Advent means “coming”. The Word of God teaches us that the coming of Jesus, can be thought of as happening at three times. In other words, the coming of Jesus can be expressed in three tenses:
1. in the past, Jesus came as foretold by the prophets, born of a virgin in Bethlehem.
2. in the present, Jesus comes to us as He promised, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)
3. in the future, Jesus will come with glory to judge the living and the dead.
How should we expect to see Jesus coming to us now, in the present? That question came up for me this weekend at Christmas at Luther. Performers and audience joined in singing Marty Haugen’s “Carol at the Manger”, the first verse of which concludes with the words, “teach us now where you are found.”
Jesus taught his disciples to find him in their midst (Matthew 18:20) when they hear and believe His Word (John 14:23, 15:5 & 7) and when they receive His body and blood (Matthew 26:26 & 28). As we observe Advent, we can gain great comfort from these promises: Jesus still comes to us in His Church, in His Word, in the Holy Communion of His body and blood.
The song, “Carol at the Manger”, does not mention these promises of Jesus. It says instead:
Holy Child within the manger, lead us ever in your way,
so we see in ev’ry stranger how you come to us today.
In Matthew 25:31-40 Jesus tells that when He comes again in glory, believers will learn that He has noticed the good works they had done in their lives and, surprisingly, He considers that these good works were done directly for Him. Therefore, it could be drawn from this that when we help out a stranger, we are with the Lord Jesus. Many Christian teachers build on this explanation as an exhortation for Christian charity and works of mercy. Mother Theresa was quoted in Time magazine as saying, “Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and in the smile that we receive."
Such exhortation is what Lutherans have called the Third Use of the Law, that is, the Law of God guiding believers to do those things pleasing to Him. It is definitely necessary for Christians to be reminded to have mercy on the poor, to welcome strangers and to help out those in need.
There is cause for concern, however, in this noticeable trend in Christianity to direct people to seek the Lord Jesus in the works of the law that they do for the poor and needy. Whenever folks are directed to find hope and comfort in their own works, there will be one of two equally horrible results: One is the kind of pride that comes before a fall, where the soul gets all puffed up and full of itself, believing its own self to be the best thing yet and motivated to make sure everyone else, including God, agrees. But the other possible result is despair, because the soul’s reliance on its own works to find a Savior and salvation will never satisfy the sin-laden conscience. For the pride there must be repentance, because it must answer to the Lord Jesus who is coming. For the despair, there must be the Good News of forgiveness and life, which flows from the Lord Jesus who is coming.
Thanks be to God that the Gospel of Jesus directs you to believe that He is coming to you with His Word of forgiveness and in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. When He comes He brings His love, His life, His salvation and then, and only then, the power to please Him with our lives and works