The coming of Advent looks forward to the coming of Christ in the future. At that time He will join our bodies and souls together in resurrection. Then He will take His holy, forgiven people to live forever with Him in heaven. Advent truly looks to the future coming of Christ, but that is not all there is to Advent.
Advent lives in the present - in the faith that Christ comes to us now. He comes as we read and hear His Words, as we receive the water and the Word in Baptism, and as we eat and drink His body and blood at the altar. Advent includes the present coming of Christ, but that is not all there is to Advent.
Advent is also a fact of history. Jesus has already come. We call that the incarnation.
Incarnation literally means making into flesh or taking on the flesh. In Christianity, we use the word Incarnation when we talk about God taking on human nature including human flesh and blood. Without God coming in the flesh - without the incarnation, all the other comings of God would do us no good. Without the incarnation, there would be no suffering and death on the cross for our salvation - no resurrection - no baptism - no body and blood at the altar. Basically, without the incarnation, the entire Christian faith would be pointless.
The incarnation is a fact of history, but it has timeless effects. [Galatians 4:4-5] When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. God sent His Son into time so that believers of all time might receive eternal adoption into God's family. The faith of both Old Testament saints and New Testament saints focuses on the incarnation of the Son of God. So it is truly "good, right, and salutary" that we contemplate God in His incarnation this Advent.
Without the incarnation, the prophet Isaiah could not pray the prayer that we read a few minutes ago. Look at the opening words of our reading this evening: Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down. This is an utterly insane thing to pray without a hope in the incarnation. Without the saving work of the incarnation, God can only come down to judge, condemn, and punish. Without the incarnation of the Son of God, Isaiah's words are absolute foolishness. One might even say his words are suicidal.
As Isaiah continues this prayer, he describes the nature of God. God makes mountains shake. He kindles consuming fires. The nations tremble in God's presence. God acts on behalf of those who wait on Him. [He] meet[s] him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember [Him] in [His] ways.
This all sounds like pretty good stuff until Isaiah describes us. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. Isaiah's prophecies contain no false optimism concerning the human condition. We have no redeeming qualities - no righteousness. According to God's law, we are a pollution worse than any smog or hazardous waste.
Given the nature of God and the nature of man, our sin should make us into the target of God's wrath. We would have to be nuts to ask God to rend the heavens and come down. We would not be among the righteous that God helps, but among the enemy that trembles in fear. We would be inviting God to come and condemn us. Without the incarnation, it would be better for God to stay where He is.
Without the incarnation, Isaiah's prayer is not only insane, but it is also incredibly arrogant. Isaiah calls God his Father. How is that possible? How can the Lord who hates sin be true Father to the polluted?
The world would have us believe that the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man is some sort of automatic thing. The world insists that it makes no difference how you live, what you believe, whether you worship, or whom you worship. The world says, "God is a god of love; so of course, he's your Father!"
Never the less, even the world's own news headlines show that this is a lie. We cannot even get along with each other. There are always wars, terrorism, and crime. If we cannot even get along with each other, what makes us think we can get along with a holy and just God? In our arrogance, we deceive ourselves and that self-deception is dangerous.
The only safe way for us to have any transaction with God is for God to come to us and that is what the incarnation is all about. It is in the incarnation that the Son of Man and the son of God are one and the same person.
It is when Gabriel, the messenger of God comes down to tell Mary that she is to be the mother of God, that the incarnation begins. The Lord Almighty, who created man in his image, was now a microscopic carbon-based life form inside of her! Think of it - the God of heaven and earth comes to us as a single egg that has become fertile by the power of the Holy Spirit. Here is the beginning of the incarnation of God.
Isaiah prayed for God to rend the heavens and come down. God did just that, but He did it quietly, so still and softly, to a maiden. We didn't see him rend the heavens and come down until God the Son was already laid in the manger. Only then did the heavenly hosts make the announcement and even then, it was to humble shepherds.
We didn't see the triune God rend the heavens and open to us like a flower until Jesus was already in the Jordan, standing in our sins. Although He never sinned, He became as one who is unclean - whose righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. He was baptized into our iniquities.
We didn't see him rend the heavens and Jesus transfigured and shining like the sun until the Law and the Prophets were already witness to his exodus on the cross. He rent the heavens and came down. All the way down to Mary's womb - human, true man. All the way down into the Jordan - the sin-bearer. All the way down from Bethany on the colt and up into Jerusalem to die. All the way down onto a cross a sinner, lifted up as sin itself, like a polluted garment. This Christ poured himself out, making himself nothing, like clay for the potter.
Jesus yielded up his Spirit, to rend the temple veil in two from top to bottom, and to quake the earth and rend the rocks, that the mountains might shake before his tortured face. Jesus, the true child of the Father, prayed Isaiah's prayer as a sinner - in our place, so that we could pray and call God our Father!
This is the incarnation that makes it all possible. This incarnation empowers the resurrection - both Christ's and ours. It empowers the ever present coming of Jesus in Word and sacrament. It empowers the future coming of Jesus to take us, body and soul, into eternal joy. It is this incarnation that makes Isaiah's prayer possible. Isaiah's words are no longer arrogant, self-deceptive, or dangerous. Instead, they are a confident confession that looks forward to the salvation of God incarnate - the salvation of God in the flesh. Amen
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