The Lord Is At Hand, Rejoice!
December 15, 2018
Verse: Philippians 4:5
Christ Lutheran Church
December 16 , 2018
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
The Lord Is At Hand, Rejoice!
Let your forbearance be known to all, the Lord is at hand! Philippians 4:5
Christmas is much more than a celebration of past events!
The Lord's incarnation, death, and resurrection are only past events as far as history is concerned, but for us they are an ever present reality! Not just in our hearts and minds or by an annual celebration. But most especially in this gathering we celebrate each Sunday.
The Jesus we worship is not an hazy, historical figure who is now gone, but the heavenly High Priest who perpetually intercedes for us before the throne of the Father: as we read in St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews 7:25 that "Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us." And again in Romans 8:34 that "Christ Jesus our Lord intercedes for us at the Right Hand of God."
That exalted Jesus is the one whom Christians worship, whose flesh and blood they receive in Holy Communion, and whose kingdom they are in the world and wish to make known to the world. That is our mission, and we are doing it now.
Yes, the Lord’s incarnation, death and resurrection are past events historically speaking, but they are eternally present among us in the church! Our Blessed Savior does not exist "back in the day," but he lives here and now among us; actively presiding over the world, over his church, and over the lives of his faithful people: you are those people! This is why St. Paul can say in today's epistle lesson, "The Lord is at hand." Jesus is that Lord.
When Paul says, "The Lord is at hand," or when today’s Psalm (85) says "the LORD’s salvation is near," they are talking about the very thing we are engaged in at this time: Holy communion with Christ and by implication, then, with the Holy Heavenly Immortal Father and the Spirit of Truth as well.
By baptism we are "delivered from the domain of darkness," and incorporated into the realm of the Thrice Holy Lord. This is why Scripture calls the baptized: Saints! Which means: Holy Ones. Not due to our stellar performance to be sure, for Scripture declares, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." And again, “there is none that is righteous, no not one.”
But by the Lord's Perfection! By his Virgin birth. By his obedience to the will of the Father, his death and resurrection all which were graciously accomplished for us! Done to purge us from our sins and to give us life in a world without end. THAT is the life you want!
Jesus is present now. This is why Christians must never say: Christ WAS born. But rather, in the words of the Byzantine Christmas liturgy, "Christ IS born, glorify him! Christ comes from heaven, go forth to meet him! Christ is on earth, exult!"
The 5th century Saint Leo the Great said it this way, "What was visible in our Redeemer has passed over into the sacraments." This means that all Jesus did during his earthly ministry, his teaching, his miracles, and redeeming sacrifice -- all these remain visibly and tangibly available to us in the mystery of the mass we celebrate at this very time.
What does this mean? It means that our celebration of Christmas must not descend to the level of sticky sentimentality. But rather that we should hear and heed the Versicle from today's epistle to: Rejoice in the Lord always! Which is nothing other than an invitation to the altar. The altar which in holy worship symbolizes the manger of Bethlehem! For it is here that Christ is born among us.
For, you see, when St. Paul declares to the Christians at Philippi that "the Lord is at hand" he is not speaking about the Second Coming, but about the Lord's Supper. Because what people call Paul's epistles were not simply “letters” but rather inspired words of God; written to be read in the church of God, to the people of God during their worship: even as they are still today.
When Paul wrote these words he was serving as the Philippians' voice. Declaring that the bread they were about to eat, and the cup they were about to drink, are in fact the exalted Body and Blood of the Lord.
In so many words he was saying that the Lord was about to commence another feeding miracle in their very presence, even as he does in ours. That as the five loaves and two fish could never be depleted: even so the Lord's body here given is without limit however many hungry souls it feeds, nourishes, cleanses from sin, consoles and impart the power to live a holy life!
Nor does St. Paul leave us wondering what that holy life looks like. What deeds it requires. Here, particularly, he focuses on the forgiveness that Christians must extend to one another. The "forbearance" that is required of those who participate in the Lord's Altar. Or in the words of St. Peter, "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins."
Wherever people live together there is trespass. There is sin, slight, insult, injury, injustice, and wrong-doing. To be married is like two porcupines living in a shoebox, and so it goes with life, so forbearance is required.
First because the Lord who forbears with us teaches us to do the same, and we must never close our ears to him. But also, in order for life to exist on earth. Without forbearance, without getting past the multitude of sins people commit against people daily, the human race would soon vanish in a homicidal rage.
But with forbearance, we can live. With it we can move on and enjoy earthly blessings. But above all we can receive the Lord's pardon for our blacker sins, and know that when he returns we will Rejoice like there is no tomorrow.
And so Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, Rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, the Lord is at hand! Take eat! Take drink! Amen.