It takes a tough person to get through Advent and Christmas, and then having to think about the New Year as well. These seasons of joy turn into shopping marathons for some. For others there are lonely hours of regret or intensification of grief as we compare our current situation to the situations of others or our own in the past. On the first Sunday of Advent one of the “cathedral preachers” of the Evangelical “Dom” in Berlin, Michael Kösling, preached on the stresses and strains of December in a time of new mutations of the Corona virus. With his hearers, he confronted forthrightly how expectations and disappointments conspire together with his hearers to make the seasons of rejoicing and celebration so dark and dreary for many in a time such as our own. A pall is cast over so much by our uncertainty regarding health, hospitalization, and funerals in a period when gathering with others brings danger to everyone concerned. North Americans may be more nonchalant about viruses than Germans, but infections of remorse or jealousy combine quickly with illness, loss of income, rising prices, and loss of friends and family, to make Advent, Christmas, and New Year seem occasions for something other than the peace which the angels proclaimed and the joy they expressed when they conversed with the shepherds of Bethlehem.
Pastor Kösling reminded his hearers that Advent hope and Christmas joy are not the stuff of sissies (although he did not quite say it that way). Our Advent anticipation of the coming of the Savior to liberate us from sin and its wage of death, from the condemnation of God’s Law and the wrath of a loving heavenly Father, is indeed a daring and defiant stance. For we take this stance in the face of troubles, trials, and tribulations that nag and nibble at our physical well-being, our mental sense of stability, and our spiritual resting easy in the presence of our Lord.
Those whom Christ has claimed as his own live in a constant “nevertheless” or “on the other hand” or “all the same.” This attitude concludes that despite what afflicts and threatens us, we can and will tough it out. We dare defiance of physical pain, mental stress, and spiritual fear, shame, or guilt, because we know the Advent King reigns, even though He may have come to us in a crummy crib instead of a sterile hospital birthing room. The royal properties of ancient Near Eastern donkey-riding may depreciate His entry into Jerusalem for us. A cross may seem a strange setting for its occupant to be labeled “King of the Jews.” We do not expect victorious monarchs to emerge from their tombs, even if these tombs are a good deal more splendid than that of Joseph of Arimathea. But this is the kind of king Advent announces. That King displays—in his own life and in ours—the kind of glory of which the angels sang to the shepherds. This is the glory of a kid’s crying in a crib, a criminal’s death on the cross, a corpse’s lying stone cold in a crypt. But it is also the glory which burst forth from the crypt on Resurrection Morning with the big bang of new creation for the sinners He was gathering to Himself.
Defiance of the realities of our own sin, the sins of others against us, and the conspiracies of creation—from flood and fire, earthquake, and invidious viruses or hostile bacteria—does not deny that sin and natural disasters or epidemics are seriously threatening our peace and joy. Christ gives His Christians a new, natural ability to take evil most seriously in every form and mutation it assumes. But He also shares with us a grasp of what lies before us which enables us to hope. He shares with us a fuller, long-range perspective on how the life that may seem unendurable some days, particularly in the midst of the stresses and strains of our celebrations of the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and New Year this year, fits into His plan for combatting and conquering every evil that assaults us, from within or without. This perspective gives us the toughness of hope based on Christ that brings peace and joy when they seem not to fit into the world dominated by those real evils. For in Christ, we understand their future is closed and sealed; our future is open and eternal.
For in Christ, we understand their future is closed and sealed; our future is open and eternal.
It is true that “I hope” can be no more than a fragile wish for the future. The phrase can indicate a foolish wish for something which can only do us harm. “Hope” in North American English has become a rather cheap word. The deeper confidence that made it buoyant in earlier generations has been deflated for many. Their hopes have too often been disappointed to permit them to believe that what they hope will come true. Christians may share this kind of experience, too, of course. But alongside such shallow hopes we have flexed the muscles of hope to become tough hopers. We have heard the cheering voice of the Savior who was heralded with “hosannas” as He entered Jerusalem, who made “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” turn out to be true in ways neither Pilate nor the officials of Jerusalem could anticipate.
Therefore, the adversities and afflictions of 2021 and those we fear will come in 2022 serve to nurse and nourish a toughness which fills us with the feeling of confidence. That confidence flows from and cultivates the assurance that our Lord is truly Lord of all. For we know Jesus (who seems to have been unjustly executed, but was indeed, as Luther said, “the greatest thief, blasphemer, adulterer, and murderer” of all time because He bore our sin) is also, “The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle” (Psalm 24:8), who confounded Satan and death and conquered our sin by dying under the Law’s condemnation of sinners to death. Like little sisters and brothers, we look illness and death, unemployment and loss of loved ones, fire, and flood square in the eye because our Big Brother Jesus stands alongside us and puts His hand on our shoulder. He has swallowed up all that threatens us, and it remains under His control. Although we still experience their assaults, we know the One who has come to rescue us lives—and reigns to all eternity.
Believers in Jesus cannot think of Advent without thinking of Christmas. We know Christ was born with the purpose of dying (indeed, not the purpose for which our Creator fashioned us, but we mysteriously were able to disrupt His plans). Christmas points us already to Good Friday. But His death “on account of—to take care of—our sins” led to His resurrection to restore our righteousness, our being children of God (Romans 4:25). This perspective gives us the gift of a certain courage and confidence which make us strong and tough. Truly strong and tough we cannot be on our own. For in our sinful selves, defying His plan for life (as politely and surreptitiously as we may do it), we are plagued with the infirmity of mortality, the wage of our own sin. But He has in our baptism shared His resurrection with us. As we celebrate Advent and Christmas, we flex the muscles of a new season, a new year, a new life which His resurrection and our baptisms have bestowed upon us.
Pastor Kösling proclaimed an Advent toughness as a gift from the Crucified and Resurrected Jesus. He recognized how tough it is to be living amid catastrophic flooding and ugly viruses as his hearers in Germany have experienced them this past year. He also stood before these hearers with the confident proclamation of the Lordship of the One who demonstrated His toughness in the weakness and foolishness of the cross. This Jesus is the One who has come and is coming to liberate His people by barging into our daily lives with the gift of death to sin and every evil and of resurrection to follow in the footsteps of Christ. Those footsteps led from the triumphant entry on Palm Sunday to the cross on Good Friday, through the tomb that could not hold Him on Easter, and into the throne set aside for Him at the right hand of God the Father on Ascension. There He has promised to receive the toughies whom the Holy Spirit has created through trusting in Him and hoping for His ultimate deliverance. There He promises to host us forever.