Dear friends in Christ. Today we begin a brand new Church Year. In it we trace our Jesus’ life and teaching. The Church Year begins with the season of Advent. Advent means “coming.” In Advent we remember Jesus’ coming to us—first as that long promised Savior, the God-man—the eternal God who became also true man and was born of the virgin Mary; we also remember that Jesus still comes to us today in His holy word and sacraments; we also remember that Jesus will come again on the Last Day, Judgment Day, this time in all His glory.
Advent is that glorious reminder to us once again that our Lord does not just leave us in our sin and to our own devices. Instead, He comes for us and for our salvation. Listen to what Jesus says [Mt. 20.28; Jn. 10.10]: the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many; and I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. What a gracious work! He comes and is involved in our lives. It was a gracious work that He came of the virgin, born in Bethlehem, to be our Savior; it is a gracious work of His that He comes to us in His holy word and Sacraments to create and strengthen faith; it is a gracious work of His that He will come on the Last Day, raise all the dead and bring His dear Christian into heaven eternally in both soul and body.
Advent is the glorious proclamation that God comes for our benefit. The tone is set: in the new Church Year He is again coming to us in grace. It is purely His grace toward us sinners that Jesus did come and continues to come to us.
1. Just before our text, Jesus had just finished pronouncing woes on the cities that had rejected Him and His teaching, His grace. He had come to them but they rejected Him. Here is Advent’s warning which we do well to heed once again at the beginning of this new Church Year—when Jesus came then, the first time, and when He comes now to us in His word and Sacrament, He can be rejected. That’s why the season of Advent is a time of self-examination and repentance: so we prepare ourselves to celebrate His 1st coming; and prepare to receive Him and welcome Him as He comes to us today in word and sacrament.
Only because there is Advent, God coming to us, is there salvation for us. In order for us to have salvation, God has to come to us first. We do not and cannot first go to Him. Salvation begins with God; He has to and does take the first step. That’s grace—we cannot first come to God, but He comes to us!
Jesus points this out in our text: At that time Jesus answered and said, "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. The way of salvation is hidden to us; it is opposite our way of thinking and doing; therefore we cannot take the first step toward God and save ourselves. Instead, there’s Advent—God coming to us in the Person of His Son; be it as He came as that Baby born of Mary to be our Savior; be it as He comes in the simple word, water, bread and wine; be it in all His glory on the Last Day.
The one true way of salvation—by God’s grace through faith in Jesus—is hidden from the wise and prudent. God’s way of salvation is hidden to those who want to understand it with their human wisdom. The natural human way of thinking about salvation is one of works: if I do enough good things, I can appease God and make things right between me and God; I can do enough good so that God owes me heaven. Such people trust in their own wisdom and righteousness. Such people neglect Scripture and/or judge Scripture—what God says, what He reveals—according to their own wisdom. If what God says in His word does not make sense to their own sinful, corrupt wisdom, God’s word, they say, is to be rejected. They set their own wisdom against the divine revelation of grace. In other words, the wise and prudent, who judge God’s word and ways according to human reason, reject His Advent, reject His coming to them.
Yet, it is God’s grace that human wisdom does not and cannot lead to faith, otherwise faith and salvation would be a human work and not the gift of God. If our salvation is a human work, then we would forever be unsure, uncertain—am I really saved? Have I done enough? Have I really figured it all out? But faith and salvation is God’s gift to us; therefore it always certain and we can never doubt it even when we are severely troubled in conscience and all sorts of sins are accusing us because it is the word and work of God Himself for us. The fact that God must first come to us and reveal Himself and His saving work to us is seen when He hides it from the wise and prudent–those who think they can figure out the way of salvation, how to be right with God, how to gain heaven.
That Jesus calls us, dear Christian, we who welcome and receive Him as He comes to us in word and Sacrament, babes, points us again to the grace of God. Just as babes, we have done absolutely nothing to merit or make ourselves worthy of God coming to us and revealing Himself to us. But He came to us first and continues to come to us in His word to lead us from truth to truth, deeper and deeper into the word, from insight into insight, strengthening us in the faith throughout as led and empowered by His Holy Spirit we take our reason captive and continue to welcome Christ and receive His word, grace and work.
