Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Sunday in Advent

First Sunday in Advent (C)
November 29, 2009
Text: Luke 19:28-40

Advent is about the coming of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. The word Advent means coming. And certainly in these days before Christmas, Advent is a season of preparation for the people of God who will once again celebrate the first coming of our Savior as the Babe of Bethlehem and Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We prepare over the next four weeks to celebrate once again the coming of the Son of God in the flesh to be our substitute, to fulfill the holy Law of God on our behalf, to shed His blood for us, to bear our sins on the cross, to suffer the hell that we, by our sins, deserve, and to die in our place, to be buried in our tomb, to be raised again from the dead and ascend into heaven, that we might have the sure and certain hope of our own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day and eternal life in heaven. But so also, Advent is a season of preparation for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, His coming to judge the living and the dead, His coming to deliver us and all of fallen creation once and for all from sin, death, and the devil. Because Jesus came the first time as our Savior, we can look forward confidently, and with eager anticipation, toward His second coming as Judge, for on that Day He will say to all who believe in Him: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34; ESV). But of course, we need to be prepared for His coming. We must be careful, lest He come at a time we do not expect Him, and He find us having forsaken the faith. For on that great and dreadful Day He will say to all unbelievers: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41). “Depart, unbelievers, into the eternal fire of hell.

How can we be prepared for our Lord Jesus’ second coming? By continuously receiving the benefits of His first coming. That is to say, we must stay connected to the means of grace, the holy Word of God and the blessed Sacraments, our Baptism into Christ, and the Lord’s Supper. Through these means, Jesus continually comes to us with every grace and blessing. He gives faith through these means, and He sustains us in the one true faith of Jesus Christ through these means. The Lord Jesus imparts His Holy Spirit to us through these means, and through these means the Holy Spirit does His calling to faith, His gathering into the Church, His enlightening with His gifts, and His sanctifying and preserving of the saints. By these means the Holy Spirit ever directs us to Christ alone, who comes to us with His tender Word of forgiveness and life, His washing of regeneration and renewal, His body and blood, given and shed for us, for the forgiveness of our sins. This is supremely important, because as much as we need the benefits of the cross of Christ if we are to be prepared for the Judgment, accounted righteous, and receive eternal life, we cannot go to the cross. We cannot go to the cross because it no longer exists. Jesus died on the cross 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem. We are gathered in 2009 in Dorr, Michigan. Even if we went to Jerusalem, the cross has long since been destroyed. And even if we searched through all the ancient woodpiles of the holy land, how would we ever know if we found the authentic cross? And what good would it do us if we did find it? Certainly the cross is no mere good luck charm. It is the instrument of our Lord’s death on our behalf. How do we receive its benefits? Our God is so gracious. He has provided a means by we which may receive all the benefits of the sin-atoning work of Christ on the cross. He has attached His promise to words and water and bread and wine, the vehicles of His grace. These pipe in to us across the centuries and across the miles the grace and the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. These grant us salvation. So you see, there is a three-fold coming of Christ: He came to be our Savior that first Christmas. He is coming again to be our Judge at the end of time. And in the meantime, He continually comes to His people through the Word and the Sacraments.

But the question is, how shall we receive Him? That is why the Gospel lesson for the First Sunday in Advent, the first Sunday of a new Church year, is the triumphal entry. Jesus is coming into Jerusalem, coming for the culmination of His coming into the flesh: Jesus is riding into Jerusalem to die. And the question is, how will people receive Him? The multitude of the disciples who had been following Him receive Him on the road with great rejoicing. They begin to praise God with a loud voice, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38). Yes, peace in heaven, for now there is peace between men and God. The Savior has come! And glory in the highest, for Jesus, in His death for God’s beloved, brings glory to His Father, and is Himself glorified on the cross. If only the disciples had any clue what they were saying. For though they are rejoicing, and though they say the right things, they betray their own ignorance. All they talk about on the way is the miracles Jesus has done (v. 37). Good enough. But they do not rejoice in His teaching. They do not understand who Jesus is, or what He has come to do. They do not understand that He is no earthly King, no earthly deliverer. They would not be rejoicing if they knew that Jesus rides into Jerusalem, not to muster an army to fight against the Romans, but to die. To die for the people. That is Jesus’ mission. That is why He came.

