Date: December 19, 1937

An Advent Prayer

Thou Christ of the crib, Thou Christ of the cross:

Our hearts beat eagerly for the joy that will mark the blessed day of Thy birth; yet we earnestly entreat Thee to send us Thy Spirit, so that this rejoicing may be pure, faith-centered, untouched by carnal pleasures and extravagances, unspoiled by fear and worry, undiminished by sickness and want, unshaken by disbelief or despair, unimpaired even by death and bereavement. Grant us, as our most priceless Christmas-gift, a living faith, so that, our sins removed, our salvation sealed by confidence in these everlasting Christmas mercies, we may be new creatures through Thy love. May the Holy Spirit hallow our approach to Thy nativity, so that with the joy of the angels, the reverence of the virgin mother, the humility of the shepherds, we may prepare our hearts and homes to receive Thee, to believe Thee, to be blessed by Thee. As once Thou didst come in the lowliness of Bethlehem to bring salvation earthward, so do Thou come again in power to judge the quick and the dead, to bring Thy faithful into heavenly glory. For this blessed appearance keep us ever faithful and trustful for Thy name’s sake! Amen.

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.1 Timothy 1:15

ONCE, after Jesus humiliated the proud and swept away the self-righteous claims of His hearers, large numbers, including scores of His disciples, turned their backs on Him. His code and creed were too hard; they paid too little attention to the glamour of human greatness. Jesus refused to be impressed by authority, attainment. He despised the smugness of life that made hypocrites paint halos around their own heads, sanctimoniously pat their own backs, and pray the oily prayers in which they thanked God that they were not as other men. Ever since Jesus had begun His public ministry with the stern initial demand, “Repent ye!”; every time He exposed the falsehoods of those who prided themselves in cleaning the outside of the cup and compiling long indexes to their personal virtues; every time He told His audience, “Ye shall die in your sins,”—this measuring all men by one standard, this universal, sweeping condemnation which branded all as sinners, with selfish impulses of the heart, greedy ambitions in life, hateful feelings toward their fellow-men,—a degenerate race of doomed men and women,—He was feeding the volcanic fires of hatred and passion which would belch forth when they condemned Christ to the cross.

Since “the disciple is not above his Master,” we meet resistance every time sin is mentioned to emphasize the abounding grace of Christ. Some may find my words today distasteful, “an hard saying”; for sin is the most unpopular of subjects. A few have written that this broadcast is too unsparing; that we should refrain from indicting the sins of our times, the errors of false prophets, the malicious contradictions of the Scriptures. You want us to soft-pedal and win people by preaching what they like to hear. What is your opinion of a physician who tells a patient suffering from galloping consumption that he has only a sore throat and treats him accordingly? What would you say of a surgeon who could see a quack use Indian oil to cure a man with a ruptured appendix,—and then pat that murderous fraud on the back? Did Jesus—holy, sinless, perfect, as He the Son of God was—refuse to speak words of burning wrath in condemning sin? Did St. Paul behold the world with rose-colored lenses and see only the nobility of men? Did he close his ears to the groaning which arises from the earth as the perpetual dirge of sin and listen only to the dulcet twitterings of voices that sing the pretty little fairy tales of man’s goodness? Because this generation, with its deep-rooted problems, needs to be told, not how good it is but how bad it is, before it can be restored to health and vigor and blessing; because no man will ever reach heaven if he does not realize in unmistakable contrition that he needs to be saved, this broadcast, God helping us, your prayers supporting us, will continue to stress the ravages, the guilt, and the punishment of sin—but for one purpose only—so that the grace of Jesus Christ may gleam in its brightest brilliance.

To emphasize this blessed truth the eternal deliverance wrought for all men through our all-merciful and all­glorious Savior, let us prepare our hearts in the spirit of Christmastide for the promise that

CHRIST COMES WITH SURE SALVATION

by explaining and applying these golden words of inspired love (in 1 Timothy 1:15) “This is a faithful. saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

I

THIS IS THE PROMISE OF A BLESSED ATONEMENT

Never has sin been as completely dwarfed in thought as in this hour of its many triumphs. Ask the modern, Christ-denying preacher about iniquity, and he will express his supreme trust in human goodness. While men are killing their fellow-men on the corpse-strewn fields of battle, in labor wars, in the carnival of bloody crime; while millions are lying and cheating, envying and quarreling, coveting and stealing, catering to the flesh and its lusts; soft­voiced preachers cry, “Peace!” when there is no peace, exclaim in the words of one of their leaders, “Humanity is one tenth ugly; it is nine tenths lovely.” Last week I checked through a collection of sermons by eminent preachers, divinity-school teachers, religious leaders, university presidents and deans. Sermon after sermon avoids the word “sin.” Instead, you find the old smokescreen of man’s inherent virtues, the threadbare claim of eternal goodness under man’s rough exterior,—while the Scriptures unsparingly declare, “Man’s heart is evil from his youth.”

