Note: This is the sermon for Advent Midweek 1, 2017
Text: 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
For these three midweek Advent services, we’ll be considering the commemorations of three saints of God – a brother and two sisters in Christ – who now rest from their labors but have left us notable examples of the faithful Christian life.
A word of caution and instruction. A knee-jerk reaction to talking about saints is to assume that we’re talking in the same way that the Roman church talks about them. We’re not. However, as Lutherans we don’t reject something solely because it’s found in a congregation labeled as Roman Catholic or Methodist or Baptist; if that was the case we’d have to get rid of confessing our sins, reading and listening to the Word of God, singing, sitting in pews, electric lighting, all these decorations, etc. Instead we reject something if it conflicts with the Gospel and the teaching of the Scriptures, and thus obscures Jesus Christ alone as our hope of salvation, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. Our own Lutheran Confessions uphold considering the lives of the saints – and when I say “saint” I mean a Christian, a person who has been made holy by the Holy Spirit given to them through the Word and Holy Baptism. Here’s what the Lutheran Confessions state: “Of the worship of saints they teach that the memory of saints may be set before us, that we may follow their faith and good works, according to our calling, as the Emperor may follow the example of David in making war to drive away the Turk from his country.”
This is the positive use of the stories of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Not to make them out to be any sort of help or aid when it comes to salvation. But instead to hold them up as good examples to seek to imitate, as they themselves lived out their lives according to the teaching of Christ in the Holy Scriptures. In the same way the Apostle Paul holds himself out to the Christians that he writes to and asks them to imitate him. In the same way Christian parents will model for their children the pious life of faith in Christ by praying, reading the Scriptures with their families, making use of the Word of God and the Sacrament of the Altar regularly in the Divine Service, giving generously to the Church and to those in need from the treasures that God has given them. In this way children will see the faith modeled for them by the saints that God has put in their lives: their parents.
So then tonight we hear a little about Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, our father in the faith and an example of Christian generosity, charity, and mercy. There are actually several notable stories about Nicholas, but I want to just tell one tonight.
Nicholas heard of a poor man who had three daughters, but no dowry to give any of them. Because of this, it would be very difficult for the girls to marry; in their time and place, this meant a very hard life for the daughters once their father died or grew too weak to support their lives, and so the girls would have likely ended up in slavery or prostitution.
Nicholas in his kindness used some funds that the Church had in order to help them and prevent them from ending up in that way. At night, Nicholas dropped into the house three small bags of gold coins. With these three gifts, the daughters now each had money for a dowry and were able to marry. Nicholas was able to save these women from a terrible life of burden and harm to their consciences.
In this way, Nicholas reflects the love of Christ and sets an example for us. For every one of us has received help and aid from our Lord Jesus, when we were helpless to aid ourselves or to have any hope of rescue from our misery and fallenness.
So the words from the Epistle which Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth are profound: ”Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Even as we find ourselves in suffering, misery, helplessness, despair, our Lord Jesus has suffered for us. When we behold His lowly birth, life, and death for us, we see that truly the riches of heaven are ours, even now. He gives them to us. He provides for all of our needs of body and soul.
In the same way then, we, like Nicholas, can in mercy and pity care for those in our lives who like us are suffering, miserable, helpless, and despairing. The comfort we have received we now can give. The help and aid Jesus has rendered to us, through His Word and through our brothers and sisters in Christ, we now can render to our neighbor.
This comfort never goes away, either. For the promises of God are always yes in Christ Jesus. His mercies are new every morning; that is, they are always present for you. In His lowly manger and on His throne of the cross, Jesus still gives to you not gold or silver but the fruit of His holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death; namely, the forgiveness of your sins, eternal life, and every help you need.
Thanks be to God! +INJ+