The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come!"
A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 18, 2022 at Holy Communion
From the Revelation to St John: “The Spirit and the Bride say, Come“ (Revelation 22:17). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.
On this final Sunday of Advent, we hear two things: first that Jesus comes to take away the sin of the world, which we hear from John the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29); and second, that this is a reason for rejoicing, which we hear from Saint Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4).
These two themes, God’s coming taking away sin and our rejoicing at his coming, weave together wonderfully in the last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22. Here is some of that chapter (Jesus is speaking):
Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.
Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practises falsehood.
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!
The confusing, startling, dazzling images of the book of Revelation, images of fire and blood and judgement, culminate with the writer spontaneously shouting, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.” After the whole book has detailed how terrible the final judgement of the world will be—something we heard about two weeks ago from Jesus’ own mouth, actually—how could anyone want Christ to come again to judge the world?
St John says, “Come, Lord Jesus,” because he knows how much the world is in need of a total reset. He lists the forms of evil that are particularly concerning: sorcery, sexual immortality, murder, idolatry, and fraud. The evil may as well keep on doing evil, and the righteous keep on doing what is right, he says, because the whole mess won’t get sorted out until Christ comes.
We can connect to the longing for an end of sin best if we look inward. We want Christ to come so that we can finally be made whole. Throughout Advent, after the collect of the day, we have prayed the Advent collect, which says, “give us grace to cast away the works of darkness.” And in our collect for today, we acknowledge “we are sorely hindered by our sins from running the race that is set before us.” Our desire for an end of sin is really more about ourselves than it is about other people: we know from our own hearts that we can have no peace until our spirits are quiet and holy.
The good news for today is that Jesus comes to take away the sin of the world, and we can rejoice. The point of the Gospel reading is that John, whom everyone thought might be the Christ, the solution to the problem of human wickedness, is not the Christ, and he knows it. Instead, he’s the one who points to Jesus. Jesus is the Lamb of God.
Knowing the Jesus takes away the sin of the world is a reason to rejoice. God came to earth to take away our sin, so that we could have peace with God. We can say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” We “rejoice in the Lord,” as St Paul says, because the peace of God is ours through Jesus. For us, “the Lord is at hand” is good news, because it means that God intends to make final what he has already begun in us: to take us out of darkness, and bring us fully and finally into light.
That rejoicing is the bridge to Christmas. After all of this talk about the end of the world in Advent, we are led back to the manger because, although we may still be waiting for the end, we already know that God came to take away sin. When we comes again to complete the job, he will just be finishing what he started in Bethlehem.
So at Christmas, in our Gospel reading, we will hear about light coming into the world. Today, and especially as we celebrate Christmas next weekend, we celebrate the light coming into our hearts to give us peace with God and to drive away the darkness of sin that takes away all joy. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.