If churches commissioned to preach and teach the Word of God like to drop this ugly three-letter word from their sermons, ignore its stranglehold on the race, minimize its terrors, we can expect little recognition of sin outside the churches. Ask the modern psychologist about sin, and he will mumble something about libido, the thoughts and desires of your subconscious mind. Many of our radical psychologists do not hesitate to teach young people that they should give full expression to their impulses, though the Word of God may call them sinful. They will insist that the repression of these desires brings physical and mental injury, and they will demand, irrespective of what God says, unrestrained liberty in expressing these emotions.

Ask the radical biologist about sin, and he will answer in the words of a Midwestern leader: “Biology” has “shown that many things charged to original sin are natural human functions.” Wickedness is a hangover, we are told, a heritage of the lower animal stage, from which men have not yet completely evolved. If a man chokes another man to death or crushes his skull with a great rock, don’t speak of sin; it’s the gorilla in him. If a thug waylays a pedestrian and robs him at the point of a gun, don’t suggest sin; it’s the Robin Hood streak!

Ask the atheistic sociologist, and you parents concerned about the decency of your children will rub your eyes in incredulous wonder when you see that some of our modern social experts actually glorify vice. In the present number of a publication issued by America’s largest social organization we find a series of articles dedicated to American youth. In the discussion of young people and marriage, for example, we behold a deliberate rebellion against those basic principles of chastity which even the better pagan morality demands, not to mention the higher ethical claims of Christianity. It was bad enough twenty years ago when Russian atheists began their destructive theories from which even they are now recoiling; but when a program of impurity is featured by a scientific academy, it is time to protest. By applauding “a broadminded clergyman and physician” who counseled an unmarried young couple in trouble by suggesting the destruction of life, which is contrary to law and utterly opposed to all Christian morality, and by glorifying the “broadminded” clergyman as opposed to the “narrow-minded” preacher of the Word, this magazine summarizes the contemptuous disregard of murderous sin.

Ask the man of affairs about sin, and he will protest, “Why, of course, sin exists!” In words which I recently came across he will declare, “Think of the slums and prostitution and war!” But I am not thinking of that now; I mean specifically the sin in my life and yours, the hidden sin that we fear to lay bare, the favorite lusts that we like to nurture. It is easy enough to point, not without some self-satisfaction, to sins of others, to underscore obscenity or raise hands in sanctimonious horror against sex criminals. Yet the sin within our own hearts and lives,—ah, that is a different matter!

Ask commercial interests, and they will demand, “What is wrong with sin? Why, there is money in it!” Radio programs featuring the fall of man, the blackest tragedy of the race, are blasphemously made so ridiculous that millions from coast to coast rock in laughter as the third chapter of Genesis is held up to sarcastic scorn. The more suggestive the play on the stage, the picture on the screen, the story in a book, the greater its chances for financial success.

Ask the stylist about sin, and as you read the very names of the fashions, the “Mephisto Mode,” the “Panther Style,” the “Siren Style,” you will see that “provocative” seems to be the new fashion word, that clothes are described as “wickedly beautiful,” that suggestion is borrowed from the infamous resorts of the underworld. As a consequence women are taught, full in the face of God’s Holy Word, to think it an achievement when they can dress alluringly for evil adventure.—Sin saturates our world, and the thoughts of our own heart, the grasping of our hands, the straying of our feet on forbidden paths, the lustful gazing of our eyes and the self-indictment of our conscience combine to emphasize the charge of God “All have sinned.”

While honest minds, even of non-Christians, admit that depravity marks the race, there seems to be an insolent “Well, what are you going to do about it?” in the air. Of the necessity of forgiveness, of the fact that no man in his sins can ever stand before the Almighty, of that sharp sentence which Jesus Himself spoke, “Ye shall die in your sins,” of this our human nature wants to hear as little as possible, until, of course, in deathbed emergencies, sudden accidents, great calamities, when men feel themselves near eternity, they cry for light, truth, and pardon. Then human transgression looms in its damnable destruction. Then men learn that “the wages of sin is death,” not only death to human happiness and ambitions but the never­ending death of eternity. In the crossroad moments of life, sin, which seemed a pleasant servant, becomes a tyranny before which people cringe and whimper in terror. A Minnesota mother, burdened by the weight of her own sins, wrote me last week: “My sorrow has been so overpowering that at times I felt I couldn’t stand it another day. My secret is torturing me. I have cried and cried until no more tears would come. I believe that I have been paying and paying in suffering and grief for my sin. My soul will always be tortured. What can and what should I do to atone and make myself right with God?”

