Unlike the previous two articles of the Creed, Luther begins his explanation of the Third Article, not with a confession of faith, but a statement of the inability to believe: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.” Advent does not map our progress in coming to Christ. Rather, it is the story of God’s condescension to us. He came and created us and all things out of the void of nothingness. And in the fullness of time, the same Lord who created the heavens and earth came from Heaven above to be our Savior, to suffer our sin and die our death. We might even call the Creed’s Third Article, the third movement of Advent, for now, here in time, the Holy Spirit comes to us, bringing us to faith through the Gospel and keeping us in that faith to the very end.
The Holy Spirit, who breathes over the formlessness before there was a creation to bring into existence things that were not, does not sit idly by until the Day of Pentecost. He was there in the Old Testament, speaking by the prophets about the coming Messiah, the One of whom the Father said in Isaiah 42: “I have put my Spirit upon Him” (Isaiah 42:1). He is the Spirit who causes Mary to become pregnant, without the aid of a man, just as the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). It is this same Holy Spirit who Jesus calls the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter. He is sent by the Father through the Son to bring to our remembrance all Jesus has said. “He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore, I said He will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14-15).
Without the Spirit of Truth, we would still be held captive to the lies of Satan, prisoners of the grave, forever dead to God. Corpses cannot give life to themselves. The Catechism is simply echoing the truth of the Apostle Paul who declared how no one can confess Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit (see I Corinthians 12:3). The advent of the Holy Spirit brings Christ’s work to us and brings us to Christ Jesus who is our access to His Father.
We typically follow the structure of the Creed, moving from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Holy Spirit. But the Creed also works in reverse. When by our own reason and strength we are powerless to come to Christ, the Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, and keeps us in the true faith. The Spirit does not promote Himself, but He preaches Christ. In fact, Luther says Jesus has made the Holy Spirit a preacher:
“Here Christ makes the Holy Spirit a Preacher. He does so to prevent one from gaping toward Heaven in search of Him, as the fluttering spirits and enthusiasts do, and from divorcing Him from the oral Word of the ministry. One should know and learn that He will be in and with the Word, and that it will guide us into all truth, in order that we may believe it, use it as a weapon, be preserved by it against all the lies and deceptions of the Devil, and prevail in all trials and temptations… The Holy Spirit wants this truth which He is to impress into our hearts to be so firmly fixed that reason and all one’s own thoughts and feelings are relegated to the background. He wants us to adhere solely to the Word and to regard it as the only truth. And through this Word alone He governs the Christian Church to the end” (LW 24:362).
The Holy Spirit is fixated on Jesus and it is the Spirit’s mission to bring us to faith in Him for He is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him. The Third Article takes us back to the Second Article and the Second Article to the First Article where we recognize God for who He is, the Father Almighty who has made me and all creatures.
Now, where and how is the Holy Spirit doing His work of calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying me? Right here in His Church, where the Gospel is going on: “In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” The Advent of Christ Jesus in the flesh was a once and for all event. He was born once in Bethlehem. He suffered and died only once at Golgotha. He was raised from the dead never to die again, only once. But the Advent of the Holy Spirit was not a onetime event limited to Pentecost Sunday. No, His advent is, “daily and richly.” The forgiveness of sins is the very air we breathe and the Spirit continues to breathe it into us through the continual preaching of His Gospel. Spiritually, we cannot live without His words which are truth and life continually coming into our ears and lodging in our hearts. Therefore, we hold God’s Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
The Advent of the Spirit is ongoing and it points to the Last Day when the anticipation and hope of Advent will give way to fulfillment. We will no longer wait and groan but, rather, we will forever be with Christ our Emmanuel. With our own ears, we will hear the voice of our Good Shepherd and follow Him to the feast that forever brings together Christmas and Easter. But even now as we wait, the Advent of the Spirit gives us certainty and confidence. To paraphrase one theologian, every time the absolution is spoken, the verdict of the Last Day slips out ahead of time. Wherever the Spirit delivers Christ’s blood-purchased goods, the forgiveness of sins is pronounced, and the Word is believed, there is life and salvation! So, now we wait, but not in anxiety or uncertainty, but in living hope, born of the Spirit. It is a hope which will never disappoint.
“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” …He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:17, 20).