Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Weekday Advent Service One, Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending

Weekday Advent Service One
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD
The Hymns of Advent

Lo! He comes with Clouds Descending     (LW 15 / LSB 336, tune)By: Charles Wesley

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for ev'ry sinner slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia, alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.

Ev'ry eye shall now behold him
Robed in glorious majesty;
Those who set at nought and sold him,
Pierced and nailed him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall their true Messiah see.

Those dear tokens of his Passion
Still his dazzling body bears,
Cause of endless exultation
To his ransomed worshipers.
With what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, amen, let all adore thee,
High on thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the pow'r and glory,
Claim the kingdom for thine own.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Thou shalt reign, and thou a lone!

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Tonight we are starting an Advent series based on a few great Advent hymns.  The question you might ask is why do we even have Advent hymns, or why do we even have Advent at all?  Why don’t we just jump right from Thanksgiving to Christmas just like the rest of the world does?  (Halloween?)  Well, we could.  Christmas is a very important part of our faith.  The old German traditions really emphasis that.  How many of you when you were young put up your Christmas tree on Christmas Eve?  How many opened presents then too?  How many of you were involved in a Children’s Christmas Eve program?  You see, Christmas is really very important to us.  After all if Jesus isn’t born a human being on Christmas Eve He couldn’t have died as a human being in our place on Good Friday and He couldn’t have risen from the dead in human flesh either.  Christmas marks the beginning of it all.  That’s why we sing with Angels the song of Christmas all year, Glory to God in the Highest!  But what’s the value of Advent?  What’s the value of delaying the celebration of Christmas?  What’s the value of singing these Advent hymns?  Well, that’s what this series is all about.

Tonight we are going to look at this wonderful hymn Lo! He comes with Clouds Descending.  It really covers a very important part of Advent, which is not just looking toward the stable but to the time in our future when Our Savior will come again.  It’s all about the anticipation of Jesus coming.  

One of the problems we face as Christians is that we’ve gotten our focus off of the most important thing of our faith.  It’s only natural for us because that’s the way life is for us.  Every day we struggle to survive.  We have to work day in and day out to make a living.  It’s a good idea to make plans for the future but you and I know that they are shaky at best.  Anything can happen to change the plans we’ve made.  “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”  The old saying goes.  So we focus on the here and now: instant credit, instant gratification, instant access, and instant breakfast.  And no where is it more pronounced than at the “holiday season.”  We are bombarded by images of stuff to buy that’ll make us happier and we are encouraged to get it now.  If you’re like me you look through the Christmas sale flyers and instead of seeing gifts for others you see stuff that you’d like to get on sale!  We are just like the little girl who goes Christmas shopping but isn’t happy unless she gets something for herself, too.  With all the activity we are put to rush.  Hurry up to do Christmas Shopping in Sioux Falls, hurry up to go to the Christmas concert, hurry up to catch the parade, hurry only 26 shopping days left!  It’s as if speed is supposed to get us get the most enjoyment out of the season.  What it really accomplishes though is a “me centered” approach to it all.  Oh, we might drop some coins in the red kettle as we walk by to appease our conscience, but what we want is to have ourselves a merry little Christmas… now!

Well, Advent isn’t like that.  That’s why we take things a bit slower here one Wednesday nights.  That’s a part of what Advent is all about.  We slow down and contemplate who we are before God.  We step out of the rushing world for a few minutes and think about Jesus and what He’s done for us.  We focus on the fact that Christ is coming, and exactly what it means.  On these little holiday ‘vacations’ we have two things to think about in Jesus coming.  First, the one are very anxious to hear and to celebrate; the coming of baby Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph in a stable.  It’s the sweet Away in the Manger story of God as a helpless infant.  Now the second, which is no less important (maybe even more), we aren’t always that anxious to talk about is the emphasis of our Advent hymn this evening.  It’s Jesus second coming.  When He comes to judge the living and the dead, as we confess in the creed.  In our rush to celebrate Christmas we usually forget that our Lord is indeed coming again.  

So, let’s take a look at the hymn.  Lo means look, something important is happening.  That’s what we’re going to say when Jesus does return just as He left, in the clouds.  It’s reminds us of the disciples standing up on the hill after Jesus ascended.  They weren’t getting busy and the angel had to give them the swift kick to get started.  “Hey, He’s gone but He’s gonna come back just like He left.  So get busy!”  They said.  It’s the next line that sets the whole hymn in its proper contexts, because it gets right to the cross.  Notice how it sets Jesus death on the cross front and center.  It’s like it says, all that we are going to sing about, we can sing about because Jesus was once for every sinner slain.  If you want to know how to decide if a hymn is really a good one, that’s what you look for.  Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23), and then (just like this one) what that means for you and me.

This hymn beautifully paints the picture of what it means for us.  We’ll be among the thousand thousand rejoicing in the salvation won for us by the coming King, Jesus.  Using the language of St. John’s revelation:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10, ESV)

As they say in the commercial, “I just doesn’t get any better than this.”  That’s what we’ll say to each other on that wonderful day to come.

No Advent hymn would be complete though without describing our need for salvation.  This one does it in verse 2.  At first it would be easy to push what it says away from us and on to those who were responsible for the actual driving of the nails.  But it is fair warning to us, lest we sell out Jesus to the prevailing culture.  We are responsible for nailing Jesus to the cross.  It’s is my sin.  It is your sin that He is pierced for.  That sinfulness is reason enough for to be found deeply wailing.  We don’t deserve to be among the thousand thousand but among the damned.  In fact, we are guilty of selling out Jesus every day.  We go about our busy Christmas schedule only paying lip service to Jesus.  Instead of Jesus born for us to be crucified for us we think of Jesus as a cute story to inspire gift giving, and better relationships (peace on earth) among people.  When Christmas is really about our relationship to God, and what He does to restore it.

That’s where the next verse comes in.  This hymn just won’t let us get away from the cross.  Those dear tokens of his Passion are the wounds in His hands, feet and side.  These are the marks of His crucifixion for our sin.  It is exactly what God had done to redeem us, to set us free from the sin that would condemn us.  You see, without the bleeding and dying that the marks remind us of the Christmas story would be an empty celebration.  Jesus comes as a baby to die, and that’s why the joy.  We are the ransomed worshippers who see those marks as our Salvation.

You might not know it but up here on our altar we have a constant reminder of exactly what this hymn is saying.  You can’t see it but you should know that it’s here.  On this white cloth that covers the surface are five embroidered crosses.  (Some altars have them caved into the surface)  Why do you think there are five of them?  That’s right five wounds: two hands, two feet and the side.  It’s a reminder of those glorious scars.  And even more important that out of those wounds flowed Jesus blood.  Some pictures of the crucifixion have a stream of blood flowing into a chalice.  It’s here on this altar that Jesus gives to us in His very body and blood.  We gather around this table to receive the forgiveness that was purchased by the wounds that we see.  There is no more personal way to receive the ransom of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins that to open your mouth and receive Him there.

The hymn ends where history ends.  Jesus reigning on His eternal throne.  It’s really is the goal of our faith.  When Jesus return sin and death and Satan; pain and trouble and worry; evil and persecution and suffering will all come to an end forever.  Advent is a time when we can look forward to that great time.  And this hymn can help us to say it in an unforgettable way.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

No comments: