With Confidence, in Command with Jesus

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the Mountain of the House of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the Mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.”   Isaiah 2:2-3

Today starts us off on the season of Advent and an important emphasis in this season is how grounded is Biblical hope’s anticipation.  On this basis there are two stories I want to share:

The Rev. Joseph S. Flacks, a most useful and beloved Jewish-Christian, who, when he passed on to glory, mailed on the very day of his death the following post card message to friends:
.  “Triumphant Through Grace – This is to announce: I moved out of the old mud house [2 Corinthians 5:1]; arrived in Glory-land instantly, in charge of the angelic escort [Luke 16:22]; absent from the body, at home with the Lord [2 Corinthians. 5:6]. I find, as foretold [Psalm.16:11], “in Thy presence fullness of joy…pleasures for evermore!” Will look for You on the way up at the redemption of the body [Romans 8:23]. Till then look up.”

In his book Forever Triumphant, F. J. Huegel told a story that came out of World War II.  After General Jonathan Wainwright was captured by the Japanese, he was held prisoner in a Manchurian concentration camp.  Cruelly treated, he became “a broken, crushed, hopeless, starving man.”  Finally the Japanese surrendered and the war ended.  A United States army colonel was sent to the camp to announce personally to the general that Japan had been defeated and that he was free and in command.  After Wainwright heard the news, he returned to his quarters and was confronted by some guards who began to mistreat him as they had done in the past.  Wainwright, however, with the news of the allied victory still fresh in his mind, declared with authority, “No, I am in command here!  These are my orders.”  Huegel observed that from that moment on, General Wainwright was in control.
.  Huegel made this application:  “Have you been informed of the victory of your Savior in the greatest conflict of the ages?  Then rise up to assert your rights.  Never again go under when the enemy comes to oppress.  Claim the victory in Jesus’ Name.”  Huegel observed, “We must learn to stand on resurrection ground, reckoning dead the old-creation life over which Satan has power, and living in the new creation over which Satan has no power whatever.”

Advent as a whole has one theme that over-arches it; the theme is that “Jesus is coming.”  Inside of that theme, there are three directions it takes, “Jesus is coming in the flesh,” which is what happened on that first Christmas; “Jesus also is coming here now,” which happens in Word and Sacrament; and finally “Jesus is coming as Lord and Ruler on the Last Day.”

“Jesus is coming” is something meant to give us great hope.  That hope centers in the fact that God has not only given to us some amazing promises, but also in that He literally spared no expense in making those promises come true.  Even when it cost Jesus His life, God didn’t stumble or stagger at the price of fulfilling His promises.  Instead, especially in the New Testament, you get to see promise after promise being achieved, prophecy after prophecy coming true.  With that under our belts, there are still so many more promises that will be realized in the years to come, especially on the Last Day – and we have the past history to give us confidence for the future.

Therefore when Rev Flacks sent his postcard to his friends, announcing he was taking up a new residence, there was firm reassurance in his message.  His was not a hope that referred to a vague wish, but rather his was the hope that could speak so confidently at what he would find upon his death, that he could declare it as if it had already happened.  Indeed, it was a hope that, even on his deathbed, gave him the ability to sound joyful and enthusiastic in regard to his change of venue.

The other story, that of General Wainwright declares a different basis for hope.  The general had been terribly mistreated by his Japanese captors, but the moment he had been informed that he was now in charge, he took command and refused to re-submit to his former captors.  Advent’s theme of Jesus’ coming announces to us that we too have regained charge of our lives and are not to submit again to the captivity of the flesh, of sin, and of Satan.

Jesus coming into the flesh on the first Christmas was not merely an ancient event.  We know and rejoice in the fact that He went on to the cross and there defeated Satan, and in the resurrection, defeated Satan’s and sin’s greatest tool, which is death.  But there is still so much more beyond that.  Jesus never ceased to also be man.  So when He now occupies the place of all authority and power, seated at God the Father’s right hand, He does so not just as God the Son, but also as Jesus the Man.

