Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sermon for Midweek Advent Service I (November 30, 2016)

Following Jesus with the Saints in Advent

“St. Andrew: Come and See the Savior of the Nations”

November 30, 2016


In the season of Advent, there are a number of saints that are commemorated. This year, some of the more significant celebrations fall on or near the Wednesdays when we have our Advent worship.  Therefore, our Advent theme this year is “Following Jesus with the Saints in Advent.”  We will learn a bit about their lives, how they followed Jesus, and why they are significant at this time of year.  By hearing from Holy Scripture and learning about these faithful followers, we can be guided in our own life of discipleship.

Each week, we will also be singing select stanzas from a hymn written by one of those saints, one we’ll hear about next week.  Ambrose – bishop of Milan, Italy in the 4th century – wrote many hymns, and in this one which we sang a few moments ago he sings of the Savior’s miraculous conception … of a virgin, not by human flesh and blood, but by the Holy Spirit.  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14).  Ambrose tells us to “marvel” that the Lord chose such a birth.  Marvel that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God himself, made the Virgin’s womb his home for 9 months.  And when the time had come for Mary’s Son to be born, he entered into this world, the pure and fresh offspring of the woman, the only pure and fresh offspring since Adam and Eve fell into sin, the offspring that came into this world “where death had royal scope and room” to do battle with Satan … to endure temptation … to live perfectly under the Law … to offer up his holy flesh and blood as the sacrifice for the sins of the world … to give you forgiveness and life everlasting … to be the Savior of the Nations … to be YOUR Savior.

But first, we hear about Saint Andrew.  November 30 is St. Andrew’s Day.  Why November 30?  I’m not exactly sure.  I searched for the answer but couldn’t find it.  Some of the reasons for these traditions are simply lost in the past.  Many saints days are celebrated on the day the saint died or was born, but we don’t know those dates for Andrew.

The Sunday closest to St. Andrew’s day is always the first day of Advent.  It’s the start of a new church year.  And a new year is always a time for fresh starts, new anticipations, a renewal of your desire to follow Jesus and live as one of his disciples.  This is appropriate when you consider how dramatically Andrew’s life changed when he encountered Jesus.  Andrew was the first disciple to follow Jesus.  In fact, the Eastern Orthodox churches call him the Protokletos … “the first-called.”  We learn about this later in John chapter 1, the chapter from which we heard earlier (John 1:35-42).  It was the first day of his new life as a devoted follower of Jesus.  So perhaps that’s why he is the first of our saints in the Church Year.  As we begin to follow along with the life of Jesus in the Church Year, it’s appropriate that we begin with the first follower of Jesus … Saint Andrew.

Prior to this, Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist (another Advent character who we’ll hear about the next two Sundays).  Again, in John chapter 1, the Baptizer points his followers to Jesus.  “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), we hear him say as he stands on the banks of the Jordan River.  The next day, he is with two of his disciples, one of whom was Andrew.  Andrew goes after Jesus, and Jesus turns to him and says, “What are you seeking?”  Andrew asks, “Where are you staying?” Jesus says, “Come and you will see.”  Notably, the first thing Andrew does is to introduce someone else to Jesus.  He finds his brother Simon Peter and says, “We have found the Messiah!”  And then, the gospel writes adds, “He brought him to Jesus.”  Andrew, Peter, and all other followers of Jesus found that their lives were changed forever.

Some early Christian writings tell us that after the Ascension of Jesus, Andrew travelled to Scythia, which would be Ukraine and south western Russia today.  Upon his return south, it is said that he was arrested in Greece and was crucified on an X-shaped cross like the picture on the cover of our service folder.  One tradition says that this was at his own request, because he did not feel worthy to be crucified the same way his Lord died, similar to his brother Simon Peter who requested he be crucified upside down.  Followers of Jesus will follow in his footsteps of suffering, too.  In his first epistle, Peter writes, “For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter. 2:21).  Paul in Romans 3 says that “we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 3:17).  And Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you … If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18-19).

This may sound out of place in Advent.  Advent is supposed to be a season of anticipation and expectation.  A season of joy and hope, of light and peace.  But just when you expected to hear about angels and Joseph and Mary and Wise Men, you hear about the Triumphal Entry of Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on the way to his brutal suffering and death.  Then you hear about Andrew and his call to discipleship.  Then the next two Sundays are all about John the Baptist.  Both Andrew and John died martyr’s deaths.  Even after Christmas, after we have just heard the tender story of the Christ Child lying in a manger, we soon hear the story of King Herod slaughtering the innocents of Bethlehem.

All this to say that our life is shaped by the cross of Christ in more than one way.  Yes, we are shaped by the cross in the way that we are united to Christ’s death and resurrection in Holy Baptism.  But we are also shaped by the cross in the way that we will suffer as his followers.  We don’t do anyone any favors by telling them that their life will be so much happier and successful and free from trouble if they will only follow Jesus.  It could turn out to be just the opposite.

Andrew’s encounter with Jesus reminds us that when the time had fully come, Jesus arrived on the scene.  There was much anticipation and expectation associated with the promise first given to Adam and Eve, that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head.  The long-awaited Messiah was born in Bethlehem in Judea, born to be the Savior of the Nations.  But for about 30 years, he lived in obscurity in Nazareth in Galilee until it was time for his public ministry to begin, calling disciples to follow him all the way to the cross and the empty tomb.  And through his suffering and death, Jesus did crush the serpent’s head, earning forgiveness and everlasting life for all who would trust in him, and proved his victory over sin, death, and hell by rising to life again.

Jesus is the Savior of the Nations.  He is your Savior.  And because he is your Savior, you can bring people to the Savior and introduce them to the Savior, just like Andrew did with his brother Peter.  “He brought him to Jesus.”  How can you bring someone to Jesus?  Bring them to the place where Jesus has promised to be present.  Wherever two or three are gathered in his name, there he is among them.  Wherever bread and wine are offered with the Word of Christ, there Jesus is truly present with his body and blood.  And wherever Jesus is present, there he also offers his gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Evangelism at home and mission work abroad is as simple as that.  Bring people to the Word so they can meet the Word made flesh and come to know him as Savior of the Nations … as their Savior.  The Savior who forgives their sin.  The Savior who strengthens them in suffering.  The Savior who saves them for life everlasting.


No comments: