Witness, Mercy, and Life Together in Advent 2011: A Midweek Preaching Series
November 8 & 9, 2011
Presenters: Professor John T. Pless and Seminarian Weslie Odom
Theme: Mercy, Witness, Life Together
This year’s Advent preaching workshop will focus on the Synod’s emphasis of “Mercy, Witness, and Life Together” for the three Midweek Services. Drawing on the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament Canticles, the sermon series will probe the Advent character of God’s mercy in Emmanuel, the witness of John the Baptist in his preaching of repentance and faith, and life together that we are given in God’s new Zion. We will also examine how Bo Giertz treated these themes in his preaching and devotional writings.
Registration fee is $30.00. (Register online)
The workshop will meet from 4:00-5:30 p.m. and 7:00-8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and 8:00-10:00 a.m. on Wednesday.
Location: Concordia Theological Seminary Loehe Hall, Room 2
For additional information on this seminar, contact the office of the Good Shepherd Institute at 260-452-2224.
The Schedule for the Advent Preaching Seminar is as follows:
Midweek Service in Advent I: Witness
Readings: Isaiah 40:9-11; John 1:6-8, 14-17, 29-34
Hymns: “Prepare the Royal Highway”- 343 LSB
“On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” -344 LSB
“When All the World Was Cursed”- 346 LSB
“Creator of the Stars of Night”- 351 LSB
“Jesus Came, the Heavens Adoring”- 353 LSB
“O Savior of Our Fallen Race”- 403 LSB
“The Only Son from Heaven”- 402 LSB
Midweek Service in Advent II: Mercy
Readings: I Peter 1:3-12; Luke 1:39-56
Hymns: “Once He Came in Blessing”- 333 LSB
“O Lord, How Shall I Meet You”- 334 LSB
“The Night Will Soon Be Ending”- 337 LSB
“What Hope! An Eden Prophesied”- 342 LSB
“Comfort, Comfort Ye My People”- 347 LSB
“The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns”- 348 LSB
“Hark the Glad Sound”-349 LSB
Midweek Service in Advent III: Life Together
Readings: Isaiah 62:1-12; Revelation 21:1-8, 22-27
Psalm: 48 or 24
Hymns: “The Advent of Our King”- 331 LSB
“Savior of the Nations Come”- 332 LSB
“O Bride of Christ, Rejoice”- 335 LSB
“Lift Up Your Heads, You Everlasting Doors” -339 LSB
“Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates”- 340 LSB
“Arise, O Christian People”- 354 LSB
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” -357 LSB
“Wide Open Stand the Gates” – 639 LSB
Witness, Mercy, and Life Together in Advent: A Midweek Preaching Series
“Bearing witness” says Luther “is nothing but God’s Word spoken by angels or men, and it calls for faith.”# In Acts 1:8 the risen Lord says of His apostles that they will be His witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and beyond those borders to the end of the earth. It is the apostles who with their own eyes have seen the Lord, touched Him with their own hands, and heard His voice with their ears (see I John 1:1-4) who are designated witnesses. We are witnesses only in the derived sense that our words echo the reliable testimony of the apostles. To bear witness is to speak not of ourselves but of another-Christ Jesus.
The great witness of Advent is John the Baptist. “The prologue [of the Fourth Gospel] says that God sent John to be a witness (1:6-8). A witness speaks in contexts where the truth is disputed. If everything is clear, there is no need for testimony.”# The witness of John the Baptist is twofold. He bears witness to human sinfulness which separates man from God. In no uncertain terms he names sin for what it is, showing his hearers their inability to recognize the One who stands among them is their Messiah (John 1:26-27). John is not sent to bear witness to himself; he is the voice crying in the wilderness (John 1:19-23). John is neither the light of the world (John 1:6-8) nor the Christ (John 1:20) but the one sent to bear witness. Thus he proclaims Jesus Christ as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Our witness is always this confession of Jesus Christ.
Oswald Bayer writes “Mercy is not self-evident. It cannot become an existential or epistemological principle. On the contrary mercy is actually something that is won and something that, emerging, happens unpredictably. And as this justifying God is not simply and in principle merciful, so also is sinful man not simply and in principle on the receiving end of God’s mercy.”#Mercy was not self-evident to Mary. She was “greatly troubled” (Luke 1:29) until the angel comforted her with the good news that the son she would conceive and bear is the Son of God. Only then was Mary’s lips unlocked to magnify the Lord, declaring the scope of His mercy for all who “fear him from generation to generation’ (Luke 1:50). Having received mercy, Mary was enabled to confess her God and Savior who helps “his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever” (Luke 1:54-55). It is this Lord who has “According to his great mercy…caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3). Mercy is not self-evident for sinners; it is not something that the guilty expect. Mercy comes only by God’s doing in the crib and on Calvary.
