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Psalm 102

 

Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you! Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call! For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace. My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread. Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh. I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop. All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse. For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink, because of your indignation and anger; for you have taken me up and thrown me down. My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass. But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come. For your servants hold her stones dear and have pity on her dust. Nations will fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. For the LORD builds up Zion; he appears in his glory; he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer. Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD: that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the LORD looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD, and in Jerusalem his praise, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the LORD. He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days. "O my God," I say, "take me not away in the midst of my days - you whose years endure throughout all generations!" Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end. The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you. (ESV)

Christmas Preparation All Done

Friday of Advent 1

5 December 2014

If Christ is our salvation, then we cannot save ourselves. If Christ is our salvation, then our works cannot save us. The source and cause of our salvation is none other than the Seed who was promised to Abraham of old: "In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gn 22:18). The blessing comes in and through Him, not through our own efforts and exertions. Of course, we Lutheran people have had this truth drummed into our heads and hearts by our faithful catechesis. But this is a truth which we must relearn every day. It is not so easily planted on the beachhead occupied by old Adam. Take our present season; Advent is good and well advanced, and what are we doing? We are scurrying around to buy the perfect gift for Aunt Margaret (otherwise there will be "hell to pay"), making six dozen of our most delicious Christmas cookies for the cookie exchange at work (complete with red and green sprinkles), planning the perfect menu for the feast of Christmas day, and cleaning our home so not a speck of dust would be seen by our house guests. We are asking and answering the question, "What must I do to be ready for Christmas?" The answer is ugly. Look at what you are doing. Here is the rub: you are doing.

 

As important as this preparatory work is, it is not the preparation which John the Baptist and Jesus recommend to the children of God. We are to repent, believe the gospel, and then give forth the fruits of repentance. Repentance is an admission that we can do nothing to receive rightly the Savior and that what we have done has made a thorough hash of things. "Look what I have done....O God, look what I have done. I am sorry." Our doing hasn't worked out very well. The tendency of even the most well-grounded Lutheran folks is toward their work of getting ready. This kind of getting ready actually gets in the way.

 

The true Advent preparation is a getting ready to receive, not a getting ready to do. The "to do" is already done. Only those in need receive. The doing is all done by the God who comes to distribute gifts to us sinners. Christ came born of the Virgin Mary precisely to be the gift for those who have no righteousness of their own and thus may only receive a gift. Repentance is the agonized admission of a doing of nothing, and a joyous confession of doing nothing. We have failed, but God has not failed to save us in the Seed of the woman, the Seed promised to Abraham. He does all the doing. We get all the receiving. Any attempt to undo this gospel way of God means that we will be guilty of intruding our own works and efforts into the gracious work of God in Christ. Moses is perfectly clear that all people will be blessed by the Seed of Abraham. He does not say, "the Seed plus your effort, or your works, or your whatever."  The promise is for you. The Seed is for you. He is a gift. We trust Him. He has saved us. Not we ourselves. The Christmas preparation is all done.

 

Martin Luther

 

"Likewise here (Gn 22:18) the nature of faith is described which is certainly to believe that we are not blessed through ourselves, but through Christ who is our blessing. Therefore we bless ourselves and say that we are those to whom that blessing applies, because it is faith which receives the blessing.

 

"To this confirmation we can add a refutation of the adversaries about righteousness by works. For works are not the blessing through the Seed of Abraham. It is manifest that such works are idolatry and a curse when it is presumed that righteousness or the blessing come through works.

 

"This is the head of our doctrine: to affirm righteousness comes by faith alone, and to refute the idolatry of the Pope. The corollary follows that whatever the papists babble about faith and good works is not understood even by the papists themselves. In the first place, it is reprehensible that they teach doubt, and they set forth a form of righteousness without the substance of it, which is trust. We, however, often preach faith in such a way that we assert that it is a trust and certainty by which we ought to be certain and persuaded that we are blessed through the Seed of Abraham."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 22.18
 
Prayer

Lord Jesus, send Your Holy Spirit to us that He would lead us to prepare rightly for the season of the incarnation. Keep us from being so bogged down by the preparations for the season that we forget to prepare for the reason. Call us to repentance that we might admit our need and fill our need with Your gifts. Amen.

 

For all church workers who are preparing to lead God's people in song and word into the adoration of the Christ who was born for us, that they would be supported by their congregations in these busy days

 

For the family of Rachel Hunt, that the Lord God would grant them strength and confidence in His gracious care as they prepare for a funeral

 

For Memorial Lutheran Church, her people and her leaders, that they would look forward with joy and thanksgiving to receive Word and Sacrament on the Lord's Day 
Art: Annunciation Schnorr Von Carolsfeld, Julius (1818)

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Memorial Lutheran Church | 5800 Westheimer Rd. | Houston | TX | 77057