The Commemoration of St. Ambrose
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Advent is meant to prepare us for a pious and devout commemoration of the birth of Our Lord. We rightly desire to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ for by it God has revealed His grace to us and won our salvation. Preparation is needed if we are to mark the occasion with not only ceremony and decoration fitting such a remembrance, but also if our hearts are to be ready to receive anew what God desires to give. We do not come upon the great mystery of the Incarnation as drunken revelers stumbling down the alley toward another drink, but as those who soberly recognize the great cost that God has taken on Himself, as those who have been eagerly awaiting word of His arrival, as those who have swept the house clean for a guest of honor. For we are presented to Christ like a virgin bride whose bridegroom returns victorious from war, trembling not in fear but in eager anticipation and joy.
The Church always prepares in the same way, always with and by repentance. For we are a people of unclean lips. We have fallen prey to Satan’s illusions and false promises again and again. Our weaknesses and self-indulging ways have hurt those we love and endangered not only our own faith but also the faith of our families and neighbors. We have hidden our light and denied our saltiness for fear of what it would cost us, for fear we would lose the fun of our sins if we lived by the faith we have been given. A call to turn, to change our minds and our ways, is always appropriate; but it is especially needed if we are to approach God and dare to meditate upon His taking up residence in the Virgin’s womb.
Now repentance is not all sorrow. It includes sorrow over sin, but it is more than that alone. For true repentance is also trust in Jesus Christ. True repentance is turning from sin toward God. And the Church leads us to this not by brow beating, threats, or fear tactics, but by proclamation of Divine Truth. The Truth of God’s wrath is proclaimed alongside the greater Truth of God’s love in Jesus Christ which has rescued us from the perils of our sins and cleansed us of all guilt. There is no better way to prepare for the gifts of God than by being forgiven, for where sins are forgiven there faith is stirred, strengthened, and encouraged, and he who has faith is well-prepared indeed.
The Church does this work, in part, by singing. For the penance of preparation traditionally has three parts: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Our attendance tonight is part of an Advent devotion, an extra dose of God’s Word and Prayer to get us ready for Christmas. Certainly the central thing is the Holy Communion, but God also gives us our part to play and a large part of our part is singing God’s praise by singing of the glorious and gracious things God has done for us in His Son.
So it is quite fitting that in the midst of Advent we would commemorate St. Ambrose, for besides being a godly bishop, he also wrote many hymns and is sometimes entitled “The Father of Church Song.” Among his many compositions that are still sung today are the Te Deum and the sermon hymn, “Savior of the Nations Come.”
Consider how Ambrose calls us back to saltiness and to shine the Light of Christ before men, how he would have us prepare. In all of the hymn he only addresses us once. He says: “Wonder earth,” that is consider or ponder or meditate upon the reality, “that the Lord chose such a birth.” Every other word in this hymn details the history of our God coming to earth to be the Savior of all men. He is the Father’s equal, with the Father as His Source, who by the Spirit takes up the Virgin’s Flesh to win the victory for us over sin by humbling Himself and suffering Hell in our place and then rising up back to His throne and crown. This Incarnation shines into the darkness of our wintery hearts and the darkness dissipates. Faith is born anew and springs forth to life again.
There is preparation, penance in singing, worthy of the Bride of Christ, for in such singing we speak back to God what He has revealed to us: He is our Savior.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Pastor David Petersen