Hermann Sasse draws a contrast between Thomas Aquinas’ assertion that “Christ cannot enter into living communion with a sinner” and Luther’s statement of the opposite: “Christ dwells only among sinners” demonstrating how Luther understands divine mercy: “Every page of the NT is indeed testimony of the Christ whose proper office it is ‘to save sinners’ (I Tim. 1:15), ‘to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10). And the entire saving work of Jesus – from the days he was in Galilee and, to the amazement and alarm of the Pharisees, ate with tax collectors and sinners, to the moment when he, in contradiction with the principles of every rational morality, promised paradise, to the thief on the cross – yes, his entire life on earth, from the cradle to the cross, is one unique, grand demonstration of a wonder beyond all reason: the miracle of divine forgiveness, of the justification of the sinner. ‘Christ dwells only among sinners.’”# Advent announces the arrival of this Christ who makes divine mercy certain for sinners.
Advent is about God drawing near to humanity to save and rescue, to reconcile the world to Himself by the blood of the cross. He gathers into one family, those who were left alone in their sins-suffering alienation from God and estranged from one another. The imagery for life together in Advent is Jerusalem, God’s holy Zion where the redeemed are safely gathered around their Lord. Not forsaken and left desolate in their sin, they are brought to rejoice in the marriage feast of the Lamb in the New Jerusalem. This is not a community that we create by our will to fight loneliness but a communion established by the Triune God who has called us to fellowship with Himself and therefore with one
another in the Gospel.
The Bavarian Pastor Wilhelm Löhe (1808-1872) wrote: “The church of the New Testament is no longer a territorial church but a church of all people, a church which has its children in all lands and gathers them from every nation. It is the one flock of the one shepherd, called out of many folds (John 10:16), the universal – the truly catholic – church which flows through all time and into which all people pour.”# We share a life together which is thicker and deeper than nationality, ethnicity, or language. Bound together in Christ by a common redemption mediated by the one Baptism instituted by our Lord we have life together. We hear and confess the same apostolic Gospel and we eat and drink of the same body and blood in the sacrament of our Lord’s new and eternal testament.
Along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, Löhe’s Three Books About the Church is a lucid exposition of what it means for Christians to live together in that holy community, the church of Jesus Christ. Pastor Löhe published this classic volume in 1845, the year after his wife’s early death. Certainly his writing is reflective of a heavenly homesickness, no doubt intensified by his young wife’s death which left him in an abiding grief. Yet Löhe knew that this life together we have in Christ Jesus is not broken by geography or even by death. There is one church that spans heaven and earth: “There is therefore one eternal church, part to be found here and part to be found in eternity. Here it becomes smaller and smaller; but there it becomes ever larger, for the yearning, struggling band is always being gathered to its people….From it death shall not separate me, but death will for the first time bring me to complete enjoyment of love and fellowship. To it all things draw me and nothing hinders me, whatever it may be. Praise be to God!”#
By God’s grace we are part of this church that Löhe paints with numerous images. One of his images for the church is a long river that constantly moves from its headwaters to the ocean: “Springing up on Pentecost and Calvary, the church flows through the ages like a river, and that same river and no other will flow unchangingly on through the ages until that great day when it will empty completely into the famed sea of eternal blessedness.”# Our life together is not based on human preferences or attractions of particular personalities but in Christ Jesus who has redeemed us by His blood, called us by His Spirit working through the Gospel, and incorporated us into His body with the washing of the water with the Word. Jesus Christ is both the source and end of our life together.
Hidden under the cross, we live trusting in the forgiveness of sins purchased and won at Calvary and distributed in preaching and the Sacrament. It is this absolution that binds us to Christ, the friend of sinners and glues us sinners to one another in that holy community which is the church. We cannot create or engineer our life together – it is a gift, unmerited and undeserved – of God’s merciful donation so that sinners are not left utterly alone in their sin. Life together is jeopardized when it is grounded in anything other than the forgiveness of sins given by Christ Jesus. This is why we confess in the Catechism that the Holy Spirit in this Christian Church “daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” Advent teaches us how to live in this church by repentance and faith even as we cry out “Come, Lord Jesus” in anticipation of the resurrection of our bodies to eternal life together in God’s eternal Zion.
Prof. John T. Pless
Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations
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