If anyone should have understood Jesus’ mission, it ought to have been the Pharisees. They are the learned men of the Law. They know the Holy Scriptures. Surely they see that the Messiah described in the writings of Moses and the prophets sits before them in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. But they reject Him. They do not receive Him. Because He threatens their comfortable, self-righteous theology. In the midst of the exultant praises of the multitude, the Pharisees say to Him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples” (v. 39). “Can’t you see that this is inappropriate, Jesus? In accepting the praises of this rabble, you claim to be God!” Of course, that’s just the point. Here is God in human flesh, riding into Jerusalem on a colt, to die, and so reconcile His people to Himself.

And so, dear friends, the text leaves the question open: What about you? How will you receive Him? Will you receive Him with great joy, as the disciples on the road, but only as long as He meets your preconceived image of who He should be and what He should do? Have you ever begun a sentence with the words, “I just can’t believe in a God who…” or “My Jesus would never…”? Repent. Or will you receive Him as the Pharisees do, perhaps knowing the Holy Scriptures, the Scriptures that are the very Word of Christ our Savior, but ignoring their truth when that truth is inconvenient, when the Scriptures teach something that makes you uncomfortable, for example, that all unbelievers go to hell, or that homosexuality is sinful, or that women are prohibited from the pastoral ministry, or… you fill in the blank with the teaching that most threatens you in your self-constructed theology? And especially when the Scriptures nail you to the wall as the sinner that you are… You must be a sinner if you need a Savior. But this is a hard truth for our self-righteous, Pharisaical flesh. Repent.

The truth is, the only way we ought to receive our Lord Jesus is in repentance and faith. Repentance, recognizing that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and have sinned against Him in thought, word, and deed. We come to the table in the matter of our salvation with nothing in our hands but sin and uncleanness. But we trust in Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness, mercy, and salvation. Jesus empties our hands by taking our sin and uncleanness into Himself on the cross. Our hands have to be good and empty, so that Jesus can fill them with Himself, with His own righteousness, with His life, with His cleanness. He does that, again, as He continually comes to us in the Word and the Sacraments. And in this way you see that while Jesus Himself must prepare us to receive Him, the more important point is that He receives us. He receives us just as we are, sinners that we are, muddy and stinking with sin as we are. He comes to us. He rides into Jerusalem. He rides into Dorr. He rides in to save sinners, to receive us into His outstretched arms, His nail-pierced hands, to cover us in His blood and so wash us clean, to speak His forgiving Word over us, to feed us at His unending feast. Jesus receives us, filthy, rotten, sinners that we are, as His beloved and holy Bride!

Jesus redeems His beloved and holy Bride in His first coming as Savior. He is coming again to take us to the wedding feast on the Last Day. In the meantime, He prepares us for the feast by coming to us and washing us, speaking words of love to us, and giving us a foretaste of the feast to come. This continual coming to us in Word and Sacrament sustains us in this time between the comings. This is a good time to remember the importance of our continual connection to Christ by His means of grace. The Advent season is upon us with its attendant extra services, extra devotions, and busy-ness of preparation for Christmas. Don’t forget, in the midst of all of these things, that the most important thing in your Advent preparation is to encounter the risen and living Lord Jesus here in His Church, in His blessed Word, and in the Sacrament of His body and blood. Jesus comes through these means. He is here, present, in the flesh! How could you miss that? If you miss it, you’ve missed the whole point. But when you are here, know that it is none other than Jesus Christ, your heavenly Bridegroom who comes to you with His gifts. The One who redeemed you with His blood comes and receives you, takes your sins away by forgiving them, and gives you Himself. And so you are prepared to meet Him when He comes to take you to the wedding feast that has no end. So let us sing it again, the words of the Jerusalem crowd, as we prepare for the Holy Supper: “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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