Say Amen to the 3 Comings of Christ
Today we restore the amen' to the communicants. Our Page 15 service never had one, but it does suggest communicants may say it after the pastor gives them the Body and gives them the Blood. The 1982 Lutheran Worship and now the 2006 Lutheran Service Book put one at the dismissal, and it belongs there. The pastor says, "May this Body and this Blood strengthen and preserve you in the true faith unto life everlasting. Depart in peace." And the communicants respond, "Amen!" "Amen" means, "Yes, yes, it shall be so," or as you learned in confirmation it means, "This is most certainly true."
"Amen" is a fitting response to the pastor's expressed hope that the Body and Blood of Jesus you just partook of would strengthen and preserve you. And Advent is a fitting time to begin saying it because "Amen" is the particular cry of Advent. "The last words spoken by our Lord in the Bible are, "Behold, I am coming soon," and how does the Church respond? "Amen, Come Lord Jesus." Yes, Advent is the time where we focus on the coming of Jesus, and amen' is the proper response to all 3 of His comings.
Say amen' to His first coming. Say "this is most certainly true" that God the Son came into our time and space. His crossing from heaven to earth is as historical as Caesar crossing the Rubicon; Hannibal crossing the Alps; or Washington crossing the Potomac. As you can track your physical descent from parents, to grandparents, to great-grandparents and beyond, so Matthew can trace Jesus' physical descent to Abraham and Luke all the way to Adam. The first coming of Jesus is not a legend, not a myth, not a pious belief. It's historical fact. He was born of Mary in Bethlehem at the time of the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
Say "amen" to Jesus first coming. Say, "It is most certainly true," that He came the first time, humble, lowly, to fulfill the Law that always accuses me and to pay my debt of sin. Luke, the historian, dates the beginning of His ministry the way historians of his day dated things: in association with the reigns of Roman officials. At a public place in time and space God the Son was put under all God's Laws by being circumcised. Thirty years later, again in a public space at a definite time, Jesus accepted all the sins of the world as His own by being baptized by John the Baptist. Finally, under a historical Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who can be looked up in secular history, Jesus was crucified, suffered, and died. Say amen' to that!
"Amen" we say to the first coming of Jesus because nothing has been the same for sinners since. It's like George Strait's song "If it wasn't for Texas" where he sings about all the ways life has been impacted by Texas. Well if it wasn't for Jesus' first coming there'd be no hope, no salvation, no forgiveness for sinners. Years wouldn't be A.D. "in the year of our Lord." They'd be dated as they use to be: from the founding of the last great city. If it wasn't for Jesus, we would live these years under the Law telling us how far short of God's glory we are and with weight of our own sins sinking us into certain hell. But Jesus did come the first time to redeem us, to rescue us from all this, and we say, "Amen."
Say amen' to the first coming and say amen' to the Second Coming of Jesus. This time He comes not in humility to suffer and die, but in power and might to judge the quick and the dead. The first time Jesus came to gather all people under His cross. The second time Jesus comes to separate: sheep from goats, wheat from tares, grain from chaff, those going to heaven from those going to hell.
As the Gospel readings for this week and next week warn, there is no salvation by descent or proximity. Can you say amen' to that? Being born of Christian parents is no guarantee you're a sheep and not a goat. Growing up in Christian home is no promise that you're a wheat and not a tare. Being from Lutheran stock as far back as Luther is no assurance that you're grain heading for the barn and not chaff heading for the fire. As there is no salvation by descent, so there is no salvation by proximity. Because you work side by side with a devout Christian that doesn't mean you will be taken with him or her to heaven. No one will be taken and the other left. To all outside observation, there is no difference. At His Second Coming Jesus will show there is a huge difference.
Can you say amen' to that? Can you say it is most certainly true that I am waiting for Jesus to judge the living and the dead particularly when He promises, "You do not know what day your Lord will come," and that He comes, "at an hour when you do not expect Him?" Can you say amen' to keeping watch like Noah did for 120 years? Can you say amen' to looking for Jesus as you would a thief in the night? How can we? Do you like to be startled? Do you like to be shocked? Do you like to be stunned, dazed, shaken, traumatized?
