4th Sunday in Advent – A LSB #’s 341, 915, 546
Text – Romans 1:6
Including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
CALLED TO BELONG!
When Satan came to Eve in the Garden of Eden he strongly implied that God did not know what was best for her or for her husband. The devil’s approach hasn’t changed since those early days in the Garden. He still seeks to dupe us into thinking that we can take charge of our lives, going our own way, without any burden of obedience to God our Creator.
It’s a relatively easy task too, because by nature we rebel against the very word obedience. It’s no fun having to obey. Life appears much less complicated when I make all the rules myself. And so Eve followed the suggestion of the devil hoping that she would become like God. Instead, she ended up learning what the word alienation is all about.
Prior to the fall, all that Adam & Eve knew was perfect harmony & complete communication. They never felt alone, isolated or separated, not from each other & not from their Creator. But after acting upon the devil’s line of reasoning they immediately realized that something had gone terribly wrong with their plan for self-improvement.
They felt shame, not only about what they had done, but about whom they had become. Their disobedience separated them from God & from each other. Life would never be the same. They would forever have to live with those feelings of being different, separate & alone. Their feelings of shame & guilt motivated them to run from & to hide from their Creator.
As their descendants we too struggle with feelings of guilt & shame. We deal with feeling alienated, separated & alone. Resolving those conflicts in our lives is a continual problem, because God created us to be social beings. God’s purpose for us was to be in fellowship with Him as well as with family & neighbors. That need is created into us, & it conflicts very strongly with the alienation & separateness that sin causes us to feel. Therefore, ever since the fall into sin, all of mankind has been brought into this world cut off from God. Even those innocent looking newborn children are naturally opposed to Him, & they are outside of His Kingdom, except for the work of Jesus Christ.
Baptism is so important because God Himself promises that it brings children back into His Kingdom. Each of us needed that “bringing back” since we were conceived in sin, born as lost & condemned creatures.
That sense of separateness then fosters many of our sins. It bothers our conscience less to steal from ‘them’ or to harm ‘them,’ & our mind justifies it by saying that we have no connection to ‘them.’ Our feelings of separation are put to work by Satan.
And yet, those feelings are not to be the ultimate definition of our status in life. Satan well knew the alienation that Adam & Eve would encounter once they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, because the same thing had happened to him. He was once in perfect fellowship with God but rejected that & suffered the consequences.
His damnation is already eternal, & Satan desperately wants us to believe the same of ourselves. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus put it clearly when He said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, & they follow me. I give them eternal life, & they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
That “no one” includes the devil. Yes, not even Satan is able to snatch us out of God’s Kingdom. The danger, however, is that God’s children are still able to separate themselves from eternal life. Satan’s goal is convincing us to do exactly that. He tricked a holy Adam & Eve into separating themselves from God, & he’s constantly working on you & me as well.
Listen to the words of Cain after he’s murdered his brother. The Lord spoke to him,
“Where is Abel your brother?” And [Cain] said, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) Did you hear how Cain is separating himself from Abel? It’s like he’s saying, “What brother?” He’s clearly avoiding any responsibility for Abel’s welfare.
Cain is seeking to maintain that disconnect which sin had created, & those feelings of distance toward his brother made it an easier thing for Cain to murder him. In the process, Cain only furthers the distance between himself & God.
His Creator had given him a chance to confess & to repent, but Cain meets that opportunity with further denial, & thus with further separation. All sin does that. It separates us from a holy & righteous God. Hell is that separation becoming permanent.
When was the last time you experienced that feeling of indignation at being caught in your sin? Maybe a cop pulled you over for speeding. Maybe a loved one caught you acting like a hypocrite through your lack of practicing what you preach. If so, your indignation enlarged the separation between you & your accuser, & thus you have already experienced a bit of hell.
That’s not a good feeling, yet daily we find ourselves, like Cain, rejecting the notion of confessing our sin. It’s a deadly struggle we are in, between the sinful nature that we’re born with & the saintly nature created & strengthened through the means of grace where God’s Holy Spirit calls us to belong to Jesus Christ.
The life we live in this world is a never-ending battle where real people actually die spiritually & are condemned to the eternal separation. Particularly distressing to pastors is seeing someone intentionally cutting themselves off from God’s means of grace. They take offense at something or someone in the church & leave, without realizing what they’re doing.
They’re playing right into the devil’s hand as slowly but surely he draws them away from their only hope of filling that hole in their heart created by sin. That sense of alienation & aloneness will kill us, little by little, if we don’t receive the antidote. As we act upon & believe those emotions of aloneness & that feeling of separation, the separation only grows. There are no hobbies, no careers, no human relationships so fulfilling that they remove our need for Christ. There is no drug so magical that it can satisfy our need for God’s love.
So God descended to earth & took on flesh in order that our Savior might endure the ultimate separation on our behalf: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) are the words of Jesus Christ as He endures that separation on Mt. Calvary.
He endured that horrifying separation in order that you & I might never have to; in order that you & I might be called to belong to Him once again. We prepare our hearts during Advent because we are no longer foreigners & aliens, we are no longer separated, but we are fellow citizens with God’s people, & members of God’s household.
In Adam & Eve, mankind separated themselves from God. Daily in our lives we sin & separate ourselves over & over again. But daily God calls us back, to be separated from the world instead; as St. Paul wrote, “to be set apart for the gospel of God.” It’s the love displayed for us on the cross that ultimately heals the wounds of all the separations we encounter.
Here, we endure alienation because of selfishness, because of anger, because of jealousy & gossip – because of death. Yet as separate & alone as we may feel there is hope in this life & the next because of Christmas. The name Immanuel was given to Jesus because He truly is God with us, yesterday & today & forever. No matter how we feel, we are NEVER alone.
As Christmas arrives, let us keep in mind that the baby born in Bethlehem so long ago is
on His way back. Advent is not just about preparing our hearts for Christmas in this time & this place. It is also about preparing our hearts for the day Jesus returns. We know when Christmas arrives. The commercial advertising will not allow us to forget. What we don’t know are the day or hour when our Savior will come again, & He promises that He will come – like a thief in the night. Don’t allow the alienation & separations caused by sin to deceive you & determine your future. The Holy Spirit is waiting to create in you a clean heart & to renew within you a steadfast spirit. Yahweh has freely given us His forgiveness, & daily He offers us a new life.
Our failures do not disqualify us from God’s family, because Jesus Christ took our place & He did not fail. You are not separated from God. You are not alone, & Satan lies when he tells you otherwise. Our heavenly Father no longer sees your guilt. It has already been removed. There’s nothing left to separate you from Him.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. Lord, we believe! Help our unbelief as You continue calling us to belong. Amen.
Today Your mercy calls us to wash away our sin. However great our trespass, whatever we have been, however long from mercy our hearts have turned away, Your precious blood can cleanse us & make us clean today. Today our Father calls us; His Holy Spirit waits; His blessed angels gather around the heavenly gates. No question will be asked us how often we have come; although we oft have wandered, it is our Father’s home. O all-embracing Mercy, O ever open Door, what should we do without You when heart & eye run o’er? When all things seem against us, to drive us to despair, we know one gate is open, one ear will hear our prayer. Amen. LSB 915:1, 3-4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet