ADVENT 2, A – December 4, 2016

SCRIPTURES – Ps. 105; Isaiah 11:1-10; Rom. 15:4-13; Matt. 3:1-12

       Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered… He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth. He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations." Ps. 105:4-8

 

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” Now there’s a good Advent theme for you. I can just hear John the Baptist crying this out as he calls the people to repentance. “Turn from your sins and seek the Lord!”

 But, notice: this is far more than some general urging. It is very specific. We are not simply to seek the Lord; we are to seek His presence. Ok: how do we do that? It might seem easy. I mean, He is God! He is everywhere and fills all things. This means that God is not only with you in your pew. He seated next to you as you drive; He is in your kitchen as you prepare a meal; He is beside you as you go about your work.

 But, seeking His presence isn’t that easy, is it? You don’t see Him next to you in your pew. He isn’t helping in the kitchen by stirring the Christmas cookie batter. You don’t feel His touch. Although God is everywhere, it can also seem as if He is nowhere. What’s going on? Is He playing hide and seek?

 This is what sin – the sins we’re born with and that are part of our nature, as well as the sins we commit – has done to us. Our sins are a thick fog that hide God from us. And yet, we need Him. We need the strength of His presence. We are therefore urged: “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” How can you break through the fog and find Him?

 God tells you in the next verse of Ps. 105: “Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered.” And, that you might be able to do so, God in His grace and mercy has given us a written record of His wondrous works and His miracles and His judgments. He caused them to be written down, and copied, and passed down through the ages to you today. It is truly amazing that the record of God’s works and teachings that is the Bible – a book made up of 66 books and written by many different people over a span of about 1,500 years, from 1,400 B.C. to 100 A.D. – has been so faithfully copied and passed down! But, what is even more amazing is what this book gives us.

 Turn to your worship insert with the Scripture readings for this 2nd Sunday in Advent. Look at the Epistle reading from the 15th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. It begins: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Underline the words “endurance” and “encouragement.” Now read the next verse: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How can the Scriptures give you endurance and encouragement? They come from the God who is endurance and encouragement. Do you get it? Through His Scriptures God gives you Himself! This is even indicated by the word “encouragement” that is used here in Romans 15. You may know the word in the original Greek text. It is paraclete: the name given by Jesus to the Holy Spirit in John 15:26. It is the Holy Spirit, the paraclete, the encourager, who gives encouragement through the words of the Bible. He can do so because He is in the Scriptures. As a child’s pop-up book of birds, when opened, pops out with a three dimensional picture of a bird, God “pops” out of His Word when it is opened. And so: where is God? He is in His Scriptures! Open them, and you will find Him! He will come to strengthen and encourage you. He will come to fill you with Himself.

 Of course, you have to want to be filled. You have to know that you are empty and need to be filled. God’s Scriptures don’t help you just because you have them. You must have them in your mind and heart.

 God is a very gracious and humble God. Yes, humble. How great is His mercy in humbling Himself to come to you and offer Himself to you in the lowliness of simple words on a page… or the words spoken by a servant of God like John the Baptist… or in the water with the Word of God which is Holy Baptism! His humility is especially seen in His coming among us in our very flesh and taking of our sins upon Himself. God does not come to force Himself upon you. He comes in humility and in humble ways which, because of their lowliness, can be easily ignored.

 Woe to those who ignore it; who ignore Him! “You brood of vipers!” John said to the Pharisees and Sadducees – the religious leaders of Israel – who came to him. You see, they did not come empty and looking to be filled. They did not come in weakness and sinfulness, looking for endurance and encouragement. They considered themselves strong in faith and blessed by God, and came to listen critically: as judges, and not sinners. “You brood of vipers!” cried John. They were like Satan, that viper, or serpent, of old. Unless they repented God would cut them down and throw them into the same fire of hell that was awaiting him. This is the end for all who reject or ignore God’s Scriptures, who do not humbly open them to let God pop out and fill them.

 God desires a different eternity for you. He wants to gather you to Himself and shelter you forever, as a farmer gathers his good wheat into His barn. This is why He comes to you in such humility now in His Scriptures. Open them with humility!

Ø  When God speaks judgment for your sins, do not dodge or deny but confess them. He who laid your sins and their eternal judgment on His Son will quickly forgive them.

Ø  When God teaches you His ways and calls you to walk in them, follow them, even if they are contrary to what others, even your friends, say is good and right. Even though He appears to be leading you into a wilderness, God’s words will be a highway leading to Himself and His good.

Open God’s words with joyful expectation; for, as Psalm 105 says, “He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations.” He will remember and be with you always, until He comes to bring you into His eternal home. Until that day, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing [His Word], so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Rom. 15:13) Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.