The First Sunday of Advent

We have been reading our way through Revelation – that last book of the Bible that can generate many questions and strong feelings – at Redeemer and also during Compline. Everyone seems to know that Martin Luther wasn’t a fan (“my spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book”) and yet he did write about it in his prefaces to his translation of the New Testament and I found the last paragraphs a good perspective for a new Church Year.

They ought to read this book and learn to look upon Christendom with other eyes than those of reason. For this book, I think, shows plenty of gruesome and monstrous beasts, horrible and vindictive angels, wild and terrible plagues (not to speak of the other great faults and shortcomings that have always been in Christendom and among Christians) so that in the midst of such business natural reason necessarily had to lose [sight of] Christendom. Here we see clearly what ghastly offenses and shortcomings there have been prior to our times, when Christendom is thought to have been at its best. By comparison, ours is really a golden age. Do not think that the heathen did not also take offence at this and regard Christians as self-willed, loose, contentious people.

This article “I believe in the holy Christian Church” is as much an article of faith as the rest. That is why natural reason cannot recognise it, even if it puts on all its glasses. The devil can cover it over with offences and divisions, so that you have to take offence at it. God, too, can conceal it behind faults and shortcomings of all kinds, so that you necessarily become a fool and pass false judgement on it. Christendom will not be known by sight but by faith. And faith has to do with things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Christendom joins with her Lord in the song, “Blessed is he who takes no offence in me” (Matthew 11:6). A Christian is even hidden from himself; he does not see his holiness and virtue but sees in himself nothing but unholiness and vice. And you, stupid know-it-all, would behold Christendom with your blind reason and unclean eyes!

In a word, our holiness is in heaven, where Christ is (Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:1); and not in the world, before men’s eyes, like goods in the marketplace. Therefore let there be offences, divisions, heresies, and faults; let them do what they can! If only the Word of the Gospel remains pure among us and we love and cherish it, we shall not doubt that Christ is with us, even when things are at their worst. As we see here in this book, that through and beyond all plagues, beasts, and evil angels, Christ is nonetheless with his saints and wins the final victory. (Luther’s Works, Vol 35: 410,411)

Whatever the coming year brings, Jesus walks with us, and we look to his Word – to his promises – to his actions for us – back at the cross and through the Holy Spirit’s use of words, water, bread and wine today – to define and clarify our reality as we live here and now.