Readings: Ephesians 3:8-12 | John 10:11-16
Text: Ephesians 3:8-12
Who was Ambrose? What led the Church to remember him?
Aurelius Ambrosius was born in 339 to a Roman Christian family in Gaul in modern-day Germany.
His father was a praetorian prefect, or high-ranking administrator for the province. Ambrose was set to follow in his father’s footsteps, going to school in Rome. He practiced law for a while, but in 370 was eventually appointed civil governor of Liguria and lived in the capital, Milan. He was a noteworthy statesman, good orator, and well-liked.
Four years later in 374, bishop Auxentius, an Arian, died in office. This controversy had been brewing since the council of Nicea. Arius’ teaching that Jesus was not true God had many adherents, especially in the court. There was a lot of controversy about who would follow him. The Nicene and Arian laity were fighting over this question, so much that Governor Ambrose had to step in. As he was addressing the crowd, the Nicene laity began to shout for his election as bishop, “Ambrose, bishop!” The Arians were okay with that, because Ambrose had treated them fairly.
Just one big problem. He was still a new Christian, an unbaptized catechumen with no theological training. He fled from the meeting and hid at a colleague’s house. This colleague gave him up and within a week, Ambrose was baptized, ordained, and consecrated on December 7, 374.
He was faithful in his office, adopting an ascetic lifestyle, selling his property and providing for his sister. He had good favor with the people as governor, and now as bishop he was even more loved. This favor helped him in his future relations with government interaction.
Ambrose not only cared for his flock, but from his experience in the state, saw the need for the public welfare of the Church. He served as spiritual counselor to the next several western emperors. His goal was to forge an alliance with the Roman state to bolster the orthodox faith against Arianism, paganism, and Judaism.
He influenced Emperor Gratian to remove an altar to the goddess Victory from the Roman senate. He refused a later emperor’s wife’s demand to have Milan’s churches facilities used to garrison Gothic (Arian) troops. He resisted imperial influences on teaching and disciple within the Church, clearly articulating a proper division between church and state: “For the emperor is within the church, not above the church.” He called Emperor Theodosius I to publicly repent in the streets of Milan after he massacred civilians in Thessalonica in retaliation for an imperial official’s murder.
He also became a prominent theologian. Through his acumen and eloquence, Ambrose was instrumental in Augustine of Hippo’s conversion. He also authored the hymn which we just sang, Savior of the Nations Come, along with two others in our hymnal (874 and 890).
It’s noticeable how unworthy and unprepared Ambrose was for the task that the Lord laid at his feet. Like St. Paul, he was a most unlikely candidate (save for being hostile to the Church).
8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord
God’s work is not seen in the individuals and personalities of the saints He calls to service. This is a vain dream of our sinful heart which wants to be remembered and make a legacy for one’s self. His work is to “bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages” which is made manifest in the Word of God.
You don’t have to be a bishop or preacher in order to share in this work of God. Parents do it very simply by reading the Bible with their children, teaching them to pray, modeling lives of devotion to the Lord. Friends do this by displaying the love of Christ and living in the joy of the Gospel, so that those who don’t believe or are conflicted can be guided by the light in you. Everyday Christians do this when they live their lives conscientiously—holding to life in a society that embraces death as a savior, honoring marriage in the midst of hedonism, knowing what is right in an age of moral relativism.
The Lord raised up Ambrose at a time of crisis in order to faithfully guide His Church. That’s what needed to happen for the good of God’s people in that place and time. He wasn’t thinking about how he would be remembered by history, how his eloquence would ripple to Augustine, and later to Martin Luther. Too often we are sold the idea that what we do must be exceptional, but that is to aggrandize ourselves. It is enough to love the Lord who has brought His Word to us, to love our neighbor who is right before us, and to pray for the Lord’s guidance and that He equip us for our various tasks.
What does Ambrose teach us about during the Advent season?
It’s an overwhelming thing to ponder the big picture—our country, our world, where things will go. Nevertheless, God has revealed to us the mystery that surpasses every other variable about this life: Christ is coming again in glory, and in the meantime, He rules at the Father’s right hand to accomplish His loving and saving purpose.
How do we take part in something so monumental? By bowing our hearts in prayer to Him, “Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.”
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Ambrose, Sermon Against Auxentius, 36
 Walker, Williston, “A History of the Christian Church” (4th ed.), pp. 159-160.