You can see, then, that the paramount need of the human race, the first and imperative necessity in my life and yours, is the answer to this personal yet worldwide question, “How can I be saved from sin?” Here, then, as the supreme Christmas gift, you have the assurance of our text “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” He did not come to kill but to save, not to punish but to pardon. He did not come to smile indulgently at sin but to lay His life down as a payment for all sin. He did not come to help sinners redeem themselves, but as the Christmas announcement proclaimed, “He shall save His people from their sins.” He did not come to show the way to salvation, for He is “the Way.” Hear it once more, and lock these words into the impenetrable recesses of your heart: He came “to save sinners,” to save you, to save you completely, assuredly, freely by His grace, to suffer in His own soul and body the punishment of all sin, to pay with His own blood the debt incurred by all iniquity, to bear Himself the crushing weight of all human wickedness.

Do you believe that you need to be saved and that Christ came to save you? Saint Paul did, for in the words following our text he calls himself the “chief” of sinners. There is much that I would give you as a Christmas gift had I but the means; yet nothing that I or any one else can bestow is comparable to the gift with which, I trust, God may enrich many of you during these pre-Christmas days,—the faith in this summarized truth of the Gospel “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” May God give you, as you believe this grace of the Christmas Gospel, a contrite heart, which does not seek to excuse or justify or disguise its sins, ignore or sidestep them, polish or paint them; the gift of a believing heart that does not hesitate, in spite of a ruined past or a dismal future, to cling to the immovable Rock of Ages; the gift of a trusting heart that does not falter despite black, scarlet, purple, crimson sins in approaching Christ to be made white as the new-fallen snow by the purifying power of Christ’s atonement.

II

“THIS IS A FAITHFUL SAYING”

This promise of forgiveness is not only cheering and uplifting; it is true. Every promise of God that graces the pages of the Bible is stamped by Heaven with the seal of assurance; but when one of these promises, as our text, is formally introduced with the guarantee, “This is a FAITHFUL saying,” then truth is added to truth. You can trust this doubly approved word of God and build for time and eternity on this pledge of your heavenly Father, the God of all truth.

What source of indescribable assurance to know that in this world of deceit and shattered promises we have one unquestioned, rock-grounded truth! What uplifting confidence to realize that even though human prophecies miscarry and human promises are rudely broken, even though husbands and wives prove unfaithful, friends unreliable, sons and daughters ungrateful,—this love of Christ will never be altered! Your own experiences may have embittered you or made you suspicious. The last years have taught us how promises signed by great corporations, treaties sealed by powerful nations, are disavowed. Yet if you have lost trust in men, find new faith in God! Put a question-mark behind any human utterances if you must, but write “Amen” behind the faithful sayings of God! Doubt anything if you will, when men speak, but when God offers you grace in Christ, then with all your heart and soul and mind accept this as the truth of all truth that it is.

You ask for proof, and though I cannot lead you now to that blessed throng, the ransomed of God, before His throne in eternity, now beholding in fulfilment what we on earth believe in promise, I can point even those of you who still withhold your unrestricted acceptance of Christ to that convincing truth, deeply carved into the memorials of history, and that decisive proof, written in the heart of every true Christian, the testimony of the Spirit of God within us. What made men acknowledge the beginning of a new era in human thought and achievement? Was it not the faith in this Christ of Christmas that “turned the world upside down”? Did not the Christ who had saved men’s souls now work in the hearts of His followers, to help them save their world? What was it that gave Christians, locked in the gloom of dungeons, bleeding under the lash, exiled from their homeland, tortured by the rack and flame of persecution, the fearlessness and fortitude to face the painful injustice of life and the crushing agonies of death itself with a calm and confidence that the world has never otherwise known? The answer comes to us down through the ages in a chorus of a million martyrs’ voices, “We know that the faithful promises of God have kept us ‘faithful unto death.’” If grace for your soul cannot be measured in laboratories and tabulated in field tests, once Christ takes possession of your life, all question and doubt vanish. Surveying His life of love from His birthplace at Bethlehem to His cross on Calvary, you, too, will exult, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that Day.”

