible cry of His, “It is finished!”, we know that yielding our spirits to Him on that Day (as He yielded His to the Father on Good Friday) we’ll be fine. “Sky falls; you feel like it’s a Beautiful Day…”

Jesus’ one bit of advice on the Final Meeting is “Watch out” (my preferred translation of the Greek γρηγορεῖτε). Watch out! But, on the other side of the smoke and fire and noise of battle, is… the Peace of sin forgiven…

“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.

“He comes to judge the nations,/ A terror to His foes,/ A Light of consolations/ And blessed Hope to those/ Who love the Lord’s appearing./ O glorious Sun, now come,/ Send forth Thy beams so cheering,/ And guide us safely home.”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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