30 November 2016

Prepared By and For the Coming of Christ

For the culture around you, what passes for “Advent” begins the day after Thanksgiving with Black Friday and the shopping season frenzy.  But for the Church, the Season of Advent begins with the Sunday closest to this day, the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle.  And there could hardly be a more appropriate starting point to your preparations for the Coming of Christ Jesus.

To begin with, St. Andrew was a disciple of St. John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament Prophets and the Forerunner of the Christ.  St. John is a particularly significant Advent figure, and we’ll be hearing more about him (and from him) in the weeks before us.  For he is the Voice of God, crying out in the wilderness to prepare the Way of the Lord.  And it is by his preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins that St. Andrew was brought to Christ Jesus.

In much the same way, you also are prepared for the coming of Christ, you are brought to Him and given to follow Him as a disciple, by the office and ministry of St. John the Baptist, that is, by the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins in the Name of the Lord.

You could not prepare yourself for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But, with Andrew and the other disciples, you are prepared for Christ and brought to Him by His Word and Sacrament.

The preaching of the Law calls you to repentance by exposing your sin and your desperate need for a Savior.  Do not grow weary of hearing that Word, for it remains true throughout your life, until you shall return to the dust from which you are taken.  As you examine your life according to the Law of the Lord and His Ten Commandments, you discover nothing in you but sin and death.  You do not love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  You do not call upon His Name at all times and in all places.  You do not give your full attention to His Word and preaching.  And for all of this, for all your lack of faith and love, it is true that what you deserve is nothing else but punishment, the righteous wrath and eternal punishment of God.

Confronted by this condemnation of the Law, your only proper and appropriate response is sorrow at your sin, humble contrition, and true repentance.

And already the Lord’s response is to meet your sin with His Word and preaching of the Gospel, His gracious Word of Holy Absolution, His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, which is given to you in the Name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God,” who takes upon Himself and takes away the sins of the whole world.

This simple description of Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” as St. John describes Him to Andrew and the other disciples, is an extraordinarily rich and significant proclamation of the Gospel.  It first of all recalls the sacrifices that Yahweh provided for the atonement and forgiveness of His people.  But it also signifies that Jesus is the Lamb whom God has provided for Himself, in the place of young Isaac, and in the place of all the sons and daughters of man.  And as such, it points to Jesus as the true and everlasting Passover Lamb, whose Blood now covers His people forever from death and judgment, and whose Body feeds them as the Meal of Salvation and fellowship with the Lord.

Hearing this Word of the Lord on a regular basis, the preaching of His Law and His Gospel, is the way and the means by which you remember and live within the ongoing significance of your Holy Baptism, to which His Word called you from the outset.  Day by day, His Law crucifies your flesh and calls you to repentance, and His Gospel raises you up with Christ Jesus in His Resurrection, adorning you with His perfect righteousness and holiness, so that you are ready for His Coming.

Thus do you live the Christian life, the daily discipline of repentance and forgiveness.  And thus are you prepared throughout Advent, along with St. Andrew, as a disciple of St. John the Baptist.  But then also, with St. Andrew, you are catechized to follow Christ Jesus as one of His disciples.

That is one of the main points to this Holy Gospel.  St. Andrew did not remain with St. John the Baptist.  The Forerunner’s task (and the task of preachers to this day) is to prepare the people for the Christ, to lead the people to the Christ, and to entrust them to Christ Jesus alone.  So it was that St. John’s Baptism became the Baptism of Christ and His Spirit, and St. John’s preaching of repentance was for the forgiveness of sins because it pointed the people to the Lamb of God.

It may not have been easy for St. John to let go of his own disciples and to send them after Christ.  He likely struggled with his pride and the temptation of his own self-importance.  But the Word and Spirit of the Lord gave St. John the strength to carry out faithfully the duties of his office, as we have heard, for example, in this case of St. Andrew.  “Behold the Lamb of God,” St. John declared.  And that was all it took.  From that point, St. Andrew would follow the Lord Jesus.

It’s not just a case of chasing after Him to get His autograph.  St. Andrew addresses the Lord as “Rabbi” (teacher), and thereby acknowledges that he will learn all things from Jesus.  Being a “disciple” in this way is more than going to classes, reading books, doing your homework, and taking exams, as though the Christian faith and life were some kind of academic pursuit or a terminal degree program.  Being a disciple certainly does involve the learning of facts and the acquisition of knowledge, but that is really only one small part of discipleship.

As a disciple of Jesus, St. Andrew would learn how to live his entire life from his new Rabbi.  He would be learning life itself.  He would “eat, sleep, and breathe” the Way of Christ, like a new recruit in boot camp.  That is what it means to be a disciple: For you now, as for Andrew then.

That is the significance of finding out where Jesus is staying, and then coming to abide with Him there.  The disciples of Jesus live their entire life with Him, both day and night, 24/7.  For He is the Word of God made Flesh who tabernacles with us, and as the Lamb who is sacrificed for our sins and raised from the dead, He is Himself the Temple wherein we live and abide with God.

