Advent 4 Midweek – 2011

Text: Romans 8:18-30
Title: Lord, Have Mercy

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Christmas can, all too often, appear to be a fleeting thing.  We look forward to its coming, but it seems as if it’s almost gone before we know it.  All of the preparations and anticipation, it’s a time that we associate with memories and warm feelings, and I think we look forward to Christmas, that day when peace and stillness rule the day, when the gentle Christ-child comes to be God among us.  But what will be on your minds a week from now? Will your tree still be up at home? Will you go to the trouble to turn on your Christmas lights?  Christmas is fleeting. It’s here one day, and gone the next.  It’s something we look forward to, and we reflect back upon.

And I think Paul understands this anticipation–this looking forward, while hearkening back.  He writes of the glory that is to be revealed to us–that creation will be set free from its bondage to corruption and it will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God!  He looks forward, but he’s also not afraid to look back.  He writes that the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it.  Creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth.  It’s true. Creation is falling apart.  Things are not as they should be.  The world isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse.  As the morose, third verse of the Christmas carol, I heard the Bells on Christmas Day puts it: And in despair, I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said. “For hate is strong, and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Paul is clear that these present time sufferings aren’t worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed, but he does have words of hope and comfort for Christians in this present time.  We wait as people who have hope…that is, eager and sure expectation, the object of our faith, not yet fully revealed to us, but coming with Christ when He returns.  So we’re people who are waiting.  For the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies, Paul says.  This is that flesh-and-blood good news that Jesus came to bring, that even as He Himself is a flesh and blood savior, He has come to redeem your very body.  To restore you to a perfect, sinless human being–body, mind, soul.  This is the expectation that we cling to, as we pray Come quickly, Lord Jesus, come quickly!

But Paul also tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us, even now.  If you’re anything like me, you know it’s good to know where we’ve been, it’s great to know where we’re going, but it’s crucial that we know where we ARE. And Paul’s words give us comfort in our weakness.  Paul’s words make it real, right now.

And the reality of our lives in Christ, here and now, is one of prayer.  The final portion of the service of Evening Prayer is just that–prayer.  It’s the voice that our faith finds in the midst of strife, discord, and warfare; on behalf of our neighbors in the faith, our rulers, those who serve us, even for creation itself that rages against us, in times of affliction, wrath, danger, and need…in all of these situations, rather, in ALL situations, let us pray to the Lord!

It’s a strange prayer, isn’t it, “Lord, have mercy.” If you follow these words that echo throughout the Gospels, a pattern begins to emerge.  First, the ones crying out for mercy–the looked-down upon, the blind, the broken, the sick and dying.  And yet, it is these with whom we identify most in the gospels.  The season of Advent reminds us that we really aren’t ready to greet the King of kings and the Lord of lords, even as He comes as humble infant.  We’re marred beyond recognition of what God would have us to be.  Those words from the Christmas carol, “there is no peace on earth…for hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good will to men,” we’re the reason for that hate.  We are the sinners in need of a savior.  Let us never forget that we are the broken down, the wounded, the blind, and the lame.  But at the same time, even while we are all those things, we are also those whose faith has made us well.

Jesus responds to the cries of “Lord, have mercy” with His own words, “Your faith has made you well.”  And this same Jesus Christ is the answer to your prayers. He is the One who has come in the name of the Lord.  He is the One who was born to take away the sins of the world, and you’re a part of that world, that groaning creation, the plants, animals, the seasons, every sinner who ever lived…crying, “Lord, Have Mercy.”

But, you know, I think that Jesus is used to turning his ear to cries of “Lord, have mercy.”  His mercy was upon all who looked to Him in faith during His earthly ministry.  And even now, He looks with mercy upon you, as you’re seemingly suspended in this not-yet-Christmas-even-though-Christmas-is-fleeting-and-will-be-gone-before-you-know-it kind of situation…He comes to you in this time, as His Christmas, the dwelling of Christ among you…so receive great comfort, for the Holy Spirit, He moves your lips and gives you voice, as you pray the prayer of the saints in Christ, as you look for the mercy of God, which is found solely in the Christ Himself, Jesus of Nazareth, born to save you from your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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