Pr. Eric Swensson
December 9, 2013
- When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
- This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
- Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortifications of the flesh.
Martin Luther, LW 31, pp. 25.
It all begins with repentance. That little pronoun “it” can stand for many things here: the new life, the new obedience, and even Advent.
It is appropriate that the new year begins with the theme of repentance. Once more we have come full circle and we begin a new year at square one. After hearing all November about the Last Things, and as we imagine the coming of “The Holidays” it seems meet, right and salutary that we engage is communal repentance. However, we inwardly hope that it is more than that and that our spirits would be refreshed as they have been in the past as we were able to truly experience Christmas with the wonder of a child.
And so we have hope when we recall that Luther began his 95-Theses with “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matt. 4:17], He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance, inner repentance accompanied by a change of life.” Yes, did Luther not say that this is the key?
And so, we enter into a quieter time and willingly hear, perhaps eagerly hear lessons such as “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah 9:2) We acknowledge we are surrounded by darkness, and perhaps are even able to admit that we participate in it.
Once again, we light an Advent candle, the light comes on, we sing the first stanza of an Advent hymn:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! O Israel,
to thee shall come Emmanuel!
In fact, at this time of year the new life, the necessary life, comes again to all who hear. The new life can come, indeed does come, every day of the year, but all is ordered at this time of the year for the entry of our Savior. As well it should! For Christ desires to reassure, comfort us and bring us to Himself by His own love and kindness, and in His own way, through the Word of God. Our Lord speaks consolingly to those of us burdened by sin. He makes our hearts glad and drives away all fear of sin, death and hell. He establish a free, secure and good conscience that will henceforth gladly do all and more than is commanded.
There may be many mysteries to life as we know it, including the exact nature of the Incarnation, but there is little wonder why we love Christmas. No, it has little to do with the gifts. We grow out of that. Our human nature actually tires of that endless round. We tire of the shopping and the preparations. But there is one preparation we cannot tire of, because we do not do it. And it is the one that is the most work. We are conceived and born children of Christ; and by no work of man, but from heaven and through the Holy Spirit’s grace.
This is how we start a new life. It is not of our doing but a response to God’s gracious Word. And mercifully it happens again and again. God’s Law and Gospel shows us darkness and light, death and new life, and we are reborn. And just in time, for “The night is far spent, and the day is at hand.”
Wake, awake, people. The Bridegroom is at hand.