Advent in August
Christmas in July is usually a retailing ploy. Advent in August can be a way to look at Christmas themes without the holiday spirit' small s'.
So we start with the preaching of John the Baptist. Prepare for the Son of Man's coming. In the last verse of our text Jesus says, "You also must be ready because the Son of Man will come" The phrase "be ready" is the noun form of the verb John used when he preached, "Make ready the way of the Lord."
And just how are we to make ready for the coming of Jesus? Doesn't Jesus tell us in the opening sentences of this text? He uses 3 imperatives. "You must sell your possessions." "You must give to the poor." "You must make purses in heaven." Those who take vows of poverty for religious reasons love these verses. Pietists of every stripe do too. The poor in general though they don't sell anything like them as well. So do youthful idealists. So does everyone who wants to be able to do something for their salvation, but what Jesus is talking about is what comes from being saved.
Isn't that the first verse of our text, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom?" Well if you own the kingdom of God what need have you of possessions particularly if you translate this as "sell all that possesses you." Yes, by all means if your possessions own you, sell them. Just as if your right hand would keep you out of the kingdom it would be better to cut it off, so if your possessions prevent you from owning the gift of the kingdom sell them.
What about giving to the poor? It doesn't say "poor" here. It says literally "give alms." Now that can be giving to the poor or to charity in general. It's the word that is important. Luke only uses it twice. Here and the chapter before, and the first use proves my point. Jesus says, "But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you." Give up all that possesses you: your opinions, your wants, your needs, your very self and possess instead or be possessed by the kingdom God has been pleased to give you.
Advent is the time when the coming Lord looms larger and larger until all that is Him eclipses all that is you. Advent, even in August, is the time when the here and now that can be so pressing, so fearful, so important is swallowed up by the hereafter. Advent is the time to prepare for the coming of the King and His Kingdom and the reality is any treasure outside of that King or His kingdom can only be stolen from you or decay with the dying world around you.
Advent is the time to stop being afraid of the world around you. This seems counterintuitive because John announced the Advent of our King and His kingdom by preaching a Baptism of repentance. He called people to show their repentance by what they did, and promised the fires of judgment would devour the impenitent, but in the midst of bringing the sins of people down upon their heads, he cried out, "Look, there is the Lamb of God carrying away the sins of the world."
Jesus does a similar thing here. In the verse before our out text Jesus says, "Seek the kingdom of God and all the things needed for earthly life will be given to you." That raises the question "who seeks God's kingdom enough?" The answer is, "No one." And that in turn puts you on a never-ending quest for the kingdom. But then the first verse of our text says, "Do not be afraid; your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom."
Buffalo Springfield was right. Paranoia does strike deep and into your life it creeps, and it starts when you're always afraid. So the ringing cry of Advent in August is stop being afraid. The form of this Greek sentence means that Jesus is forbidding something that is going on to continue. Carte blanche Jesus says, "Stop being afraid." Are you afraid of the future? Stop it. Are you afraid of past sins? Stop it. Are you afraid of who will be elected president? Stop it. Are you afraid of what will happen to your kids, your health, death, dying, living, crying? Stop it.
Chesterton said something like: The Star of Bethlehem swallowed up all that the wise men thought they knew about stars. Advent announces the coming of a kingdom which swallows up all that you fear about earthly kingdoms. "Look," Jesus says, "Your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." You don't need to buy it. Jesus has already bought it for you with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. You don't need to suffer for it. Jesus has suffered an eternity in hell just so the Father can gladly place the kingdom into your trembling hands.
You know how the imperatives to sell, give, and make immediately start you sifting through all that is you? You can use those words as a straight preaching of the Law so sharply that anything you own things, bank accounts, house, land, etc. can burn in a hole in your pocket right into your skin. That's not how I used it. I used it to show you how if your possessions have you get rid of them because you have something better. However, if you can't hear sell, give, and make any other way than law that can only convict you, then at least hear the rest of the Advent in August preaching.
