There is always something exciting when there’s something new--be it a new car, a new house, a new job, or, like we have today, a brand new Church Year. Last week we had the culmination of the previous Church Year when we were reminded once again that Jesus is the King of the universe. He, the risen and ascended God-man, is ruling all things for the good of HIs Church and for each of His dear Christians. And He is ruling and working in and through all human history so that it reaches its climax: His return in glory on the Last Day to judge all people--those still living and the dead whom He will raise and reunite soul and body. All people will stand before His Judgment throne for the final, public judgment. There Jesus will judge us, pointing to our works as the outward evidence of our faith. The Christian’s faith, which trusted in Jesus and received His holiness and forgiveness, will be evident by good works; and the sins, where are they; will Jesus point to our sins? --No! They have all been forgiven. Only the good remains. But for the unbeliever, the one who has no faith in Jesus, who has no faith to receive His holiness and forgiveness, all that sin will be very much evident. Even the good things they did that were praised by all, are tainted with sin.
And this reminder of Jesus’ return is also very much a theme we have in Advent. That’s what we have in today’s Gospel--Jesus’ advent/ Coming in glory on the Last Day. And for the Christian, it is a day of great joy as Jesus tells us there: when these things begin to happen, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near. We begin the new Church Year where the old left off. And again and anew, in this new Church Year, we also direct our attention to Jesus’ return in glory on the Last Day.
But also today we are introduced in our first reading to another theme of advent; another Advent/ Coming of Jesus--and that’s His first Coming, as a Baby born of the blessed Virgin; His coming as that long awaited and promised Savior. In today’s reading Jesus is called a righteous Branch coming from David’s line, a Descendant of David. And what will He do? He will establish justice and righteousness on earth. Jesus did this by His keeping for us God’s holy Law and suffering the deserts of our sin. Jesus’ righteousness is credited to us. And we, through faith, receive it. This justice and righteousness that Jesus established and gives to us--is His work He came to do during His first coming/ Advent.
We don’t live at the time of Jesus’ first Advent, over 2000 years ago; we don’t live, so far, at the time of His Second Coming. But we still live at the time of His Advent--because Jesus is coming to us today. He comes to us quietly, simply and humbly in His holy Word and Sacrament. Through His word and Sacrament, Jesus is mightily at work entering and setting up His rule and kingdom in our hearts. That’s another reason why Advent is so exciting: we are reminded of Jesus’ coming and work in our world, in us. Jesus is not just some historical personage; He is not just Someone in the distant future; He is in us, His dear Christians, now; He is working, living, reigning in our hearts now; He is expanding His kingdom/ Church now coming to people in His word and Sacrament. So Advent points us to Jesus’ work here and now among and in us. That’s why entering the new Church Year is so exciting. We are again reminded of that truth. We are again reminded that Jesus is coming to us in grace once again in the new Church Year. If we stumbled and faltered last year, Jesus comes again to us in grace and mercy. This new Church Year truly is a new beginning. What an exciting time for renewal! May the Lord increase your love and make it overflow...that He may establish your hearts as blameless in holiness. Let us now enter this new Church year in faith and in love!
In our text, St. Paul is writing to the Christians of the city of Thessalonica and is full of great joy and thanksgiving! Indeed, how can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have before God on account of you? Here we have the holy Apostle’s awe and gratitude to God when he had heard about the faith of the Thessalonians. They did not retreat in the face of the trials they faced; they did not turn away from the faith even when they were being persecuted on account of it. Here St. Paul is saying: I cannot thank God enough! Here we come to a very vital point when it comes to our faith. Our faith is a very precious gift of God to us. It is one that we can never sufficiently thank God for. The gift of faith is also really the gift of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life because it is precisely through and only through faith that we can and do receive these gifts of God. Elsewhere, St. Paul is very clear when writes [Eph. 2.8-9]: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. The very fact that we believe Jesus is our Savior, the very fact that we have the forgiveness of sin and eternal life, is not because of anything we are or have done. It’s all God’s gift to us through faith--faith that receives them. We don’t create or conjure up faith from ourselves, by our own strength or goodness. It’s not that God sees us so good or worthy and gives us faith because of it. Instead any holiness/ goodness in us comes from faith that God gives us as a gift.
So let us enter this new Church Year with great joy in and thanksgiving for what God has worked in us by the Holy Spirit in the word and sacrament--faith. And so let us then also enter this new Church Year in great humility, in humility that God looked upon us and deals purely in His grace and mercy. We are not worthy of the least of God’s graces and yet He has shown us the greatest mercy in Christ; and He will continue to do so also in this new Church Year as well.