Along with St. Andrew, you are called to find your entire life in Christ Jesus, to follow Him and learn all things from Him as a disciple.  From the waters of your Baptism into Christ, you live and walk in the Way of the Lord in daily repentance and by faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.  And you also come and see where He is staying, and you stay with Him in the House of the Lord; which is to say that you live and abide with Him within His Body, the Church.

It is within His Church that you “eat, sleep, and breathe” Christ Jesus, learning from Him, from His Cross and Resurrection, how to live and how to die by faith in His Word as a Christian.  Here it is that you recall the significance of your Baptism, the door by which you first entered into His House.   And here you participate in the “Household Meal” of His New Testament Passover.

As in the case of St. Andrew, following Christ Jesus and living with Him in His House is not a selfish or solitary pursuit.  There is no such thing as a private Christian.  Rather, as St. Andrew first sought and found his brother, Simon, seek out your family and friends; urge them to come and see and join with you in receiving the forgiveness, life, and salvation of the Christ who has come.

Do it by confessing the Word that you have heard, and by the example of your life in accordance with that Word.  As you learn to live your entire life by faith in Christ, as a Christian disciple, show forth His Gospel in dealing with your neighbors.  Demonstrate the same grace, mercy, and forgiveness that you receive from Christ.  This most natural evangelism isn’t any sort of program; it is a way of life in the Way of Christ, just as He teaches you to live in Him.  So, like St. Andrew, bring others to Jesus by bringing them to His Church, to the House where He is found in the flesh.

To be sure, in bringing his brother, Simon Peter, to Christ Jesus, St. Andrew also foreshadowed the additional way in which he and his brother would be called to serve the Lord.  For these men were not only called to follow Jesus as disciples — as you and all Christians are called to follow Jesus and to learn from Him — but they were also called and sent as Apostles of the same Lord Jesus Christ.  And that is quite another matter altogether, for which we give thanks and celebrate.

As an Apostle, St. Andrew was sent in the Name and stead of Christ, as a personal representative of the Good Shepherd.  In that office and vocation, he continued the Ministry of St. John the Baptist and of Jesus Himself.  He baptized others into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, he preached the Word unto repentance and faith, and he fed the sheep with the very Lamb of God.

In all of these ways and means, the Ministry of the Gospel is more than just a word or message about Jesus.  It is the real presence and proclamation of Christ Himself, who comes to you here and now by these very Means of Grace to prepare you for His coming in glory for the final judgment.

Although we have not received any written record of St. Andrew’s preaching and teaching as part of the New Testament Scriptures, he remains (along with St. Peter and the other Apostles) an important and integral part of that “foundation of the Apostles and Prophets,” upon which the Christian Church on earth has been established by the Lord Jesus Christ, even to this day.

Our blessed Lord, in His own divine wisdom and great mercy, chose to call St. Andrew to that Apostolic Ministry of His Gospel, for the benefit of His Church and to the glory of His holy Name.  And as St. John writes in his Book of the Revelation, we know that St. Andrew’s name, as one of the “Twelve Apostles of the Lamb,” adorns the foundation of the Holy City, New Jerusalem, the very city of heaven itself, for which we wait and hope and daily pray, especially during Advent.

In a very real sense, that Apostolic Ministry began when St. Andrew left St. John the Baptist and took his brother with him to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.  From that day, the very same Apostolic Ministry has continued by the grace of the same Lord Jesus throughout the centuries, also here and now to you, by which you are prepared for the Salvation ready to be revealed on the Last Day.

By this Ministry of the Gospel, by the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins, and by the Body and Blood of the Lamb, given and poured out for you to eat and drink, you are prepared to face your death and your own “judgment day,” as St. Andrew was prepared by the same Word and Sacraments of Christ for his own courageous death as a Christian martyr.

Having been baptized into the death and Resurrection of Christ, and having been fed by His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion, St. Andrew knew by faith that he had been made ready by Christ Jesus Himself, in body and soul, for the life everlasting.  So also for you and all who are baptized into Christ.  Even your death from this mortal life is not able to separate you from Him.

That is what the Feast of St. Andrew and the penitential Season of Advent are really all about.

No matter how much Advent and the shopping season might coincide on the calendar, they are as different as night and day.  In the one case, you prepare yourself for a frenzy of fun by spending lots of money, time, and energy, and by working hard to do and do and do a million things.  But in the other case, in the Season of Advent, you do nothing for yourself.  You spend nothing, and you do no work at all, but you receive by grace the free forgiveness, life, and salvation of Christ.

Here within His Church you are prepared for the coming of Christ Jesus, for that day when He shall call you from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven, by the coming of the same Lord Jesus Christ right here and now in the Ministry of His Gospel.  For He is here with you in the flesh, the very Lamb of God who takes away, not only the sins of the world, but all of your sins.

And so it is that, with St. Andrew, and with all the saints who have gone before us in the faith of the Lord Jesus, you are baptized in His Name as a beloved and well-pleasing child of His God and Father in heaven.  You are forgiven by the grace of His Gospel.  You are fed from His Table and served by His love.  And by this Apostolic Ministry of Christ, you are given His Life Everlasting.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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