Today (tonight), we gather to celebrate that GOD KEEPS HIS PROMISES.
God promises us salvation. Even though we were lost, having wandered far away from our God, preferring to pursue our own bleak interests and passions, even though we had turned away from the One who formed us and gave us his very breath that we might have life, even though we looked away from all the many gifts God had given us, preferring to pursue everything we saw that someone else had, even though we had spurned our God, yet our God continued to love us and desired to have us close to himself. Even though we gave up on God, God never gave up on us. God’s Word told us on the First Sunday of Advent that God promised us salvation. He said to us, “I will fulfill the promise I made to Israel and Judah … I will raise up for David a just shoot.” This just shoot would be our Lord Jesus Christ, who would lead all of us wandering souls back to the God who created us for himself. We have the great promise of salvation, all we have to do is look to our God, and “be vigilant at all times.”
God promises us a Savior. The thing is, having wandered away from God, we did not know how to get back to him all on our own. Even if we had known the way at one time, we long since forgot, and perhaps had even given up the desire to return to God. It’s kind of like getting lost in the woods. After a while, it’s hard even to see your footprints so that you can go back the way you came. The trees and underbrush all snap back into place once you’ve passed and it looks like you had never been there in the first place. You need someone to come and show you the way back. God promises us a Savior. On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we heard about a young girl named Mary who was told she would give birth to a Savior. Even though it would be a hard and sorrowful life in some ways, Mary extolled God’s greatness and said “May it be done to me according to your word.” Through the fiat of Mary, God promised us a Savior.
God promises us forgiveness. When someone we love wanders away from us, preferring to be with others, it hurts us deep within. If a child or loved one gets caught up in the wrong crowd, we cannot help but feel abandoned and discouraged. Forgiveness is so hard to offer when another person refuses to even accept it. It would be easy to understand if God gave up on humanity, when we so often reject him in our day-to-day lives. But God’s love is bigger than our sin. On the Second Sunday of Advent, God promised to prepare in our hearts a place for his Son, if only we would seek out his forgiveness. Wherever we are on the journey to Christ, whatever the obstacles we face, God promises to make it right through Jesus Christ. We may be facing the valley of hurts or resentments. God will fill in that valley. Perhaps we are up against a mountain of sinful behavior or shame. God will level that mountain. We may be lost on the winding roads of procrastination or apathy. God will straighten out that way. We may be riding along on the rough and bumpy ways of poor choices, sinful relationships and patterns of sin. God will make all those ways smooth. God promises us forgiveness.
God promises us renewal. Sin has a way of making us feel dead to anything. We may have rejected God so often, that we fail to find life in worship or prayer. We may have made the wrong choices for our lives so habitually, that we cannot find joy in our lives. But all things are possible for God, who promises to raise us up out of our darkness and sin and give life to our hardened hearts and stony souls. On the Third Sunday of Advent, we heard that Jesus would come and baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire, that fire that would kindle the coldness in our lives and renew the zeal in our spirits. We heard that the penalties that we have paid for our sinfulness are gone and we can now look forward to a renewed life and spirit. Far from rejecting us, the prophet Micah tells us that God will “rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love.” God promises us renewal.
God promises us holiness. Having been saved and forgiven and renewed, we are now God’s holy people. God visits his people and promises to do great things among us. On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the prophet Micah told us that God promised it in ancient days, shepherding and guarding his flock, calling them to concrete peace in days of great evil. St. Luke reminded us of the wonderful, incredible, holy things he did in the lives of Mary and Elizabeth. Elizabeth bore God’s prophet to pave the way for the Son of Mary who would be our Savior. Elizabeth was too old to bear a child, and Mary never had relations with a man, but none of that matters to God, through whom all things are possible. God promises to do holy and incredible things in and through his faithful people. God promises us holiness.
Throughout Advent, we have prayed “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Come, Lord Jesus, and bring us salvation.
Come, Lord Jesus, and be our Savior.
Come, Lord Jesus and give us your forgiveness.
Come, Lord Jesus and renew your chosen people.
Come, Lord Jesus and do incredible deeds in and through your holy people!
God’s promises have sustained us through Advent and brought us here on this holy (night / day). On the way into Church today, we stopped to bless the Manger scene, which reminds us that God has visited his people to keep his promises. Even if we sometimes think our flesh is expendable and even profane, God proclaims that it is good enough for him, by taking on flesh and becoming one of us. Sinful humanity is given salvation and forgiveness. We who are graced with a Savior are renewed and revitalized. Having been renewed, we are made holy by God’s grace, and God does incredible things with us and in us every day.
If this holy (night / day) is to become anything more than a commercialized cliché in this darkened and jaded world, it has to happen by all of us becoming God’s holy people yet again. We don’t just celebrate something that happened two thousand years ago; we celebrate the fact that God is born into our lives and into our world every time we open ourselves up to his forgiveness and renewal, and become his holy people. When we stand up for the rights of the unborn, the powerless, and the disenfranchised, Christ is born among us and warms up our cold and heartless world. When we reach out to others who are needy or lonely or oppressed, Christ is born among us and gives light to our darkness. When we introduce someone to the Church or witness to our faith by being people of integrity, Christ is born among us and revitalizes a world grown listless in despair. When we receive our Lord in the Eucharist and go forth from this place to love and serve the Lord, Christ is born into a world that desperately needs his presence. Christ is born in every moment when his people make him present through their lives.
On this Christmas, a watching world looks to all of us to be more than a Christmas cliché. Will God’s holy people let God’s promises be fulfilled in them and through them? When the world sees that happen, when enough people take notice, maybe all the earth can take part in our singing:
Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth!
On behalf of Fr. Ted, myself, and the parish staff, may God bless you and your families this Christmas. May you find Christ in every moment of the coming year.