The Fourth Sunday of Advent December 23, 2012
2 Samuel 7:1-11,16
66, 65, 89(1, 5), 55(1-2)
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 ESV).
Dear fellow sheep—you who continue to prepare to celebrate the birth of the Good Shepherd and long for His return:
Soon the preparations for Christmas will be at an end since the day—the event itself—will have arrived. The preparations for Jesus’ second coming will continue, perhaps for much longer.
Just as our Savior-God once kept His promise to come to earth the first time to pay the sin-debt that He did not owe, so He will surely also keep His promise to return to gather the faithful to His side at the Resurrection. Today, as we prepare to celebrate the fulfillment of Christ’s first coming, we also rejoice in the confident anticipation of His second promise. Looking back on the keeping of the first promise and forward to the keeping of the second, this is our simple prayer: “Thank you, dear Jesus, for Your first visit. Please come again!”
Our devotion this Sunday before Christmas is based on the Word of God recorded by the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation, chapter 22:
[Jesus said], “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
These are the very words of God—words that God gave us to clarify our thoughts and to increase our understanding and appreciation for all that He has done for us in the past and will most certainly do for us in the future. That our God would so bless us on this, we pray: “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.
During our Advent sermons this season we have been focusing on Jesus as our Good Shepherd—our “Tender Shepherd” in the words of the popular bedtime prayer. Focusing first on the common tools of the shepherd’s trade, we asked our Shepherd to come to us with His rod because we need both protection and correction; we asked him to come with His staff because we need both guidance and rescue; and we asked Him to come as our sacrifice because we had nothing to offer to God as a payment for our sins. Today, we ask of Him one last thing: To come again and to come quickly.
Only that doesn’t seem to fit on such a day as this, does it, since we are only one day away from Christmas Eve? We usually want the good times to last, and Christmas is certainly a very good time. But that’s also part of the problem. We tend to enjoy the special times too much to wish that they would quickly end. It’s the bad days, the hard days, that we want to end. It’s usually only when we are suffering in some way, or maybe in many ways, that we long for our Savior’s immediate return and an end to this life and start of the next.
But that’s exactly why we are doing what we are doing today. That’s why we ask our Savior to come quickly—even just before Christmas—because it gives us a better measure of our own misguided, fickle, human hearts. Whenever we find ourselves hoping that the Lord puts off His return, while not always sinful, it certainly ought to give us pause and cause us to honestly reevaluate. Usually, it means, at best, that we have lost focus and that we just don’t get how spectacular our eternal existence in God’s presence will one day be. At worst, it gives indication that we have developed a divided heart; and it is an indication that we love this world in a way that is contrary to God’s holy will for our lives.
Many of you have heard it before, but it probably bears repeating, that nearly all sin can be simplified to two basic conditions of the human heart: pride and greed. Theft, for example, is born out of both. Sinful pride causes us to believe that we deserve more than God has given us, and greed leaves us with a near insatiable desire for more.
Most often when you and I find ourselves wishing that our Savior would put off His second coming, we can trace it back to simple greed, or pride, or both. In other words, you and I want Heaven, but first we want to squeeze every last bit of pleasure or satisfaction that we can out of this present existence. Understand that there are good and noble reasons for praying that the end might be postponed. Most of us have friends and loved ones who by all appearances have not yet been brought to faith. Some want to bring children into this world and teach them about their Savior so that they too can share Heaven with the rest of the Christian Church. Others find it their greatest, purest joy to be able to carry out Kingdom work in the service of their God and are saddened to think of that earthly service ending.
While motives such as these are not in themselves sinful, most often our reasons are much less noble and far more self-centered. “I’ve worked hard at getting my degree and it would be sad if the end came before I got to march across the stage and get my diploma.” “I am this close to getting that big promotion at work and it would be so sweet to be able to go out on top!” “If Jesus could just wait until after our upcoming wedding…or vacation…or family reunion…or the Super Bowl…”
These are the sorts of things that ought to concern us. These give testament to misguided thoughts and aspirations. They tell me with embarrassing clarity that there is definitely a problem that I need to address. They are evidence of greed, pride, and of a very ungodly love of this present world.
