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.
Scary things are going on and will only increase. But don’t be afraid! Be excited! That is today’s Gospel in a nutshell. The return of Christ is imminent. Just like the buds on the fig tree, ready to burst open with flowers that give way to fruit, are a sign of the impending rebirth of spring and summer and the happiness of those seasons, so are the signs today. We see all around us distress of nations, wars and rumors of wars, disease, famine, rampant false doctrine, abounding lawlessness, and the love of many growing cold (Mt. 24:9-12). Maybe it’s been said to you, or maybe you’ve said it yourself: it wasn’t this bad when you were younger. The world really is getting worse by the day. As bad as these things may be, as evil as they make these days, all of these signs are a 70-degree day in early March. Just like that unseasonably warm day in March reminds you that soon you can put away sweaters and open your windows and smell the flowers in bloom, so do these signs tell you that better things are coming. Soon wars will cease and peace will reign. Soon diseases and famines will be a thing of the past as everyone sits at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom. Soon false doctrine and false prophets and false christs will no longer plague the faithful but will spend eternity in the flames prepared for the devil and his angels. Soon Christ will rend the heavens wide, coming to unbar the way to heaven’s crown. Look up and lift up your heads because your Redemption draws near!
The prayer of advent is “Stir up our hearts, O Lord.” Three of the four Sundays in Advent have that phrase as the opening of the Collect. What does it mean to be stirred up? It might come across as “make us excited for.” These collects in their original Latin begin with the word excita, so that seems natural. In Latin, excita means rouse or awaken. But the English Church has translated this as “stir up.” So, what exactly does “stir up” mean? As Merriam-Webster defines it, “stir up” means to cause something, usually something unpleasant, to happen. That’s a different take on the season, isn’t it? In Advent we pray that the Lord would cause something unpleasant to happen to our hearts. Now, that unpleasantness is understood from a fleshly standpoint. We ask God to make us uncomfortable with the status quo, to make us eager for a completely different situation.
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.