Advent Is for Preachers

Advent Is for Preachers

Advent is for preachers. Well, of course, so is Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost and the whole of the church year. But Advent accents preaching, making known that it is the Lord who comes to bring salvation, to proclaim this in all the earth. Scholars point out that the Lutheran Reformation nuanced Advent preaching to give priority to proclamation; in contrast to medieval preaching where the dominant theme was preparation[1]. Early Lutheran preachers accented proclamation echoing the words of the Prophet Zechariah: “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation.” Now that is a word to be proclaimed. The Palm Sunday crowds will not be quiet. They cry out as we hear in Luke’s Gospel: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38). The Pharisees who are unsettled by this ruckus get nowhere when they attempt to get Jesus to tone the commotion down. Jesus says that if His disciples were silent, the very stones would cry out.

Advent evokes proclamation and praise, for the Holy One of Israel comes to redeem sinners. If you have read the early chapters of Isaiah, you know that the coming and presence of God is not necessarily good news. For example, the Prophet Isaiah proclaims the comfort of God’s salvation, deliverance and mercy in chapter 12. But these words are wedged in between oracles of woe and wrath, destruction meted out to all those who draw their life from dead idols and live in lethal unbelief acting as though the Lord God were powerless to call them to account. There is a dark side to Advent. Isaiah speaks of it as he preaches the alien work of God. He wields the axe against every outgrowth of sin, chopping through the thickets of our hearts entangled in the monotonous futility of exchanging God’s truth for lies. The thorns and briars will crackle as they are kindled by sparks of divine judgment. Hungry flames will ravish Israel, the “…remnant of the trees of his forest will be so few… that a child can write them down” (Isaiah 10:19). But out of that charred earth there comes forth a tender shoot from the stump of Jesse, the insignia of an unquenchable mercy and a divine favor for sinners that will not cease.  In His wrath, God remembers His mercy. So, Isaiah proclaims the promise: “You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me; your anger turned away that you might comfort me” (Isaiah 12:1).

God turns His wrath away from sinners and on to His Son. Wrath and mercy, repentance and faith are the content of the preaching of Advent. God’s alien work of deconstructing everything that stands in opposition to His good and gracious will rings through loud and clear in the preaching of the Old Testament prophets and Joh the Baptist. There is a highway to be prepared, rough places made smooth, and crooked paths made straight, so that in the end all flesh may see the salvation of our God (Isiah 40:1-8). This preaching of the threat of the Law is not an end in itself; it is to be preached so that the proper work and Word of God, the glad news of God’s reconciliation of the ungodly to Himself in Christ, might be heard. Condemnation gives way to consolation, so preachers comfort the afflicted and speak peace to those broken by their sins.

The promise of Advent makes room for lament[2] as preachers prompt hearers to call out to Emmanuel that He might come quickly to rescue us from the threatening perils of our sin and deliver us from the hopeless gloom that overshadows lives in the darkness of death:

“O Moring Star, O radiant Sun,

 When will our hearts behold Your dawn?

 O Sun, arise, without Your light

We grope in gloom and dark of night.” (LSB 355:5)

That’s why Advent is for preachers. God is coming, but not in anger. His wrath has been turned from us and absorbed in the suffering and death of God’s own Son, the Lamb of God who has answered for our sins on the cross. He came into His Zion, the holy city –the place of temple and sacrifice to suffer the fate of our unrighteousness, to bear our sin and be our Savior. Preachers are to proclaim Him for it is only in this Jesus that sinners find the comfort of which Isaiah speaks, the consolation of sins forgiven.

Preaching makes known what the Lord has done in all the earth. No wonder John the Baptist figures so prominently in Advent for he embodies the preaching of which Isaiah speaks. Yes, he gives voice to the Law as he swings the blade of God’s judgment at sapless trees, withered in unbelief and shriveled up in the death that is the fruit of sin. But his voice calling out in the wilderness calls the sinner to repentance and faith in the One who comes in the name of the Lord, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Advent announces that this Lord is near. Luther says that we can’t draw this Lord too deeply into the flesh. How deeply He is drawn into the flesh we know from Palm Sunday, from Bethlehem and finally from the Last Day when He will return as Judge, yet still our Brother. In the meantime, it is Advent. It’s always Advent for the Christian, remarked Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for we lift our heads and cry out in eager expectation towards the redemption that draws near to us.[3] It is always Advent as we wait for what we already now receive by faith. The Lord who is coming is already here with a word of promise. “In your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:6b). His name is Jesus. Faith comes by hearing His words. Advent is for preachers. Proclaim His promises. We can’t remain silent, lest the stones cry out.

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[1] Haemig, Mary Jane. “Sixteenth-Century Preachers on Advent as a Season of    Proclamation or Preparation” Lutheran Quarterly (Summer 2002), 125-152.

[2] Bayer writes “Lament and petitionary prayer are possible only on the basis of the promise.”- Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification, trans. G. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 72.  For more on the place of lament, see Oswald Bayer, “Toward a Theology of Lament” in Caritas et Reformatio: Essays on Church and Society in Honor of Carter Lindberg edited by David M. Whitford (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2002), 211-220. Also see Jeremiah Johnson, “Learning to Lament: Preaching to Suffering in the Lament Psalms” in Feasting in a Famine of the Word: Lutheran Preaching in the Twenty-First Century edited by M. Birkholz, J. Corzine, and J. Mumme (Eugene: Pickwick, 2016), 225-240.

[3] See Bonhoeffer’s sermon, “Come, O Rescue” in The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, edited and introduced by Isabel Best (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 109-114.

 

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Every Preacher, a Translator

Every Preacher, a Translator