02. December 2012
Ad Te Levavi
In the beginning, God created man in his image. He had all the characteristics of God. He was upright, truthful, sincere, honest. He lived in accordance with God’s design. He did not backbite with his tongue, nor did evil to his neighbor, nor would he take up a reproach against his friend. (Psalm 15:3) Man was right with God. And so, God’s righteousness was man’s righteousness.
When sin entered the world, so unrighteousness, and consequently death. Every child born of woman breathes this poisoned air and drinks from the polluted well of this world. Children, yes even they, act according to their selfish, envious, and prideful heart. We see moments of greatness and even a pale kind of rightness—men with greatness and women with virtue. Still, the infection has permeated everyone. The works of the flesh are evident: all manner of evil, rebellion, and finally mortality. Thus we have God’s righteousness presented in stark contrast to our lack of righteousness.
This lack of righteousness is catastrophic. When we stand at the last days in judgment, how will we be judged? “Behold! The days are coming, says the Lord when I will send a righteous branch to execute justice. How will the righteous branch judge you, oh Jerusalem? You recognize that your peril is not in this world but the next. Your fear of judgment is not of what you have done in this world but what you have failed to do for the next.
Faced with this reality you have a few choices. You could make excuses. The woman made me do it. I couldn’t resist. You made me this way (a sinner). You could try to change the standard. Faced with God’s perfect rule, you want to find some way to fudge the math, fix the system, cheat the Powerball, and win. You could despair, to throw up your hands and exclaim, “To hell with me, I’m damned anyway.”
All attempts to reconcile yourself to God’s holy ideal fail. Excuses won’t cut it. Despair is a start but still leads to death. The not-so-little secret of our faith is that the bet is rigged, the system overruled, the math fuzzy. The promise made to Abraham, that lopsided covenant, is in your favor. The Seed was promised to our mother redeems, rescues, and saves mankind. Every faithful parent of old—Seth, Noah, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Judah, David, and Joseph—trusted that God would reconcile us to Himself.
No excuses are needed, only forgiveness received. There is no despair for we wait in hope. The covenant is fulfilled and your end of the deal is to believe: God has reconciled you to himself as a free gift. In this midst of these dark and latter days, Christ comes to keep the Lord’s promise, to save rebellious Judah and give security to Jerusalem. Christ Jesus is the light than banishes all fear! Christ comes to offer comfort, security, rest, and peace. The true salvation of Judah and the true safety for Jerusalem. By this one man’s obedience, even to death on the cross, you are made righteous.
We have been hearing for the last three weeks of Christ’s judgment. As this new church year begins, we take the expected turn towards the Nativity, Christmas. Before we arrive at the manger, this season takes us through prophecy and the Passion. Even today, we heard our Lord ride on in majesty, riding into the old Jerusalem to die. Lost in the pre-Christmas shuffle, the many manger scenes, the cheery seasonal jingles, is the reality that Jesus comes to us to save us. He comes in judgment of sin but this is his foreign work. He comes chiefly to execute righteousness. God promised to Eve a seed who would crush the serpent. Jeremiah tells the promised coming of a branch. The seed promised to Eve will grow from David into a branch, a righteous branch. He comes to pronounce his people righteous.
A dark cloud hangs over the manger scene, the long shadow cast by our Lord’s passion. Righteousness comes by His Christmas incarnation and by His body agony, His innocent suffering and death, His three-day rest in the tomb, His glorious resurrection, and His ascension into heaven. Christmas points to the cross, where the God-made-man dies our death to make us righteous.
In Christ’s suffering, our unrighteous relationship to God is healed and we are recreated, made right before God. In the resurrected flesh of Jesus, peace is made between God and man over our sin. God himself came in flesh to make all flesh right! God was born as man to recreate man… to restore his creation! He comes not so that you may call him righteous but so that you, his new Jerusalem and rescued Judah may be named “the Lord our righteousness!”
Now all baptized believers have our advocate and surrogate in the divine court. When Christ comes to execute his judgement, he will not see our fallen faces but his own reflection. We were named his in baptism and put on Christ as our garment. Before the judgement seat, our appearance has none of the self-righteous, self-made appearance. No, before Christ we are now a reflection of His own image. The character of God is made right with the character of Man.
We need not fear this coming judgement. “Our righteousness” is for the body of believers. This righteousness unites, equalizes, and levels the playing field. In Christ we stand together before God, as one body of believers. We have one faith… expressed in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. In Christ, our innate desire to elevate ourselves above others is put to death. Now we are all brought up by Christ to His standard… the standard of the Law…. the standard of His righteousness. His righteousness is our righteousness.
For the last few weeks under the “end of the church year” our theme has been Christ returning in judgment. Now as we enter advent and the beginning of the church year, our eyes look at judgment through the babe in the manger and through the cross towards the judgment. God’s promise is made manifest, delivered to you just as He said. Through his gracious will, you have eternal rest of Christ. In him, you are safe. In Him, you are secure. In Him, you are named His own. His righteousness is your righteousness. Christ is our Emmanuel. He ransoms captive Israel, saving you from the depths of hell. He gives you victory over the grave. You see God’s gracious action—His promised son sent for you—so that His righteousness is your righteousness.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church