Sermon Briefs Luke 3:1-6 Part 2
Bernard of Clairvaux examines the Incarnation in The Coming of Christ in the Incarnation.1 He looks at who comes, whence He comes, the wither, why, when, and by what way, He comes.
The One who comes is the "Son of the Highest," who is also the "Co-Highest equal of the Father in exaltation and in dignity." Bernard reasons that it was the Son who came (not the Father or Spirit) because when Lucifer sought to be like God (and Adam and Eve) it was the Son's co-equal status that was violated. God, therefore, chose to win back all who had gone away from God through the same "pride" as Lucifer and Adam and Eve had exhibited, through the Son.
The Son comes (whence) from "the very heart of God. He comes to (wither) the lowest parts of the earth, where we have to pass our time on earth. This makes human earthly existence all right because He is with us.
Why did He come? He came because God's mercy is great, God's pity is much, and God's love is overflowing. Bernard uses the parable of the lost sheep to illustrate that God's goodness and the dignity of humanity are great-it's like the shepherd who left the ninety-nine and sought the one lost sheep. He came to us because we were unable to go to Him; humanity is that dear to the Savior.
Christ came when the need was greatest; into darkness and silence came a light and a Word. He came first in the flesh, now in the Spirit. "The Word is near thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart."
Martin Luther preached a sermon about Holy Baptism 2 based on this text. He actually talks little about baptism. He appears to make certain assumptions about what baptism means. When we understand what it means we can live "with awe and honor," and are rescued from living, "like a sow runs to the trough."
John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness, proclaimed that the kingdom of God was at hand. It was, at the same time a message about repentance and forgiveness, says Luther. John thus distinguished between an earthly realm and a heavenly realm. God rules the earthly realm too-as in the gift of law and order, reason, and the gold and silver we pursue. This earthly realm is not bad, but it is not the concern of John the Baptist in his preaching.
John preached because we are all in the "jaws of death," which is the mightiest lord. "The worldly regiment is subjected to death, sickness, guns, and fire." To combat these things, all the powers of earth have nothing to offer. There is another danger. Earthly life, as God has given it, is so rich it can lead us to believe we will live forever-even though we are all dying. We must all look toward another life, the heavenly. "But we can say, after this life, rather, in the midst of this life, there is another life, the kingdom of heaven, which is eternal."
John further preaches about the way to heaven. Luther cites, for example, false pride, false belief, and idolatry, as obstructions on the heavenly way. We may be protected, however, by the "whole armor of God."
Luther's sermon may be especially helpful for reflection on the meaning of baptism in contemporary terms. His unstated assumption about what happens in baptism could lead to an interesting discussion about what would give a contemporary person such as experience of wholeness, belonging, and well being.
Julia Upton3 notes the lectionary's annual visit to John the Baptizer. She says, this wilderness figure, not inherently attractive to people, is nevertheless a model of trust and confidence. His message of repentance and forgiveness catches people off balance. Since it was neither his appearance, nor his message that attracted people, "it must have been his enthusiasm for the message." Upton then elaborates that it was his personality, his conviction, and his dedication that led others to follow. This, she notes, suggests some traditional Advent themes: repentance, changing our ways, and the coming of the Righteous One. We need to enter the season with enthusaiasm, she says.
Briefly quoting from the first lesson of the day (Baruch 5:1-9, 8-11) Upton notes the call to "take off the garment of your sorrow, and put on the beauty of the glory of God." This does not deny that there is much suffering, often the result of injustice, along the way.
It is easy to get discouraged when we experience suffering, especially the great suffering of the poor. It is hard too if we think we are alone on the journey.
God, however, will be our strength, she proclaims, as will the eucharist and the community of faith. The faithfulness of God has been demonstrated through a "thousand generations," she says. We have our sources of strength, our models of courage; let us lay aside our misery, and put on our mantle of joy; "come to be nourished by the One who is our joy," she concludes.
1. Bernard of Clairvoux, "The Coming of Christ in the Incarnation," The Christian Year: Sermons of the Fathers, Vol. I (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1964), p.13ff. 2. Ibid, Martin Luther, pp.16-18. 3. Julia Upton, R.S.M., Homilies for the Christian People, Gail Ramshaw, editor. (Minneapolis: The Liturgical Press, 1991), p. 374ff.