It can't be up to your efforts to store up treasure in the kingdom of heaven when Jesus says the Father gladly wants to give you the whole thing. And you're not waiting for an ogre, a tyrant, or a slave master to bring you the Father's kingdom. You're not waiting for Jacob Marley or the Spirit of Christmas Future to rub your face in the carpet you have peed on with your sins. You're waiting for a Lord, your Lord. The word the insert translates "master" is really Lord.
And look where He is returning from? A wedding feast! Not a funeral. Not a day in court. Not a day of backbreaking work. Not from a day where everything that could go wrong did. No, the Lord who is bringing the kingdom that His Father is pleased to give is coming back from a wedding feast. How many of you have ever come home from a wedding feast in an ugly mood? Stop being afraid that your Lord returning with the Father's kingdom is coming to you with malice, anger, or even judgment in His heart for you.
You hear this passage with too many ifs.' If I sell this, give that, and make this; if I dress right, if I got the lamps burning, and if I immediately open the door, I'll be fine. But Jesus comes with a kingdom the Father is just bursting to give you and the Spirit with which He returns is that of a man coming from a wedding feast, AND He is coming to serve you. Are you afraid of maitre d'? How about a server in the fanciest restaurant ever? Do you tremble as you walk through a restaurant door?
The question Advent in August puts before us is where is your treasure? And Jesus says you answer that by asking another question. Where is your heart? Is your heart on the things of this world or on the world without end? Is your heart in fear of what happens in and to earthly kingdoms or is your heart welcoming the kingdom the Father gladly gives in Jesus' name? Is your heart waiting for an angry master to judge you and press you into service or for a Lord coming from a feast who wants to serve you?
The real thing to do in Advent in August is to open your Christmas presents. I know; many a kid has ruined his Christmas by opening his presents early, but really no matter when Advent is, the only way for the Gospel to have its way with you is to open your presents early.
Your, gift the kingdom without end, which no one can ever take away from you; which the moths of sin, death, or devil can't destroy, was given in eternity. That's the force of Jesus saying the Father "has been pleased." Rather than thinking of your salvation as being up in the air think of it like a gift that you can't wait to give to a kid, grandkid, or spouse. If you have sacrificed and saved for a special gift, you just can't wait to give it. The Father sacrificed His only beloved Son, putting Him through hell, saving all His loving for you, and He just can't wait to give this gift and to see you open it. He has been waiting for an eternity.
But I know you. You're Advent people and preparation is your song. Well you have been dressed and ready for service to your Lord ever since your Baptism. Isn't that what Paul says? "As many of you who have been Baptized you have been clothed by Christ." Doesn't He say in Ephesians that He has cleansed you by the washing of water with the Word so that you might be without spot or wrinkle, holy and blameless. In your Baptism you're fully prepared for serving the Lord on His way from the wedding feast with your present, the Father's kingdom, in His hand.
The rub is that when He does return. When Advent gives way to Christmas, when the First Coming of Jesus culminates in His Second, Jesus will serve you. And Jesus doesn't just say that He describes it in detail. God the Son "will dress Himself to serve, will have you recline at table, and will come and wait on you." Yes, I will have forgiveness, with a side of life, and salvation for dessert, please, and put it in on Jesus' tab.
You know this service of Jesus is already going on? It's been going on constantly, literally every day, since the night Jesus was betrayed. Remember on that night He dressed Himself and served the disciples by washing their feet, and then instituting the Lord's Supper. It's not me who serves you at this Table. It's Jesus. And the Food and Drink He gives you is the very Medicine of Immortality because it is His Body and Blood that was once given and shed on the cross. The Body and Blood of God is so powerful that no sin can stand before them. The Body and Blood of God is so full of life that that the moths of this world can't destroy them. The Body and Blood of God are so powerful there is no sinner they can't save.
Advent, not just before Christmas anymore. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (20160807); Luke 12: 32-40