The First Sunday in Advent
“Savior of the Nations, Come” (Lutheran Service Book, Hymn 332)
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Please turn to hymn 332, “Savior of the Nations, Come.”
You’ll notice that things are a little out of order this morning; that is, the sermon has been moved forward and is seated before the singing of the chief hymn. Well, it’s quite suitable for the First Sunday in Advent. This is a season for preparing for and receiving things that are out of sorts. The unlimited divine is found within the limitations of created status. A virgin has a baby without knowing a man. Angels deliver the message of birth, not to royalty, but to filthy shepherds as the first pastors for the manger king. The innocent One pays for the guilty. And there’s so much more. The chief hymn for this morning, attributed to the fourth century Ambrose (with the later help and padding of Martin Luther), it walks us through the entirety of the Christian story with simple, eloquent style. So let’s view the portrait and THEN let’s sing it.
Stanza One. The Church Year begins anew, and in so doing, the believers turn their faces toward the divine future, crying out in faith that God’s ancient promise for a Savior be fulfilled. They’ve cried thus for thousands of years. And little by little, as time has crept along, God masterfully unfolds His plan, each event along the way driving the remnant faithful to call for Him to come, to seek and to find the covenant God, the Savior of the nations, not in the royal palaces or the might of majesty, but in the mundaneness and inconceivable design of human flesh, born of a virgin. Not only will those of flesh and blood bound in this mortal coil marvel at this arrival, but see for yourself that not even heaven can contain itself. The angelic hosts will wonder at this majestic phenomenon of contradiction, breaking through the barrier of time and space to deliver a Gloria in Excelsis to unsuspecting shepherds, a Gloria that has echoed through time to us even today, declaring to them and to us that Gospel message they can barely contain and are yet called to deliver. How can this be that God would work this way?
Savior of the nations come,
Virgin’s Son, make here Your home!
Marvel now, O heav’n and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.
Stanza two. He is to be the most ordinary and yet He is no ordinary child. He is the prototype of God’s image. He is the creative element of the Father’s very voice, present in the fullness of God, even as the Spirit hovered above the waters of the deep, the One who moved and set worlds into being. He is the Word of God made flesh, dwelling among us, the locale for the fullness of God in His great pleasure to dwell. And yet, he is born of a woman, born under the Law, pure and fresh, restoring His world and moving toward that moment for making all things new.
Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh—
Woman’s offspring pure and fresh.
Stanza three. Lowly and undeserving, sweet Mary, a virgin, a maiden betrothed to Joseph. And yet what sensible proof is there that she is not defiled? Her gentle and righteous husband has the mind to show kindness and divorce her in secret. And yet again, heaven cannot contain itself. Gabriel, the privileged creature, must call this adoptive father forth by the Gospel that as the babe’s guardian, he will be the very throne-room, guardian cherub seated at the cradle of the Son of God by keeping Mary as his bride. By the believing heart of faith, the truth is known, even as it is hidden within the safe keepings of Mary’s mortal womb. The way, the truth, and the life is in her womb and is taking shape and growing and preparing for arrival. The ponderance of her heart, indeed, it is the very throne of the living, moving, growing Savior.
Here a maid was found with child,
Yet remained a virgin mild.
In her womb this truth was shown:
God was there upon His throne.
Stanza four. The hero is born, Jesus, the infant born to die. He breaks into this world, retaining and yet veiling His divinity. He 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. And yet here he lays, bloodied and filthy in the mess of human childbirth, fully man, born to take upon himself that which only our hero God can accomplish. This baby, at present in the warm nestles of the virgin’s tired arms, will henceforth die in 33 years. He will live perfectly, being undeserving of His fate and yet will willingly assume the deserving role to rescue that which He created from the bondage of the filth and messiness of sin. This hero’s moving course began with His first, tiny, inhale and exhaled infant cry.
Then stepped forth the Lord of all
From His pure and kingly hall;
God of God, yet fully man,
His heroic course began.
Stanza five. God the Father sends Him forth. He is shown faithful to the Father in the wilderness. He is shown pleasing to His Father at theJordan Riverin His Baptism. He is shown pleasing to His Father at the Mount of Transfiguration. He is shown to be of the Father’s confidence inJerusalemwith the Pharisees. He is shown forsaken by the Father as He cries out in sadness, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And yet in the fullness of this forsakenness, the sacrifice is acceptable and the course is complete. He has made all things new, and now the hero’s course ends with his last cry, His last inhale and exhaled breath onCalvary’s cross. The chains of death cannot hold Him and therefore they have no hold upon those for whom this hero is waging war. He transgresses the boundaries of hell with effortlessness, not as its captive, but as its conqueror, treading through and out of the tomb’s stone door, toward the mount of His ascension, to the assumption of His heavenly throne and crown of victory.
God the Father was His source,
Back to God He ran His course.
Into hell His road went down,
Back then to His throne and crown.
Stanza six. The great confession rings out again, and builds through the ages with intensity and strength; “This is the Christ, the Son of the living God! He is the Father’s Son who brings peace between God and man. By His death, He has destroyed death, making us whole and removing the strangling malice of the devil, the corrupted sinful flesh, and death’s cold tomb. Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? You are abandoned, O ills of flesh and soul. You are bound in the tomb, conquered and left behind in your own demise by the Savior of the Nations who has come.
For You are the Father’s Son
Who in flesh the vict’ry won.
By your mighty pow’r make whole
All our ills of flesh and soul.
Stanza seven. This is our destination this Advent season, so strangely begun in the Matthew 21 text of Palm Sunday. We are beginning our travels to the beside manger by first marching into the Passion of Jesus and finding no other wooden contraptions ever constructed so beautiful or comparable than these two with outstretched frame, the outstretched arms of a manger for cradling the holy babe, the outstretched arms that pull apart, expose, and yet cradle the pierced body of this child hung high above the earth. At both locales, shines forth for us the newborn light of the world, the light of peace between God and man. This glory shines through the darkness of this world’s night. Sin’s darkness of doubt and despair cannot reside there, and so the temple curtain tears, the rocks split, the Lord lifts His voice, and the earth melts; for where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation, the Savior of the nations, the virgin’s son. This is what we believe. This is our song of faith as we travel. This is our hope and destination because this is our faithful hero’s glorious destination.
From the manger newborn light
Shines in glory through the night.
Darkness there no more resides;
In this light faith now abides.
And so we bow our heads and fold our hands and close our eyes and humbly pray together this beautiful word of God put to music in stanza eight, even as we will sing it in just a moment:
Glory to the Father sing,
Glory to the Son, our king,
Glory to the Spirit be
Now and through eternity.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.