Second Sunday in Advent [c] December 5, 2021
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
In the Name of Jesus.
Our Lord gives us a fellowship, a partnership, a peaceful binding together in oneness. In our world, this is a true gift.
Our world is divided, we know that—people broken off from others, neighbor in conflict with neighbor.
The philosopher Hannah Arendt—she had been arrested by the Gestapo and then was able to flee the Nazis just before the war began—spoke of how as governments become more totalitarian it leads to “isolated individuals in an atomized society.” People isolated from one another, society atomized so that it’s no longer a community—everyone on their own.
Hannah Arendt wrote of how people who feel themselves to be rootless or homeless will seek a home at any price, with horrific results.
Is that what we see going on around us? Sociologists speak of a generation of people isolated, alienated—they stay in their houses, they drive around in cars with darkened windows so no one can interact with them, they’re cut off from neighbor. People who feel isolated so they seek a comradeship with others, they seek a commonness, a group they can belong to. And this leads to, as Hannah Arendt put it, “horrific results.” Is this what we see going on?
First, everyone feels isolated, then everyone looks for a group to be in. So we hear of young men joining a white nationalists group, or a black nationalists group, or a group of looters claiming to be anti-fascists, or whatever else, but at least they have a sense of belonging.
Our Lord gives a fellowship, a peaceful binding together in oneness, unlike any group artificially binding itself together for worldly power or advantage. In our world, this is a true gift.
Paul speaks of the partnership in the Gospel:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel.
This “partnership,” it comes from the Greek word koinonia. Elsewhere koinonia is translated as fellowship. The Lord binds us together in fellowship with one another in the Gospel. Elsewhere koinonia refers to fellow partakers of the Lord’s grace. Elsewhere it is translated as communion, as in how our Lord binds us in oneness with himself in the communion of his Body and Blood—Holy Communion.
This partnership, this fellowship, this communion we are given with one another, it is in the Gospel.
What is this Gospel?
The word Gospel can slip into a little sloppiness. We might hear someone say, The best truck? Oh, that the F-150, and that’s the Gospel truth. Or the best food in Albuquerque is at Sadie’s Restaurant, and that’s the Gospel truth. Or the most beautiful mountains are in Colorado, and that’s the Gospel truth. At which point, we’ve sort of emptied the word Gospel out of any real meaning.
In Scripture, the Gospel refers to the good news of Jesus Christ crucified; the good news of the forgiveness of all sin; the good news of the justification of the sinner. If anyone asks us what the Gospel is, it is simply this: The good news which announces to the sinner that you are saved not by works, but by grace, and that is the free gift of God.
So Paul says we are given partnership, we are bound in fellowship with our Lord and with each other by the Gospel. Philippians 1:3:
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel.
In our world, this fellowship with one another is a true gift.
Because, in our world the only human fellowship we can speak of which applies equally and fully to every human—man, woman, and child—is the fellowship that we all share with one another … of sinful flesh.
And because we all share in sinful flesh, we are all equally guilty at the face of God. And because we are sinful and guilty at the face of God, we all, every person on the face of the Earth, share in the fellowship of death.
Do we wonder why people in every society of every generation live with conflict, with despair, with envy and jealousy, with false strivings for earthly righteousness? Is it not because the one thing we all share equally is the fellowship of sinful flesh?
So into the world of sin, the Lord sent a prophet. He came to proclaim the coming Savior. He came preaching,
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
How did the prophet, John the Baptist, prepare the way of the Lord?
He did it by preaching Law and Gospel. He did it by proclaiming sin and grace. By proclaiming to sinners that they are sinners, and that is the only fellowship they share in, and then that the Coming Lord was entering to forgive their sin and bestow salvation.
[John] said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
That is Law to convict every sinner, no one left out.
But the Lord does not have his Law preached in order to leave the sinner in the accusation of the Law.
The Lord has his Law preached in order to accuse the sinner and drive the sinner away from his own righteousness and to the righteousness of the free gift of the Gospel.
In other words, the Law is always preached in order to bring to the Gospel. Sin is always exposed in order to bring the sinner to grace. God’s wrath is always preached in order to proclaim God’s salvation. Luke 3:18:
With many other exhortations [John] preached the Gospel to the people.
These people who came out from Jerusalem as sinners, have heard the Gospel from the prophet, they have been baptized into repentance and the forgiveness of sins, and they are now bound together in the partnership of the Gospel.
That’s the Church.
We have many partnerships in our lives. Partnerships we form up with our neighbor when we join with him or her in a political party, perhaps; partnerships we form up in a soccer league or perhaps a sewing club. We even know of sinful partnerships of people grouping themselves together in order to loot or riot or some other activity to tear down neighbors.
These are human partnerships, for good and bad. And the partnership extends only so far as we can extend it. A soccer club in Bernalillo County doesn’t do much to bind us in partnership with a family in, say, Romania. A city choir in Albuquerque doesn’t do much to give us fellowship with a Siberian farmer.
But the Church is the partnership formed up by the Lord. The Church is the fellowship of sinners called to the Name of Jesus. They are bound together in the cleansing of the Gospel. They are made partners with one another in that Gospel. This fellowship of the Gospel, it extends to every place the Lord is having his Word proclaimed, to every language, tribe, and nation.
By this Gospel, our Lord is binding us together. The Gospel of all sins forgiven, of the sinner justified by the Word of Christ—in this Gospel, our Lord makes us partners with one another. For the Gospel is the Lord’s Word by which he is forgiving our sin and making us one with him.
In the Name of Jesus.