In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is an urgency to this last week of Advent. And I'm not necessarily talking about the anxiety of trying to pull together all the last-minute details of the Christmas Eve Children's service; although that certainly gives a tangibility to the urgency.
No, the urgency we experience this time of year has to do with something more important than the Children's service on Christmas Eve. Now don't get me wrong, that service is important, very important, in fact, especially in the life of this congregation. But that service has it's place. Christmas Eve is like John the Baptist, the Forerunner, the one who came before the most important One, Jesus. In fact, all of our Advent discipline and preparation comes to a climax as we listen to the children tell and sing of a certain Birth in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.
But Advent preparation is not fulfilled on Christmas Eve. The children, with their recitations and singing and movement up and down, in and out of the chancel here, the children lead us down the home stretch of our Advent preparation.
On Christmas morning, then, finally, here, / the Incarnate Jesus will come to us in Flesh and Blood, in the manger of this altar. And you will be like the shepherds, / for the angels, the messengers, like John the Baptist, like all your pastors here, we declare to you where you may see Him in such lowly, humble estate.
And you will be like the shepherds, / won't you? I mean, you will be here, when Jesus comes on Christmas, won't you? Of course you will, this is what you've been preparing for all Advent. Certainly you wouldn't go through the preparation, and then miss out on the goal, the end, the prize!
But I'm getting ahead of myself, we're still here, 4th Sunday of Advent (Rorate Coeli). And on this day, every year, whether Christmas would be 7 days away (like it is this year) or perhaps just two days away, on Tuesday (like it will be next year), whatever our final week wait will be, John the Baptist still has one more thing to say to us.
“Among you stands one you do not know,” said St John. It's a curious thing to meditate upon this saying. Is this only meant to be spoken to those unbelieving Pharisees, way back when? Or does it / still apply to us now. Is Jesus still the One who is among you that you do not know?
Well, I'll save you the suspense: NO. You do know Jesus, because you were given knowledge of Him in your baptism. This is what St Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians in chapter1. He writes, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus [baptismal formula], that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge.” In other words, in baptism you came to a full and complete knowledge of this One, Jesus Christ, who St John says, “is among you”.
And the Baptizer did not lie. Jesus is the One among us. He is the One who bears the title Immanuel. So we have these two descriptions of Jesus. First, He is the Coming One. Yet, according to St John, and St Paul, Jesus is the One who is already among us.
So which is it? So much for having a knowledge of Him, right? Wrong. To the world, to your human intellect, Jesus is foolishness. Even His name gives Him away. The name Jesus means “The Lord saves.”
[point to the crucifix] So much for that, He's hanging dead on the cross. Is that the way we remember heroes and saviors? Where's the glory? Where's the parade and the streamers and party? Not much glory in death. Not much celebration by a tomb. Jesus' way is foolish: dying to save (?) / the coming one and the One who is among us? Yes.
Not by human wisdom, but by divine revelation. Not in power, but in true strength. Not among princes and bureaucrats and aristocrats, but among us, / by faith / in the lowliest of ways. That's Jesus' way: lowly. Not intellectual, but knowable. Not by our reason or senses, but by faith, simple faith, faith like a simple child.
Because He simply loves you. That's it. No parade, no streamers. Although there is a party. And there is alcohol...or is there? It's His own Blood, He said, for you, the faithful, to drink and be forgiven. And the Food is especially Good. I mean, actually Good. Not necessarily good tasting, but Good for you. It keeps you alive here, while you wait for Him to come, because the Food is Him.
And there it is: the Coming One and Immanuel, Body and Blood with us: both, at the same time. Hidden now (mysterious) yet soon to be fully, undeniably revealed.
So come, you shepherds. Feast with Him, on His Word and Sacrament today as you prepare for Him. Don't stop short. Christmas Eve is just the beginning of the High and holy Feasting. Let the little children lead you to their Savior and yours. Let their voices on Saturday evening encourage you to come on Sunday morning to hear the Voice of Him whom they proclaim.
We're almost there. The first great Day in the Church Year is almost fulfilled. We're sprinting to the finish, to the goal of Advent, the Christmas prize is just barely out of our reach. All our urgency, our anxiety, our frustration will soon be swallowed up in the Peace and Comfort of our Lord. Soon. Our Lord comes soon. And while we wait: hey, look, here He is, even among us.
In +Jesus' name. Amen.