IN NOMINE JESU
Today marks the beginning of a new liturgical year, for this day is also the First Sunday in Advent. This penitential and preparatory season usually begins on the Sunday nearest the Commemoration of St. Andrew. This year, they are on the same day. Some liturgical scholars over the years have suggested that St. Andrew is the first to be commemorated in the church year because he was the first apostle called by the Lord. A lot of liturgical purists will likely chastise me for our observance of St. Andrew's Day on the First Sunday in Advent. But, upon closer reflection on the Holy Gospel for St. Andrew's Day, the text of our sermon today, there are similarities that we can draw between this season of Advent and this minor festival, which we will examine more closely in a few moments.
What do we know about St. Andrew? Outside of Scripture, we have precious little concrete historical data on him. We do know that he was a fisherman along with his brother, Simon Peter. Andrew, as well as John, was a disciple of John the Baptizer. Andrew and John left the Baptizer and followed Jesus, whom the forerunner of Christ pointed out to them. Andrew and John were the first of Jesus' disciples. Andrew was occasionally mentioned with Jesus' inner circle of disciples: Peter (his brother), James, and John. Andrew pointed out to Jesus, immediately prior to the feeding of the 5000, that the only food they had were the few loaves and fish that some boy had with him. Andrew, along with Philip, went and told Jesus that some Greeks wanted to see the Lord. Most importantly, we find in Scripture, specifically in our text, that Andrew tells his brother, Simon, that he had seen the Messiah, getting the heart of the one to become known as Peter ready to meet the Lord as He came in the flesh.
The rest of the information we have on Andrew comes from centuries of church tradition. It is believed that he preached in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and in Greece. One tradition states that he was martyred on this date in the year 60 A. D. It is alleged that a pagan ruler demanded that Andrew sacrifice to the gods (all false gods). Andrew refused, and, for his remaining true to his Lord, was crucified on an X-shaped cross, from whence he reportedly proclaimed the Gospel for two days before he finally died. Crucifixion was a slow, painful death, and Andrew's would be no exception. What was unusual about this crucifixion was the cross on which this martyrdom took place. When we think of the cross, we think of the two perpendicular, intersecting beams from which our Lord's body hung. But the cross on which Andrew is to have died had diagonally intersecting beams that looked like a large letter X. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, and this is reflected in the red X on the Scottish flag, and this X can be seen on the union jack, the flag of Great Britain.
But what does Andrew have to do with Advent? What does he have to do with us? Advent is a season of preparation and penitence. In addition to our reflecting upon our sinful nature and our need for a Savior, we prepare ourselves to celebrate once again the first coming of the King who comes to save us. What prepares us? It is the Word of God that prepares us to receive Him who came to us in the flesh. We hear this Word each Lord's Day this Adventide that tells us the Lord is coming as true man. This Word is spoken in your hearing, and by the Holy Spirit we are eager to celebrate His coming. Andrew spoke to his brother and announced that the Lord was near, that he had seen the Messiah. "Yes, Simon, John and I have seen the One whose way John the Baptizer prepared, whom the Prophets foretold. Oh, come, oh, come, Simon, and behold Immanuel, for the Savior of the nations has come." Through Andrew's proclamation, the Holy Spirit moved Simon to behold the Lord, who would call him Peter. So let us, like Peter, be moved by Andrew's proclamation and prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of the Lord.
We have repeatedly shown ourselves, though, to be impatient people. We have allowed the ways of the world to infect our attitudes. In the wide, wide world of retail, the Christmas shopping season began two days ago. Yet many retailers have had their stores decorated with Christmas trees, garland, and other images for weeks. Radio stations are beginning to add Christmas songs, sacred and secular alike, to their rotations. We are already making plans for Christmas Day, from making travel plans to shopping for gifts, from writing and addressing cards to planning the annual dinner. As a result of the practices of the world, we become impatient in the church and upset that we are not singing Christmas carols by now. We fail to remember that the Lord has commanded that, while we are in the world, we are not of the world. The ways of the world are to be left outside, in the world. In the Church, things are different. Here we need to reflect upon and understand why we are in the Advent season, not in the Christmas season. We keep the season of Advent to remind us of why our Lord came into the world in the first place, just as we keep the season of Lent. We do not sing Easter hymns during Lent; neither do we sing Christmas carols during Advent, for doing such is inappropriate, for it would take the focus off our need for these penitential seasons. We need to remember why our Lord came: to save us from our sins. Had man not fallen into, nor had we been conceived and born in, sin, there would be no need for a Savior since there would be no sin. But this is not our reality. We are steeped in sin; we are in bondage to it and cannot free ourselves, and we do not like to think about that. We want to be happy. We do not like to think about our own sinfulness. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but we are not there yet. We have just begun the season of Advent. Andrew had seen the Messiah. The kingdom is near. We need to repent.
The message that Andrew brought to Peter was the result of the message John the Baptizer proclaimed. The Lamb of God has come to take away the sin of the world, the Messiah whom Andrew announced to his brother, the One whose birth we are preparing our hearts to once again celebrate. The time we spend in penitential preparation will find its joyful culmination in a few weeks, when our Alleluias return on Christmas Day. On that day we will sing praises to our God, thanking Him for the love He has shown us, a love so deep that He sent His Son, begotten of the Father from eternity and born of the Virgin Mary in time, into this world for our sake. The One who came in all humility, born in the stable, would grow to be crucified in glory. Yes, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, stricken, smitten, and afflicted upon the cross, our Lord appeared in glory, for there He fulfilled His mission, to atone for the sins of the entire world. The Christ whom Andrew preached is the same Christ whom I preach to you today, that Jesus Christ came into this world and died to take away your sins. This same Christ rose from the dead so that you would have eternal life with Him. The preaching that takes place in your hearing today is apostolic, for it is grounded in the teachings of the Apostles, including St. Andrew, which they received from the Lord Himself. This preaching of the cross is true and sure.
And now, on this Feast of St. Andrew, we are moved by the Holy Spirit to follow Andrew's example. Andrew did not do anything flashy; he simply proclaimed what he witnessed and brought others to Christ. He told Peter that he saw the Messiah, and he brought him to Jesus. This is how faith comes, through the hearing of the Word, as St. Paul writes in our Epistle: "So then faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). We get to tell others that we have by faith seen the Lord as He has come to us today in His Word, bringing others here, that they too would hear the Good News and be saved. While we may not be crucified to an X-shaped cross, we are still blessed with the gift of the Gospel that we get to give to others, and the Holy Spirit gets our hearts (and theirs) ready to receive our coming King. This is the greatest gift we can give, the gift of the Gospel. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving: from the Prophets to John the Baptizer to Andrew to faithful pastors through the ages, and even now from the Lord to me to you to others, that they too would come and see, hear and believe.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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