Advent marks a time of preparation for the church. The Lamb of God is coming again to judge both the living and the dead. For some, this means absolution. For many others, it will be a moment of absolute horror. Not because they did too much evil or were not more focused on spiritual things. The day of judgment will be horrifying for those who didn’t trust in God’s free grace.

Advent is the time when sinners are called to wake up, pay attention, and prepare for the coming of the Lord. God is coming to us sinners so that we may be saved. That’s the message of the Church in Advent, that “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

The coming of the Christ-child brings absolution and freedom to all who believe. God doesn’t ask us to behave better or become more spiritual. He simply says, “Trust me, the works I do for you through the son will give you new life and new hope for today and into eternity.”

Advent is not a call to prepare to engage in a transaction with God. God did not come in the flesh to make a deal with us. He wasn’t conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, so he could offer us a good deal on rehabbing our personal history or nailing down our eternal destiny. “Prepare the way of the Lord,” is not a call to put on our Sunday best and set out the fine china. The message of Advent can’t be domesticated so easily.

Everybody in history is called to come and behold the Christ-child. We are not summoned to bring our works or spirituality as if they were gifts that rival those of the Magi and thus earn us God’s approval. We are told, “Come, behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” We are to shut up about our works because our spirituality is a world of pure imagination. The only judgment we discover in Christ is one of approval and inclusion for all who believe in him.

Advent is only bad news for those who refuse to believe that God chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world. They reject his coming in the flesh to serve as a ransom for our sin.

Advent’s message prepares the way of the Lord, who, while we are still sinners, comes not to be served by us but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. The church’s proclamation of Jesus’ coming is like someone reading a ransom note after the ransom has already been paid in full.

For the church, this message is the absolution that she’s been ransomed from sin, death, and Satan by the blood of the Christ, the Son of the living God who has:

“...redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity” (Martin Luther, SC, Creed II).