Come, Lord Jesus, Come
When we think of Advent, we probably don’t think about whether or not we have a free will in spiritual matters. Actually, most Christians really don’t wrestle with that question at all, whatever the season of the church year. They just assume that we do, that we are choosers when it comes to the afterlife, that Jesus is pretty lucky we’ve made a decision for Him, gone to Bethlehem, come to Him. But Advent doesn’t have time for that. Advent is a time that flips things. Advent reminds us who decides for whom, who comes to whom, who comes in Word and Sacrament, who came to Bethlehem, and who will come again for us.
“You do not seek him, but he seeks you. You do not find him, he finds you. For the preachers come from him, not from you; their sermons come from him, not from you; your faith comes from him, not from you; everything that faith works in you comes from him, not from you; and where he does not come, you remain outside; and where there is no gospel there is no God, but only sin and damnation, free will may do, suffer, work and live as it may and can. Therefore you should not ask, where to begin to be godly; there is no beginning, except where enters king enters and is proclaimed” (Luther, Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 1, 26).
Luther leaves no wiggle room here. He is bullish with the Gospel, but also with the reality that the Gospel is gift, entirely gift, bringing Christ and His benefits to us, proclaimed to us, coming from God. Advent is one big answer to the question of free will in matters of salvation. God is free. Our will is bound. God in His freedom comes to free us. Christ comes. He comes for us and He comes to us. “By this,” Luther says, “are condemned all those infamous doctrines of free will” (Luther, Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 1, 25).
Christ comes. He comes to us in Word and Sacrament. He comes wrapped in the Scriptures, water, bread and wine. He comes and absolves through our pastors and fellow believers. He comes, as on Bethlehem, without fanfare, but to give forgiveness, life and salvation. He comes to give the forgiveness, life, and salvation our flesh would never let us choose. He gives it despite that, raising the dead and giving ears to the deaf.
Christ came. He was made man, incarnate, born to die, raised for our justification. He came and cried and crawled and grew in wisdom and stature for us. He came and preached and suffered and died for us. He came and rose and ascended for us. He came, to us, and every day is still Christmas for us, to us, as the cross comes (yes, we don’t go to it) through the Means of Grace.
Christ will come again. This can seem frightening, but it shouldn’t. We know our sins. We know the wages of sin. But God does, too. That’s why He came. That’s why He comes. And it’s He who came and still comes in mercy and grace who will come again on the Last Day. “Do not flee and despair,” Luther urges, “for he does not come now as He came to Adam, to Cain, at the flood, at Babel, to Sodom and Gomorrah, nor as he came to the people at Mount Sinai.” No, “all wrath is laid aside, nothing but tenderness and kindness remain” (Luther, Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 1, 28). Advent is a season of repentance, but repentance isn’t only sorrow over sin, terror over the punishment we deserve, and a desire to do better. repentance includes trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. How can we doubt the sincerity, and the gentleness, of one who comes as Christ came, a child in a manger, and as He comes, purposefully hidden behind the unfrightening elements of bread and wine, water, and the lips of another?
“This means to speak consolingly to a sin-burdened conscience, this means to preach Christ rightly and proclaim his gospel. How is it possible that such a form of speech should not make a heart glad and drive away all fear of sin, death, and hell, and establish a free, secure and good conscience that will henceforth gladly do all and more than is commanded” (Luther, Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 1, 29).
Advent reminds us that salvation doesn’t depend on us, that we don’t go to Christ, but Christ comes to us. He comes, He came, and He will come again, to us, for us. We need not decide for Him. He has chosen us: His flesh, the water, the bread and wine, and the pastor’s voice are the proof. He has chosen us and He chooses us again and again, God’s mercy and forgiveness incarnate. Pray, then, with hope, and not with fear. Pray the prayer that dispels our notions of a free will in matters of salvation and makes plain our confidence that God’s will is clear and for us: “Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.”