Second Sunday in Advent - 9 December 2018
Rev. John Derme
Jesus is coming! Get ready to meet him! At this time of year we prepare for his coming at Christmas. Everyday we prepare for his coming at the end of the world, and his coming in his Word and sacraments. Since God himself is coming to bless us, we want our hearts to be ready to receive him!
Yet how can you know whether you are ever really prepared? Does it really depend on you to prepare yourself? What if you don't do a good enough job? And if you haven't prepared enough, does that mean Jesus won't come to you? No. In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul shows us that being prepared doesn't actually depend on what you do. Christ prepares you for his coming.
That is why many years ago his prophet John the Baptist came to the nation of Israel, preaching and baptizing. He came in fulfillment of the prophecy that said, "Prepare the way for the Lord." For the most part, the Jewish people weren't ready to meet Jesus, because they thought that they didn't even need a Savior from their sins. John showed them their sins with God's law. He showed them their coming Savior with God's gospel. He washed their sins away in Baptism. Because Christ worked on their hearts through his messenger, people were prepared to meet Jesus when he would come into their world and live for them to save them.
And Jesus came into their world. And Jesus preached the good news. Some people believed in Jesus. Other people didn't. Those people killed him. But Jesus rose from the dead. He ascended back into heaven. And he told his disciples to take this gospel to many other people.
That is why a few years later his apostle Paul came to the city of Philippi, preaching and baptizing. He came in fulfillment of Jesus' words, when he said, "You shall be my witnesses to the ends of the earth." The Philippians weren't at all ready to meet Jesus, because they didn't even know there was such a thing as a Savior from their sins. Paul showed them their sins with God's law. He showed them the Savior who had come with God's gospel. He washed their sins away in Baptism. Because Christ worked on their hearts through his messenger, they were prepared to meet Jesus as he would continue to come and work on their lives through his gospel.
And Jesus came into their lives. And Jesus strengthened their faith. Paul was able to write, "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Jesus used Paul to turn these people into Christians who trust in their Savior for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that he won for them.
In addition, Paul wrote, "It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus." Jesus had used Paul to build these Philippians into mature Christians. They then partnered with Paul in the proclamation of the gospel by supporting him with their offerings so that he could carry the gospel to more people. And Paul preached the good news. And some people believed in Jesus. Other people didn't. Those people persecuted him. But Jesus used his testimony to make more Christians. And those Christians took the gospel to many other people.
That is why many years later his servants named pastors have come to you, preaching and baptizing. They came in fulfillment of Jesus' words, when he said, "Go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching." Before somebody came to you with the gospel, you weren’t at all ready to meet Jesus, because you didn't want a Savior from your sins. Jesus used a messenger to show you your sins with God's law. Jesus used a messenger to show you that you have a Savior with God's gospel. Jesus used a messenger to wash your sins away in Baptism. Because Christ has worked on your heart through his messengers, you are prepared to meet Jesus as he continues to come and work in your heart through his gospel.
And Jesus came into your heart. Jesus strengthens your faith. Jesus used a messenger to turn you into a Christian who trusts in your Savior for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that he won for you. In addition, Jesus keeps using his messengers to build you into a mature Christian who partners with your called messengers in the proclamation of the gospel. You support them with your offerings so that they can carry the gospel to more people. And your pastors preach the good news. Some people come to believe in Jesus. Other people don't. Those people will persecute them. But Jesus uses their testimony to make more Christians. And those Christians take the gospel to many other people.
Jesus has given to his church of all believers the gift of the gospel: the good news that he has lived, died, and risen again to save us from our sins. Jesus has given to his church of all believers the responsibility of proclaiming that gospel message and administering the gospel sacraments. In addition, Jesus has given his church the blessing of the public ministry, whereby he calls representatives of his church to be his public messengers of his good news. He calls messengers to preach and baptize, and through those public ministers he strengthens the members of the church and brings more people into his body of believers.
This is why you have pastors, because Jesus has called them to prepare you not only to celebrate his first coming at Christmas. He has also called them to prepare you for his coming in his Word and sacraments, so that in his law you see that you have sinned, and that in his gospel you receive Jesus as your Savior from sin. And he has called them to prepare you for his coming at the end of the world, so that when you die or when the last day comes, your faith will trust in what he has done for you, and that you will spend eternal life with Jesus.
So, is this how you can know whether you are really prepared? Does it depend on the messenger to prepare you? Is it up to the messenger to determine whether Jesus will come to you? No. Christ prepares you for his coming.
The apostle Paul's confidence that the Philippian Christians would continue to grow in faith and be prepared for Jesus' coming was not in his own ability to prepare them. It better not have been! As he wrote this letter, he was in Rome, stuck in prison! He could write to them, but he couldn't know for sure whether he would ever see any of them again to make sure they were prepared to meet Jesus. Paul's confidence was not in himself, the messenger. His confidence was in the message, which has Jesus' power.
He wrote, "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God." Paul wanted to be with his fellow Christians in Philippi. But even though he could not be, he could still confidently pray that they would grow in faith and Christian maturity and thus be ready for judgment at Jesus' coming. Even though the Philippians didn't have Paul with them, they still had the message of the gospel among them. And no matter who the messenger was, Paul knew that Jesus would use the message to prepare them to meet him.
You have a different called messenger than the Philippians had, but you've got the same message. You've got the same good news about the same Savior who did the same things for you as he did for them! And this message has the same power. Through it, Jesus does the same work in you as he worked in them.
What does God's Word do for you? It tells you that you don't love Jesus like you should. It tells you that you aren't pure and blameless. On your own, you are not ready for Jesus to come and judge you, because you are a sinner who has earned his punishment. It also tells you that Jesus loved you more than he should. It tells you that he was pure and blameless for you. When he lived for you, died for you, and rose again for you, he made you ready for his judgment. He took your sins and suffered your punishment.
When Jesus comes to you at Christmas, receive him as the man who lived and died to save you. When Jesus comes to you in his Word and sacraments, receive him as the God who through his gospel has made you holy. When Jesus comes to you at the end of the world, receive him as the Lord who has purified you for eternal life with him.
Jesus is coming! Get ready to meet him! And you can have the peace of knowing for sure that you are prepared. It doesn't depend on you to prepare yourself. You don't need to worry whether you've done a good enough job. You don't have to worry that if you haven't prepared enough Jesus won't come to you. He prepares you with his messengers. He prepares you with his message. Christ prepares you for his coming.