First Sunday in Advent
November 28, 2010
Text: Matt. 21:1-11
The First Sunday in Advent, the First Sunday of a new Church Year. The world is already full-throttle into the Christmas shopping season, preparing for the big day. And the Church, too, has begun a season of preparation. It is not yet Christmas for the Church. We believe Christmas is so important that we have a whole season of preparation. It is, in fact, a minor penitential season, not quite as austere as Lent (we can still say “alleluia!” in Advent, but we don’t sing the Gloria in Excelsis or “This is the Feast”), but certainly Advent is a time of repentance for our sins and reflection on our need for Christmas. For Christmas brings to us our greatest need: A Savior! Christ, the Lord. Emmanuel: God with us, God in human flesh. This is the great mystery of Christmas: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14; ESV). The Word that was in the beginning, through whom all things were created, the Word that was with God, the Word that was God, is now also a man, Jesus of Nazareth. And He is a man who dies, dies for His people on the cross, making full atonement for our sins. But He is also a man who is now risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep, so that on the Last Day we also will rise and have eternal life with Him.
So the First Sunday in Advent marks a new beginning. And we assume that, as with everything else, we should begin at the beginning, with Jesus’ birth. But that’s not where we start on this Sunday. For the Church Year is a journey through the life and teachings of Christ. And in any journey, you actually begin with your destination. You have to know where you are going if you are to plan a successful journey. And so today, we begin with our destination. Why this particular Gospel lesson on the First Sunday in Advent? The Triumphal Entry? Jesus is riding into Jerusalem to die on the cross. This is the Palm Sunday reading. And this is the perfect place to begin our journey this Church Year. For the coming of the Son of God in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth was for this very purpose, that He come into Jerusalem as King of the Jews, and die there. Jesus came to die. You cannot understand Christmas without Holy Week and Good Friday. This is the grand mistake so many make who come to church only on Christmas (and maybe Easter). Without Good Friday, without the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, without His suffering and death, Christmas is meaningless. It’s just the birth of another baby. If you only come on Christmas, you’ve missed the point entirely. You’ve totally misunderstood Christianity, the Bible, and Jesus Himself. So today we begin the journey with our destination: Jerusalem, Holy Week, the cross.
Again, that’s why Jesus came. Advent means coming. Advent is a season of meditation on the three-fold coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: His coming to us as God in the flesh, the Babe of Bethlehem; His continual coming to us in His gifts in Word and Sacrament; and His coming again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9b). This prophecy, recorded by the Prophet Zechariah, is directly fulfilled when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday. But it is also continually fulfilled as our Lord continues to come to us in His gifts. Notice the present tense, “your king is coming to you!” He continually comes to you in His Word, preached, read, heard, studied, and in the Blessed Sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. Jesus Christ is actually present in these gifts. And He isn’t just present in spirit, which would be meaningless. When I called my family back home on Thanksgiving and told them I was with them in spirit, what I really meant is that I wasn’t with them at all. I was here, not there. But Jesus isn’t just present with us in spirit. He’s present with us bodily, in His risen and living flesh and blood. This is true particularly, and in a special way, in the Lord’s Supper where He gives us His body and blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of our sins. And this is the primary reason we come to church: Jesus is here. He’s really here! For you! For each one of you. He desires to speak with you and commune with you and make you His own. The miracle of Christmas and the pomp of Palm Sunday continues here in this place today where Jesus comes, and He comes for a very specific purpose: “righteous and having salvation is he.” His righteousness is that which He gives to us in the Great Exchange. He gives us His righteousness, and we give Him our sin and shame and death. Now, when God looks at us, He sees only the perfect righteousness of His beloved Son. He has taken away our sin by punishing it in Jesus on the cross. God pronounces us righteous for Christ’s sake. We are justified. It is all ours, not by works, but by grace, through faith alone. And so in giving us His righteousness, our Lord Jesus gives us eternal salvation.
Thus on account of His first coming, His coming as the Babe of Bethlehem to die for our sins on the cross, and on account of His continual coming to us to deliver the benefits of His cross in Word and Sacrament, to give us His righteousness and salvation, we look forward to His coming again to judge the living and the dead with great joy and confidence. Our sins are forgiven. We are righteous before God with the righteousness of Christ. The Day of Judgment will be a wonderful Day for us, for our bodies will be raised and reunited with our souls, and we will live forever in our bodies, made perfect like Jesus’ resurrection body. We’ll be with Him forever in a new heaven and a new earth. But the joy of this coming hinges entirely on His first coming as our Savior and His continual coming to us in His gifts in the holy Church.
So before we begin at the beginning, Christmas, with the birth of Christ, we begin with a view of the destination, Jerusalem, and the cross. We cannot understand Christmas otherwise. The season of Advent prepares us for our coming King by revealing the cross as the goal, the objective, the purpose of the coming of our King. Our King came to die, and He comes to us today as the Crucified One who is risen and lives. And as our King comes to us, with the crowds we sing Psalm 118, a Psalm of praise and thanksgiving sung at the Feast of Tabernacles: “Hosanna” “Save us, we pray, O LORD!” (Ps. 118:25). “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest” (Matt. 21:9; cf. Ps. 118:26). We sing this in the Communion liturgy, as the second part of the Sanctus. It is even appropriate to make the sign of the holy cross at the words, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” for Jesus is once again coming, in the flesh, to place His very body and blood on the altar by the power of His Word. A great miracle is about to happen: ordinary bread and wine are now also the body and blood of Jesus, the very same body and blood that rode on the donkey into Jerusalem, the very same body and blood that was nailed to the cross for our redemption. Jesus takes this body and places it in our mouths. It is holy food, the medicine of immortality. “Take, eat. This is Christ’s true body, given into death for your forgiveness.” He takes the chalice and pours His blood down your throats. It is holy drink, a cleansing and life-restoring flood. “Take, drink. This is Christ’s true blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.” Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He!”
When an honored guest is coming to dine with us and to stay at our house, we make all sorts of preparations before the day of their arrival. We clean the house from top to bottom. We make the necessary purchases. We decorate for the festive occasion. We want everything to be just right. We bring out the best linens for the guest room. We bring out the fine china for the dinner. Many of you will do all of these things for Christmas. Perhaps you already did these things for Thanksgiving. The point is, we put some thought into it. We prepare. We set apart our guest and the day of our guest’s arrival as special. That is what Advent is. Advent is a season of preparation in which we clean our hearts by repentance, confessing our sins and clinging in faith to Jesus’ Word of forgiveness. And then we prepare. We prepare to celebrate His birth, greeting Him as our newborn King. And we prepare for His coming again as Judge by continually receiving Him as He comes to us in His means of grace. Advent is both a penitential season, and a season of great joy and anticipation. Christ has come, the Savior of all. Christ comes now, here in this place, with His gracious presence. And Christ will come again. Indeed, blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 The Rev. Mark Love.