St. Paul’s great, inexpressible joy over the Thessalonians’ steadfastness in the faith is a joy that is in the Lord. He credits God’s power that is shown through the Gospel, that is, the word and sacraments: how can we thank God enough for you. That we remained faithful to the Lord this past and all past Church Years in spite of all the attacks on our faith by the devil and his allies--not the least of which is the disruption caused by covid and the temptation to stay away from God’s house and sacraments--that is all by the power of God. That’s why we enter the new Church Year humbly. We dare not pat ourselves on the back and say how good we are. Instead, we give God thanks for HIs mighty power in the word and sacrament for keeping us in the faith and are both joyful and humbled that He has done that. We enter the new Church Year in faith humbly seeking from the Lord to work mightily on us once again and keep us in His faith and blessing.
And we place ourselves where He has promised to meet us--in His holy word and Sacrament. We come together in church around His altar and pulpit. St. Paul then continues in our text: Night and day we are praying earnestly to see you in person and to supply what is lacking in their faith. This is why we enter the new Church Year in faith, humbly. St. Paul wanted to instruct these Christians more fully in the faith where they needed to be. To be sure they had the basic outlines of the Christian faith; they knew and had the ABC’s of the Christian faith. But they still had room to grow in the knowledge of the Christian faith. The thing is, God gives us the gift of faith to believe what He tells us of Himself and His work for us. Yes, He gives us the faith to believe that Jesus died for our sins and reconciled us to Him. But there is also a richness and fullness to the holy Christian faith that He also wants to give us. He wants us to see how all the parts of the faith fit together into a beautiful whole. He wants our faith to be well grounded on His word and promise. That’s why we continue to read and study God’s holy word; that’s why we come to church to hear His word rightly proclaim and explained. Night and day we are praying earnestly to see you in person and to supply what is lacking in their faith. Certainly it has happened to you that you heard for many years the same bible verse or story, but suddenly you hear it another time and something strikes you that you hadn’t realized before. That new thought, insight, seeing how different parts of Scripture or doctrines fit together, etc. --that’s the Lord working in the word supplying what is lacking in your faith. That’s why we enter the new Church Year in faith and humbly. We are saying by that, “Lord, I don’t know it all. Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” It will be a blessed new Church Year when we enter it in faith, in a posture of humility. It will be a wretched Church Year if we enter it in arrogance thinking we have no further need of the Lord and His Word. Let each of us enter the new Church Year in faith with an eye on what “I am lacking”.
As we enter the new Church Year in faith, let us also then enter it in love--love of the Lord and each other. Our text: And may the Lord increase your love and make it overflow for each other and for all people, just as ours does for you. Closely connected with our growth in faith comes an increase in love. Just as our faith can and does grow/ can and does get more firmly grounded, so also our love/ our life of good works. And this too is the Lord’s working in us. Notice: may the Lord increase your love and make it overflow. And also notice--when we grow in our lives of faith and good works/ lives of love toward God and neighbor, it isn’t just a few good works here and there; it’s not a love that is given begrudgingly but we overflow in love-- it is rich, fervent and hearty/ abundant in good works. Our love will always be far from perfect in this life because we still have our old sinful nature with us. And that’s why we must strive to grow in it. And that’s how we enter the new Church Year-- with that fervent desire to increase and overflow in love. And this is closely connected with faith. As we grow in our faith in the Lord and all the more deeply understand the depth of His love of us, how can we--the objects/ recipients of such love--not grow in our love of Him and how can our love then not increase and overflow for each other and for all people? Love can increase and overflow as faith grows in power because love is a fruit of faith. Where there is faith, there will be love--a busy, fervent, active, mighty love. Notice it is a love that overflows for all people, even our enemies, as Jesus says [Mt. 5.44-47]: But I say to you, love your enemies….For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? Love destroys hate and wins great victories in the midst of Christ’s enemies. This love is a fruit of faith; the Lord bestows it; He is its source. As we enter this new Church Year, let us strive in it to increase in love--for this is the Lord’s gift and working as He strengthens and deepens our faith in Him.
The deeds of love flowing from faith is proof that faith is alive and well. Love is the undeniable evidence of faith. Why do we pray with St. Paul that the Lord would increase our love and make it overflow for each other and for all people? Our text: so that He may establish your hearts as blameless in holiness before our God and Father, when our Lord Jesus comes with all His saints.
By the work of His Holy Spirit in the word and sacrament, the Lord establishes, makes firm our hearts. They are, by faith and His working, holy in word and action. With the forgiveness of sins the Lord gives us in His word and sacrament, there is an inward renewal as led and empowered by the Holy Spirit we turn our back on sin and serve God and others in a life of good works. And, served by Jesus now as He comes to us in His word and sacrament, we look forward to His return on the Last Day and as we do so we are awakened to live a holy and blameless life now, preparing for that perfect holiness and love that will be ours in heaven. Let us now enter that new Church Year in humble faith and striving to increase in love. INJ Amen. INJ Amen.