What do we do we do now that Christmas is over? It really isn’t—today is only the Fifth Day of Christmas—but the world has ended its Christmas, and our lives so easily fall into the world’s cycles and trends. Maybe a better question is, what do we do now that December 25th has passed, that the tree’s days are numbered, the presents have been unwrapped and put away or returned, and the time of Advent preparation and anticipation is behind us? At least liturgically, Advent and its looking forward dominated our lives. What’s the point now that the anticipated event has come and gone?
Why is it that the greatest outpouring of visual art and music the Church and the world have seen is centered on the three greatest events in the life of Christ? Because all of human history was changed when the Word was made flesh, when that flesh died, and when that flesh rose. How was human history changed? Proof was given that God’s promise was true, that He would not destroy His creation, but would redeem it.
We’re not accustomed to thinking of the angels as scary. Think about the way some of our beloved Christmas carols present them:
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell
Still through the cloven skies they come with peaceful wings unfurled
All my heart again rejoices as I hear far and near sweetest angel voices
Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains.
We think of angels as these peaceful, feminine figures in flowing white dresses, with downy wings, and golden harps. What is there to fear?
Put yourself in the shoes of John the Baptist. He is in prison, and not because he stole or had too many unpaid parking tickets. He is in prison at the order of the king, whose adultery John had the guts to call out. Now an enemy of the royal family, John waits. He knew that what was coming next was his head on a silver platter, presented to the king, his new wife, and her wicked mother. This isn’t how it was supposed to be.
Things always seem their worst just before God redeems His people.
Adam and Eve cowered in fear. They hid themselves thinking they were dead. They felt that everything was now drastically different after they sinned. They knew what evil was. They knew that death was their lot. So they hid themselves. They tried to make coverings for their shame, but could not succeed. But God came to them in their fear and promised a Savior from sin and death, and promised the devil a swift blow of eternal destruction.
The message of Advent, but especially that of Christianity, is backwards to the way it seems things should be. In this season, we celebrate that we have a God who comes to us. It seems like it should be the other way around. We know our condition. We said it together not that long ago: we are poor, miserable sinners. Think about it. The rich aren’t lining up to give handouts to the poor. The poor come in search of charity. Doctors aren’t going door to door seeking out those who need medical attention. The miserable have to seek out their own medical care. So, it would only seem natural that sinners should have to seek out their own forgiveness. But Advent tells us that we have a gracious God who came to us in time, as the Baby born in Bethlehem; who comes to us today in Word and Sacrament; and who will come again as the judge who will usher in the Last Day, where He will take us to be with Himself. We are not the ones who need to seek out His grace and favor. He comes giving it freely, seeking out those who need what He has come to give.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.