“Abide with me,” O Lord. That is your prayer this evening, and rightly so. It is Israel’s prayer, as well, in the incense of the morning and evening sacrifice. For the presence of God is your life and your salvation, your strength and your song. Whereas, to be cast away from His presence, or for Him to part from you, that is death and damnation.
And yet, how shall you abide His coming or stand in His presence? That, too, is the question confronting Israel. His holiness is a fire that threatens to consume you. His thunder, smoke, and lightning are very, very frightening; and the perfection of His Law must kill you, unless there be some mercy and compassion and forgiveness for your sins.
Indeed, there is such Gospel, divine grace and mercy, rescue and salvation. In the Old Testament, even on terrible Mt. Sinai, the Lord — the Lord, patient and long-suffering, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love — He provided the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, the priesthood and sacrifices, as the means of His grace.
By and with these means, He has come and dwelt among His Israel of old, His glory in their midst, and He has gathered them to Himself, to abide with Him, to bear His Name, and to be His people, holy and righteous before Him, in spite of their sin. He has obtained forgiveness for them.
Forgiveness of sins, atonement and cleansing, by and with the blood of bulls and goats, rams and sheep: because of the promised Seed of the Woman, the coming Seed of Abraham, Isaac, Israel, and Judah. The Tabernacle and Temple, the Priesthood and its Ministry, and all those sacrificial victims, spoke of the Christ and pointed to Him, to His flesh and blood, to His Cross and Passion.
Now, then, by the coming of the Christ, the Lord your God has come down from heaven; the Mountain has become the Tent that travels with you; and the Holy, Holy, Holy One abides with you and among you in Peace. His holiness does not consume you, but cleanses and sanctifies you. His righteousness does not condemn you, nor cast you away from His presence, but justifies you by His grace, through faith in His Name.
Thus, the “Advent” of your true King, that is, the coming of your dear Lord, Jesus Christ, is your Prayer, and the Answer to your prayer. For He is God with you. And in Him, man is truly reconciled to God, and lives and abides within the unity and harmony of the Holy Trinity.
Such great and precious promises He has given and fulfilled for you! By His coming to you, by His choosing and calling of you, He brings you, not merely close, but to partake of the divine nature in His own human flesh and blood.
In Christ there is such deep and permanent intimacy of God with man, and man with God, that neither sin nor death nor anything else shall be able to separate you from Him. Of this blessed fellowship with God in Christ, even marriage and family are but a foretaste and a temporary sign; in the way that the Tabernacle, Priesthood, and Sacrifice anticipated the coming of Christ.
The Tipping Point is there in the Temple with righteous Zacharias, as he is offering the incense in the Holy Place, in accordance with his priestly order. The Word of the Lord comes to him by His messenger, the Archangel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God: For the Incense of Israel’s prayer has been received, and the prayer of God’s people has been heard and answered in mercy. The Lord is at hand; He is near, and He is coming with Redemption.
He comes, first of all, by the priestly ministry and preaching of St. John, the Forerunner, the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth. His conception, birth, and name are from the Lord, by grace alone. For he points to the Christ and ushers Him in: from the desert wilderness into promised Canaan by way of the waters of the Jordan River.
And so He comes, your King, the Blessed One, the Holy One of Israel; not only for Judah and Jerusalem, but for you, and for all who are far off. He comes in His own flesh, in the House of His Father David, to pitch His Tent and to make His Home with the children of men. He tabernacles among us, and He offers up Himself to become the Temple of God, the merciful and great High Priest, and the Sacrifice to end all sacrifices for sin.
He comes, and He binds all things together in Himself: He re-gathers His Creation and makes it all brand new in His own holy Body. He recalls and gathers to Himself all the lost sheep of Israel, and from all the nations. He unites the heavens and the earth, and God and man, in His one Person.
And yet, He is also given into death for the brokenness of man, in order to make His people whole in His Resurrection from the dead. He sheds His holy and precious Blood to make Atonement for all transgressions and iniquity, in order to pour out His Life-giving Holy Spirit upon all flesh.
He does it, too. He does it now for you, and even to the ends of the earth. He has come to you in mercy and in peace, and He gives nothing less than Himself to you by the Word and promise of His Gospel; by the preaching of His Holy Absolution; by the waters of His own Baptism, with which He has also baptized you; and by His Body given and His Blood poured out for you to drink.
By this Word of the Gospel, God the Father speaks to you by His Son. And so it is that your mouth and lips are opened, and your tongue is loosed, in order to show forth His praise, to pray and confess, and to sing the sweet song of salvation, which is the New Song of the Lamb.
Apart from Him, who is the Word-made-Flesh, you have no word to speak, and nothing to say. Without Christ, you are mute, as Zacharias was, no matter how much you chatter and ramble on; so that you might wait upon the Word of the Lord, and on His fulfillment. This, too, is mercy.
The Lord sets a watch before your mouth, and He guards the door of your lips, that you might not sin with your tongue and be devoured by the fires of your own grumbling and false confession.
But that is not all that He does for you. When you have thus been silenced by His Law, the Lord yet speaks to you in love. The Father speaks to you by His Son, so that you, in turn, may speak to Him, your God and Father, by the same Son, Jesus Christ; so that you may pray and sing.
By His Cross and Resurrection, and by the preaching of repentance and forgiveness through His Cross and Resurrection, the loud and noisy rabble are quieted, and the mute are given voice; the mighty are humbled, and the humbled are exalted. You are humbled and exalted in Christ Jesus. You are reconciled to the one true God in Him. Both you and your prayers are received into the presence of the Lord for eternal Life and everlasting Salvation.
For so it is, that, in Christ Jesus, the Lord your God has turned His fatherly heart toward you in mercy and compassion; and He has come to you, to be and abide with you in righteousness and peace, and so to bring you to Himself, a beloved child.
For as the Son of God is lifted up on His Tree of the Cross, and then also in His Resurrection and Ascension, He is the Incense and the morning and evening Sacrifice by which you also enter the Holy of Holies, to abide with Him who abides with you, both here and now, and forever and ever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Edward T. Oakes, S.J.: An Appreciation
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