Faith and salvation are not a result of what we do first, but what God in Christ does for us as He comes to us. How fitting it is to begin the new Church Year with Advent, the season of coming; the season we remember that God has come to us to bring us salvation.
Throughout this new Church Year He will continue to come to us babes once again and give us every heavenly and spiritual blessing of forgiveness of sin, life and salvation. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. This is God’s way—He comes to us first and reveals Himself and His saving work—without regard for our merits or honors so that we cannot boast as if there is something good and meritorious in us.
2. Now, dear Christian, because Christ has come to us in His word and Sacrament, and by His Holy Spirit at work there has given us a new birth, He has given us a new heart, mind and desire; He opens our mind to understand Scripture and listen to His word. Now we know God rightly. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. We only know the true God rightly because He has come and revealed Himself to us. Now we know the true God as the holy Triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We know Him as our gracious, loving God. Without Christ, God is frightening; without Christ there is no way to the Father and no door to heaven. Because the Father sent His Son to be the Savior of sinners we see the glowing heart of God’s love. Because the Son willingly came, became also true man, suffered and died for our sins, and was raised from the dead, we know that our sins are forgiven; that we are reconciled to God; that heaven stands open.
The Father reveals the Son: You, Father, have revealed [these things] to babes; the Son reveals the Father: Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him; what we with our power or reason can’t do or come to, namely, this saving knowledge, Jesus gives us. And He continues to come in His word to reveal to us. In this new Church Year we are again directed to the voice of Christ revealing to us Himself, the Father, our salvation, His grace, etc.
Christ comes to us first and reveals saving doctrine—and He will do so again in this new Church Year—and then, on the basis of what He has revealed, through the faith that He has created and strengthened in our hearts, He then tells us: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. We come to Christ only after He has first come to us; we cannot decide to follow Him. Instead, He comes to us first in word and sacrament, reveals Himself, the Father, and creates faith and then says Come to Me. He comes to us first, so that we can then come to Him; without His coming to us first, we would not, could not come to Him.
Here is the beautiful Advent theme of preparation—namely repentance. As we honestly and sincerely look at our hearts and lives in the light and mirror of God’s holy law we see and feel our sins; the law and our conscience condemn us as we see how much we have done in thought, word and deed that God has forbidden and how little we have done that He has commanded. As we recognize our sin and how our sin condemns us and has earned us God’s wrath, as we are laboring and heavy laden, we come to Christ. We can do so because He has come for us to be our Savior. We can do so because He has come to us and revealed Himself to us as our Savior.
This is faith—that bold, mighty thing—at work. It takes and holds to the work, word, promise of Christ to forgive us our sin and to be our righteousness. We come to Christ because He first came to us. There is no work or merit on our part, no self-help when it comes to our salvation: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. We are directed to Jesus and His finished/ accomplished work on the cross to save us.
We come to Jesus with all of our sins—laboring and heavy laden—and He takes them and gives us rest as through the pastor in the absolution He tells us I forgive you all your sin. We come to Jesus in the Holy Supper and there receive His very body and blood with the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins. He first came and carried our burden of sin and suffered for them and now He takes our sin, gives us the forgiveness He brought us and His perfect righteousness. We now have perfect rest and comfort of soul: forgiveness, life and salvation.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Here is Advent’s call: bear the yoke of Christ; that is, live a life of repentance and faith. But this is a privilege: we have been freed from the yoke of sin, death and hell; now we take on the yoke of Christ. He has given us the love of and delight in God’s holy commandments. This desire that we now have in Christ to live a life more and more free of sin, more and more in accord with the holy will of God is a burden to our old sinful nature which regards it as a yoke; it is a burden to our old sinful nature that we drown it by daily contrition and repentance. But Christ has come to us and by His Holy Spirit strengthens and empowers us to want to do His will. He has first come to us so that we may come to Him for hope, comfort and His gracious presence.
In the season of Advent we are taught that Jesus came to us first to be our Savior. Now in word and sacrament He still comes to us first to show us who He really is—the true God and our Savior—and to give us the blessings of His saving work. Through His word He is calling us today to come to Him in repentance and faith to receive His gifts of spiritual rest and peace. Advent—Jesus’ coming—be it His first coming to be our Savior or be it now in word and sacrament—it is all grace! INJ Amen.