St Paul tells us in the book of Hebrews that that gives us confidence to come to the throne of the Most High God and to know that we will be heard – and heard properly, because the God-Man Jesus is there to make the Father correctly understand our prayers and requests.

But the second part of Advent’s theme is very key here as well, since this same God-Man Jesus Who sits on the throne beside His Father, also is the One Who comes here in our midst.  Jesus said that whenever two or three are gathered in His Name, He’s here.  In Holy Communion, He says, “this is My Body; this is My Blood” – that He is here in tangible form, again a reassurance that He is in the midst of your daily life with you.  And finally He is, as St John pointed out, the Word made flesh.  It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but Jesus is more than a mere picture.  It has taken a whole Bible full of words to describe what He can show us simply in Himself.

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And then as Rev. Flacks realized so vividly in his postcards to his friends, Jesus will come again, and will take us to Himself.  No matter what this world decays into, no matter how many hopes this world has dashed to pieces, we can rise above them all because the same Jesus Who did not back down on His promise to die in our place on the cross is also the One Who promised to return to take us to be with Him.

This three-fold declaration of Jesus’ coming is not merely nostalgic story-telling.  Consider General Wainwright: before he received word about Japan’s defeat: he was a broken man, helpless against the power of the enemy.  What difference did it make that he was a general?  It was as meaningless as Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame taking charge of a military unit as a colonel.  Sander’s rank was merely a Southern society title which meant nothing.  In the prison camp with the enemy so sure of their superiority, “General” Wainwright was merely the target of the enemy’s ridicule.

But with the news of the victory won by the Allies and the defeat of Japan, Wainwright’s rank of General took on real authority and he assumed control over his circumstances.  That’s what Advent does for us – this season announces that our enemies have been defeated, Jesus is in charge, and that His promises are continually being completed up unto the coming on the Last Day and beyond.

We have hope.  Like General Wainwright, when his old captors tried to bring him back into submission, instead he took authority over them and commanded them, we have been given an extraordinary privilege of authority over Satan’s power, over sin, over temptation.  That is difficult for us, though.  How easy it is to have the mindset of defeat, broken and helpless against Satan’s hounding, the world’s ridicule, and our human nature’s defiance.

So when the temptation to gossip, or to play one-up-manship, or to grumble and to be otherwise negative; when the temptation to hate, or to be jealous, or any of the thousand and one other temptations which can assail us daily come into our lives, seeking to bring us back into their submission, what shall we do?

Advent reminds us that the victory is already won, and the Conqueror is on His way in order to complete His supremacy over all things.  We have a sure defense – we have a hope against their attempt to dominate us.  As we repent of our too easy surrender to such offenses to our Lord, in His forgiveness He brings His victory into our lives.

And we are then reminded of our rank – in Baptism, we have become children of God.  Now, with this authority we place these things into His hands, with authority we can refuse to follow their course of action, with authority we can command them to leave us alone.  And the more we do it, the more we discover that our word backed by God’s Word does carry sway over these things.

In other words, Advent tells us that we are free from the cloud of despair that can attempt to control our lives, we have a certain and sure hope from which to draw strength and confidence for our days and our attitudes.

It is true that many times we don’t understand what the Lord is doing in our lives.  But the ringing message of Advent is that Jesus comes – not just in general but comes to us personally, comes today, comes with the powerful declaration that His victory empowers us to take charge, comes with physical confirmation of this in Holy Communion, comes in affirmation of all His promises both completed and yet to be completed – we have a hope to hold to very tightly.

We have confidence, we have authority – because Jesus is coming, He is coming soon, He is coming quickly, He has come here in our midst.  As Advent celebrates Jesus’ coming, so may we here and now celebrate that our Savior has indeed come to be part of our lives, not just in His death and resurrection, not just in His coming on the Last Day, but also today, in our daily routines, and in our hearts.  And in this sure and certain hope, with such a declaration of our Victor, let us indeed celebrate Advent.

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