Sermon for Advent 1
December 3, 2017
Looking Back With Anticipation
The change in the Church Year always makes a subtle move from the anticipated coming of our Lord in the fulfillment of all things to the anticipated coming of our Lord in time for salvation. It is even more subtle as we understand the first as the culmination of the latter, where the coming of Jesus as Bridegroom, as we read last week, is just the continuation or completion of His promised coming as the baby in Bethlehem. It is the culmination of our salvation that we see begun in time when Christ was born and hear of in time past as it was foretold since even in the Garden and as Paul tells us even before time began (Eph 1:4). Today we begin a new year with anticipation of the things to come; opportunities yet to be realized; dreams yet to be fulfilled; anticipations to be met. We do so, because we look back with anticipation to the things already done as evidence of the Lord’s faithfulness before time and in time. And we can be sure in our hope that God is faithful to sustain us to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is not such a great shift as we might imagine as we move from one Church year to the next and our anticipation of the coming of our Lord in judgment shifts to the anticipation of the coming of our Lord in humility, for in both, it is our King that we seek and our salvation that is the result. It is the same kind of confidence and hope that allowed a few men gathered in New York back around 1957 to contemplate the possibilities of a mission congregation in southern Maine. It is with the boldness of knowing that God’s plan of salvation has been set forth and that they themselves were secure in it. It was the perfect consequence of having one’s eternity already secure. There was no risk to themselves or to those they represented; only opportunity in sharing their anticipation and hope in the King that had come and would yet come.
They chose South Portland as a likely spot because it had fewer churches than Portland, a good economy, and a growing population and they sent men to canvass the neighborhoods as forerunners to let the people know that a new church was coming and that with it would come the Savior. A bold statement to be sure. Then soon afterwards, in 1959, would be sent a mission pastor and his wife. They would arrive in humility, without a home to call their own and without a congregation or even a place to meet. But they brought with them all the anticipation that things were in the Lord’s hands; their temporal and eternal care and the care of any congregation that would form. The Rev. L. Frank Bunn was his name and we remember him because it is he that led the first service of Word and Sacrament in a rented space in 1960 and for several years would point to the Son of David riding into the Holy City on a humble donkey that He might suffer and die for their sins and ours.
He along with each of Redeemer’s succeeding pastors, the Revs. Roberts, Kraus, Wismar, Dutzmann, Balfour, and now myself, including the several that have served in vacancies and during vacations (Rev. B. Balfour, Ravell, Fischer, Gruel) – each have had the privilege of heralding the arrival of the Lord each Sunday as He comes still in humble Word and Sacrament to those gathered in anticipation of hearing and receiving the forgiveness of their sins and the hope of the King’s coming once again.
All those spectators and the crowds shouting their Hosannas as our Lord rode into Jerusalem were wanting a glorious kingdom and glorious king that they could place upon a throne. They desired all the splendor and extravagance that a Jewish monarchy could muster and they desired freedom from foreign rule. Yet what they received was a man that rides into the capitol on a little donkey and would soon die as a criminal before man and as the sinner before God. They had high hopes but they were not looking back with anticipation. They were not looking to the words and the deeds of the Lord in history nor were they listening to what Jesus had been saying about His suffering and death. Had they been looking back with anticipation, they could have looked forward optimistic joy and hope in anticipation of the greater liberation from sin, death, and devil.
Redeemer Lutheran Church has had its high points and its low points, times of great joy and times of sorrow. It’s celebrations and mournings have gone unnoticed by most of the world and as we look around, we can agree that we are rather insignificant in this vast world where even a good portion of this town doesn’t even notice our building as they drive past. Yet in this humble place comes a King born up on the lips of preachers and on the hands of servers for the salvation of you who anticipate His continual coming in lowliness and humility. As His glory is hidden in mere earthly elements, so too is His glorious salvation born up in simple congregations such as Redeemer. Even here, the King of glory comes for our salvation, riding upon the waves of water in Baptism, humbly presented from the lips of sinners, and received into the mouths of ordinary believers.
We don’t celebrate fifty-five years as a congregation because we have a cathedral, crystal or otherwise. We don’t mark this day because our numbers have swelled to encompass the entirety of a shopping mall. Nor do we remember our anniversary because we are the most respected or most noticed in our community. We gather in joy because for fifty-five years, our Lord has humbly come into our midst bringing and bestowing salvation to the sinners that gather singing Hosannas and looking back in anticipation on all our Lord has done in His coming to us.
It has now been sixty years since those men deliberated in New York and put a pin on the map in our region. They were emboldened by the same Jesus that boldly made His way into Jerusalem to face death without fear. This Jesus emboldens us as well, that we may look to the future as we anticipate the past and transition from one year to the next always looking for His coming and knowing where to find it. Being secure and confident that when God does rend the heavens and judgment falls upon the earth we shall be saved, we know that we have only opportunities before us. We have a vast array of opportunities; as many as there are ideas among you for bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to new people and new communities just it was brought to us.
Today we look back with anticipation of what shall be.