You can only say amen' to the Second Coming of Jesus if you know you have an Ark to ride out the coming tidal wave of judgment, if you know you're the guy in the field or the gal in the kitchen who's going to be taken. You can only say amen' to the return of Jesus if He comes for you the way He came for the thief on the cross and not as a thief in the night. However, be certain of this if you are like the people of Noah's day you have no Ark, you will be left, and Jesus comes as thief for you. The people of Noah's day said amen' to more life in this world to more eating, more drinking, more marrying. And though Noah warned them for 120 years about the coming judgment, Jesus says, "They knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all way."
How could this be? How could they be so ignorant of the coming flood in the face of the giant boat being built before them? Because they didn't say amen' to the Lord who was coming among them in the sermons that Noah preached. Yes, there's a third coming of your Lord. The first coming was Jesus taking on flesh and blood in the Virgin Mary. The Second Coming is His returning to judge. The third coming is His coming to earth today as He has come from Adam and Eve on: in Word and Sacraments.
This is a real, tangible, touchable coming. It's rooted in our time and space. It's a historical, objective coming no less than the first one was and the second one will be. Touch the Waters of Baptism and you touch Jesus because everyone who is baptized puts on Jesus says St. Paul. Hearing these words in your ears, you hear the lips of Jesus speaking for He said, "the one who hears My pastors hears Me." Eat this Bread and drink this Wine and you eat the Body of Jesus and drink His Blood. Say amen' to touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, and seeing your Lord and God as He comes to earth today.
What needs to be emphasized is that Jesus' third coming in Word and Sacraments is indeed in time and space, external to you and not only internal, in the realm of the Spirit. Most Christians think of the Lord coming spiritually, subjectively, inwardly. Jesus needs to be born inside you. Even our own Advent hymns can give this picture. Our opening hymn said, "Enter now my waiting heartDwell in me and never depart." Our sermon hymn sang, "Still He comes with-in us." Our distribution hymn says, "Redeemer, come! I open wide my heart to Thee; here Lord abide! Let me Thine inner presence feel."
It is most certainly true that we can and do say amen' to an internal faith being necessary for the right use of Word and Sacrament. Faith receives the blessing that the Word of God attaches to visible, touchable, elements existing in space and time. But Jesus enters your waiting heart as He comes in baptismal waters that touch your body. Jesus comes to you through real words spoken from mouths that create waves of sound to vibrate your eardrums. And the Lord does abide in our physical bodies in a physical way through His physical Body and Blood that we eat and drink.
If you don't say amen' to the Lord coming to you today in Word and Sacraments, you will get lost in the secular Christmas spirit which is all about good feelings between people or warm feelings of hearth and home. Either you will have those good feelings for people, hearth, and home and conclude you do have the real Spirit of Christmas. Or you will not have those good feelings for people, hearth, and home and you will conclude you don't have the Christmas Spirit.. In either case, you would be wrong.
The Spirit of Christmas is not a feeling. It's a Person, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. You get this Spirit through the three gifts the Lord Jesus left you: Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion. You know you have the real Spirit of Christmas when you are in your baptismal waters; when the Words of forgiveness are ringing in your ears; when you're eating and drinking the Body and Blood of the Jesus who came the first time to redeem you and will return a second to bring you home.
It's the Third Coming, in Word and Sacraments, that ties the other two together. The only way two millennia later for you to touch, taste, handle, smell, and hear the Jesus who came the first time is by the Word and Sacraments He left. The only way to prepare for His Second Coming is to meet Him regularly where He has promised to be for you: in your Baptism, Absolution and Communion. In these He covers your sins, forgives your sins, washes away your sins, and strengthens and preserves you in the true faith. And to this we can and do say, "Amen!" Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Advent (20071202); Matthew 24:37-44