We’ve been walking our way through the verses of this ancient advent hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and the Antiphons (antiphon means responsive verse) that serve as their basis. So far we looked at O Wisdom from on high, O Adonai, and this last Sunday at O Root of Jesse’s tree. Our text for tonight begins with a strange little story from Isaiah and with the O Antiphon that we begin to study – O Key of David’s house and Scepter of the house of Israel, you open and no one can close, you close and no one can open: Come. And rescue the prisoners, who are in darkness, and in the shadow of death. I used to work in the A/V Department of Concordia University where we would set up all kinds of technology in pretty much every classroom on campus, and because of that we would need we had a big old key ring that we needed to use. It took a lot of time and you had to remember which key did what, which punch-codes for which doors, until I got to the point when they trusted me enough to let me use… the A key… it was a key that could open any door on the campus. You could go into any classroom.
There were only a few of them on campus. It had a $1,000,000 (or more) insurance policy on it, because if you lost it, they would have to replace every single lock on campus. Our O Antiphon for today is talking about the keys to the kingdom of God. This is the power to unlock the riches of heaven itself. It’s the power to open every single piece of your life to your God. It’s how God opened up the kingdom of heaven to all believers. It is forgiveness. Tonight, our elders handed a little half-sheet of paper out to each of you with a little outline of the sermon and three lines. I want you during this sermon to think of the three people who have hurt you the most, or who are most difficult to forgive. I want them front and center in your mind.
Our first meditation for tonight is that forgiveness is the key to God’s house and the Scepter of God’s house. Just like Eliakim was given the keys to the house of David, and then he had every privilege and responsibility that came along with it, so we, when we recognize our Christianity, we see that our first impulse is to be quick to confess our own sins and quick to forgive others. That’s what Jesus is saying in Matthew 16. The M.O. of the Christian is to forgive. Now, let me tell you what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is not a feeling. It isn’t that warm, at peace feeling that you think you need to have before you can let go of what someone did. That will come and go. But you don’t have to feel forgiving to forgive. Forgiveness is not ignoring. Forgiveness is not saying “it’s ok.” Or “don’t worry about it.” Our schluffing it off under the rug. No. You don’t have to pretend like it didn’t hurt, or like it doesn’t matter. Forgiveness is when you look another person in the eyes, and you tell them, yes, you did hurt me. But I choose not to hold that hurt against you. Forgiveness is a choice, and it’s a discipline. It’s a choice when I choose to be kind and merciful even when I don’t feel like it. It’s a discipline when I choose to be merciful consistently, day after day. It’s a choice when you see others choosing to be cruel and vengeful.
It’s a discipline when you are called to do it to others who are being cruel and vengeful to you. Can you see how incredible a gift and how incredible a responsibility this is? Or, as I say to my premarital counseling couples, after forgiving your spouse of the same thing for the thousandth time, can you see why the work of being merciful is hard? It is the key to the kingdom and it is the kingdom’s power. If our first place of meditation was on the key and the Scepter, then the second is the phrase that follows: Forgiveness sets prisoners free. Physically and Spiritually. There are many physical benefits to forgiving. Studies show that those who forgive often have lower stress levels. They have healthy hearts, lower pain, lower blood pressure, and they tend to live longer lives. And those are true, and those things are good things. But. We don’t practice forgiveness because it lengthens our life or even because it keeps us from feeling our consequences. No, we forgive because we want to be doing what Jesus does. We forgive because Christ forgave us.
That is the truth that many of our members serving jailtime would know. The love of Christ set Charles Stanke free before even when he was still in jail. The love of Christ set Angie Bluhm free even as she still serves her sentence. The love of Christ set St. Paul free even as he lived out the last of his days under house arrest. The love of Christ, the forgiveness that opens the door to heaven, sets you free to eternal life whatever place you are in, whatever sins burden your back, whatever hurts you hold in your heart, whatever armor you’ve been lugging around all these years. Our Savior says, I know who you are. I know what you’ve been through. I know every struggle, every burden, every pain, and I love you with an everlasting love that will never go away.
This Advent time, I ask you, I beg you, to remember again that a forgiving heart begins by remembering how much God has forgiven you. By remembering how when we were an enemy and hostile to God, he still had sent his son to forgive us all our sins. By remembering how beautiful the love of God that he wouldn’t stop seeking us even after we wander off. By remembering how deep the love of God that he would reveal to us the most amazing, most incredible use of our humanity and then he would tell us to just go around and do it! He is a forgiving savior, and he will come again. Amen and Amen.