Do you need a more timely, pointed example? How many of you young ones—or not so young ones—want Jesus to return before you got a chance to open your presents?
Yet, just here is where we rediscover a universal truth about life on this earth compared to the life that is to come: While this world always disappoints, the world to come never could and never will.
No matter what you were hoping to get for Christmas, the reality and the aftermath never seem to match the expectation and anticipation. Even when you get exactly what you wanted and pretty much everything that you wanted and more, sooner or later—usually sooner—it breaks, gets old, is lost, or in some way passes into irrelevance. That’s even true with all those folks who evidently give each other a new Lexus or Mercedes for Christmas—which, according to the commercials, happens all the time. Even the six and seven figure gifts eventually lose their shine and appeal.
Compare that with the second coming of our Savior. We are at an obvious disadvantage here in that we lack the experience and imagination to comprehend just how spectacular Heaven will be. In fact, we do ourselves a great disservice by trying to describe or define it in terms that we can even now grasp or understand.
How can we today possibly imagine a joy that does not grow dull with time? Here in time everything grows dull with use and the passing of time. Even the greatest feast loses its luster immediately after you’ve eaten it. How then can we envision anything different? How can we picture an existence in the very presence of God Himself? How can we fathom living without anything negative, ever? How can we know what it will be like to never again know doubt, or sorrow, or dread, or impatience? How can we now know perfection of any kind—even perfection of the human senses, like perfect sound, sight, smell, taste? How can we know what it will be like to exist without fear of any kind—fear of the phone call bearing bad news, fear of the bad report from the doctor, fear of loneliness, heartbreak, or loss? How can we have any concept here in time of what eternity will be like? How can we even picture true, permanent contentment—living blissfully forever in the moment of perfect joy and contentment?
And yet, all of this is precisely why we celebrate Christmas, isn’t it? While we cannot now imagine Heaven with any degree of accuracy, we do recognize that Christmas was the start of the process, the work, that earned for us the perfection that we will one day enjoy.
When you stop to think about it, Christmas is a very strange celebration, isn’t it? Most birthdays we celebrate as the beginning of life for a friend or loved one. Obviously, not so with Jesus. Jesus, God’s Son, was eternal. That means that He had existence long before He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin, Mary.
We confess in the Nicene Creed that Jesus was and is: “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made; being of one substance with the Father—by whom all things were made.” We hear Jesus Himself in the words of our text relate this same truth when He says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” [v.13]
We also routinely celebrate birthdays as the starting point for all the joys of life. Human beings that are never born, never get to enjoy life. Again, not so with Jesus. Jesus wasn’t born for His own pleasure or enjoyment of life. He had to leave the perfection of Heaven when He took on our human nature. Nor did He come to enjoy Himself. He came to serve, suffer, and die.
The fact is we prepare to celebrate this birthday—Christmas—not for Jesus’ sake, but for our own. Again, while we cannot fully comprehend what Heaven will be like, we can and do acknowledge that we would never get to experience that sublime existence had Jesus not come to earth as He did. Without Jesus we would have been left out—part of the “out” crowd in our text: “Outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.” [v.15] In most birthday celebrations the birthday boy or girl gets the presents. At the birth of Jesus Christ— and at every Christmas celebration after—you and I are the ones who receive the Gift.
The truly amazing part of all this is that this is exactly the way Jesus wanted it. In His own words He came “not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for the many” (Matthew 20:28). Even His own birth wasn’t about Him. It was about you and me since it was necessary if you and I were one day to experience the Heaven described by the Apostle John in our text. Our sins had separated us from our God. Worse still, we had no ability to repay or make good the debt that we owed. Jesus came to pay that debt for us which is why it is now and forever true that “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7). Our text describes this cleansing by blood with these words: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” [v.14 ESV]
Let this then be the beating heart of our Christmas celebration: Our Savior has been born! Not only that, He has accomplished the work of our salvation. Let nothing on earth cloud this vision, this single-mindedness in us. When that is indeed the case, then we will always be eager for our Lord’s return. Then too we add our own “Amen!” to the closing words of our text: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” [v.20 ESV] Come quickly! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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