What if human learning seeks to perpetuate its age-old error and contradicts the truth of Christ? The human mind has been proved faulty before, and history will continue to charge men’s theories with repeated errors. Let us not worry about the truth of the Gospel. Facing twentieth-century paganism we remind ourselves that “the foundation of God standeth sure.” Let our broadcast be a symbol of His power and help as I call your attention to another step in the march of progress recorded by this radio mission in the face of opposition. Thirteen new stations, covering the great States of Oregon and Washington and the adjacent Northwest, are added to this Gospel hookup. As we welcome the thousands of new listeners in Canada, on the Pacific Coast and Puget Sound, in the Columbia River, and Wenatchee valleys, in thriving cities like Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, and ask God that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the beauty of His holiness may find an abiding place in the hearts and lives of many of you, surrounded as you are by the majesty of God’s created glory, I remind you that these radio programs are visible proof of divine blessing. Three years ago we began with two stations, two years ago with eight, last year with seventeen, and now, all praise to our God, we are broadcasting the promises of eternal truth through fifty-nine stations. We have the assurance that under divine blessing, with the continuance of your interest, your prayers, your support, we have only started; that, God with us, His Word may be proclaimed as never before, not only in this country but also, if it be His will, abroad. You will rejoice to hear that these messages are being translated and printed in far off Palestine, distributed in communities once blessed by the Savior’s presence. The Word that He brought to our country we have been privileged to bring back to His own country, particularly among the Arabic peoples in Palestine. Now even from Bethlehem, from Nazareth, from Jerusalem, from Galilee, from Transjordania come the evidences of this faithful saying, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” for Palestinian hearts, won for Him, rejoice in the Word of His power.

III

THIS IS “WORTHY OF ALL ACCEPTATION”

If these rich promises of Christ’s powerful grace are “faithful”; if they are Heaven’s truth for all times, even for the last breaking hours of life; if they are God’s own pledge of peace for the valley of the shadow and also for the radiant heights, for penitentiaries and penthouses; if the Christmas Gospel is the eternal verity for all men, even for those who have broken faith with God, ridiculed and rejected the Christ of endless compassion, if the text that I have read to you from the Bible is so true that we hear the remarkable verdict of the Apostle, “If any man or any angel preach any other Gospel, he is accursed of God,” you will agree that Saint Paul was right when, gripped by holy earnestness, he wrote from his Roman prison that this message of salvation is “worthy of all acceptation.” Underscore this inclusive “ALL acceptation.” The coming Christ-child is every man’s Savior; but as I speak to your heart in His name, let me emphasize that He is particularly your Redeemer, that—God make this a blessed moment for you!—the Christ who came for all is now knocking at your heart to impress you with the most sublime and sacred truth you can ever hear, the blood­bought, cross-crowned, time-tested truth that He came for you and that the blessing of His coming is “worthy of all” your “acceptation.”

Before God I ask you again, as we approach the birthday of our Savior and King: Have you accepted the compassionate Christ of Christmastide with the penitent yet peace-bestowing faith in His love? Perhaps I have addressed this pointed question of eternal destiny to some of you whose homes are so preoccupied with the hurried preparations for the externals of Christmas: cleaning and cooking, buying and selling, wrapping and mailing, adorning and decorating, entertaining and being entertained, that in the hurry and worry of it all there is less time or thought for Christ as His birthday approaches than there is during the rest of the entire year. What a tragic contradiction that just in these blessed days, when the anticipation of joy-streaming love in the Christ-child should light many hearts, people are often so wearied by late hours, exhausted from the holiday strain, altogether unstrung, that that tragedy of the first Christmas is repeated: There is no room in the hearts and lives for the Son of God that is born to us as the gift of God’s grace. Oh, take time to prepare your hearts as well as your homes for the Christmas festival! Give Him no half-hearted welcome but whole­hearted acclaim; no indifferent, lukewarm lip-worship but the adoration of all your heart, the trust of all your soul, the allegiance of all your might.

Let every gift that you give and receive strengthen within you the deep gratitude for the “unspeakable gift” of Christ the Savior. Let every light that burns within your home testify to your faith in Jesus, the “Light of the world.” Let the golden gleam of ornaments remind you of the treasures of faith, the hope and the love that you, with the mind of the Magi, must lay at the feet of the Christ-child. Let the pungent pine direct you to the sweet­smelling Sacrifice of Christ Himself in that everlasting, never-ending love wherewith He “loved us unto the end.” Let your Christmas-cards contain a joyful acknowledgment of your faith in Christ—just as the shepherds “made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child.” Let the music and song that ring throughout your home be the joyful reechoing of the first angelic chorus over the fields of Bethlehem—“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” If you have Christ in Christmas, and this festival is not just another holiday but a holy day toward which through vigilant centuries the hopeful, wistful gaze of God’s prophets was steadily directed, you will in Christ have a Gift incomparably greater than all the Christmas bonuses and lavish remembrances that may be showered upon you. You will have Christ within you and through Him pardon, peace, and promise.

Come, then, believe this “faithful saying,” “worthy of all acceptation,” particularly of your trust! and as angels sang on earth when Christ came to live and die for you, so they will sing in heaven when you die and come to live through Him. God grant that these days before Christmas, when throughout the four corners of the earth the cry is raised “Christ the Savior is born,” may be days in which many will earnestly prepare to receive the Christ-child and find in Him their Savior from all sin! Amen!

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.