Sermon for Ad Te Levavi – Advent 1
Jeremiah 33:14-18 + Romans 13:11-14 + Matthew 21:1-9
This season of Advent, like the season of Lent, is a season of earnest repentance as we allow the Scriptures to focus our attention on the first and the second Advents of Christ—hence the purple on the altar this year, as it used to be until about 20 or 30 years ago. Yes, we’re preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth, to celebrate Christmas. But it isn’t Christmas yet, in spite of what the stores look like, or even in spite of what some of your home decorations might look like. Those decorations are fine outside the church. But here, we recognize a need for Advent, a need for Christians to spend a few weeks pondering, not Jesus’ birth, but Jesus’ message of repentance—so that we may sorrow over our sins, as we should, and earnestly seek Him in faith, recognizing that His second coming is imminent.
This first Sunday in Advent—Ad Te Levavi, To You, O Lord, I have lifted up my soul—turns our attention especially to Jesus’ first coming, His first Advent—again, not His birth, but His Advent, His arrival at the gates of Jerusalem on the first day of Holy Week.
If you were to describe Jesus’ earthly life—His first Advent—with a single word, you might choose any number of words: Sinless. Righteous. Devoted. Teacher. Miraculous. Powerful. Merciful. Compassionate. Obedient. All of those are accurate. How about “lowly”? Or “humble”? From the secret conception of the Son of God in the womb of an unwed virgin, to the stable where He was born and the manger in which He first slept, to His home in lowly Nazareth in Galilee, to the company He kept throughout His ministry, to His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, riding on a donkey. Lowly. Gentle. Humble.
But it was a special kind of lowliness. Not the lowliness that comes from a person being abused and beaten down by parents or society or the lowliness that comes from guilt, so that a person thinks of him or herself as worthless. Not the lowliness of poverty or social class. Not the lowliness of a person who just wants to blend into the background and become invisible. Jesus chose lowliness. He chose humility. It was what He wanted, how He chose to be, how to He chose to act, how He wanted to be known.
He came in lowliness, first, to take our place, to be born as a man so that He could stand before God in complete humility as the representative of mankind, because mankind, since the beginning, has been anything but humble before God. Adam and Eve exalted themselves above God when they disobeyed Him. All people exalt themselves above God in their thoughts, their words, their deeds. You do it. I do it. The thoughts of our flesh are not, “What does God want from me today?”, but, “What do I want today?” Or, if a person asks, “What does God want from me today?”, then the flesh directs us to find the answer to that question, not in God’s Word—What does God say? —, but to go back to our own heart and our own reason—What do I think God wants from me today? Either way, it’s mankind refusing to be lowly, refusing to be humble before God.
It’s also mankind refusing to be lowly before one another. Lowliness hardly describes the attitudes of the rioters in Ferguson this week, or of those who exalt themselves above the divinely ordained authorities by trashing or threatening police officers or grand juries. Lowliness hardly describes those who exalt themselves above their neighbor by blocking traffic or by causing discord and strife, or by hating the people who do such things. Because of mankind’s absolute refusal to be humble before God and man, Jesus had to be humble and lowly for us, in order to offer to God a perfect sacrifice for sinful humanity.
Jesus came in lowliness for another reason: to enable men to reject Him. And reject Him they did. If He had come in glory, no one would have been able to oppose Him. But if we poor sinners were to be saved, He had to be opposed and rejected by men, so that He could be crucified for our sins. That is, after all, why He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to allow His haters to plot against Him, to capture Him, and to crucify Him.
The result of Jesus’ first Advent in lowliness? Atonement has now been made once for all for the sins of mankind. For all the hatred and pride and disobedience of men, one perfect sacrifice has been made. No more blood needs to be spilled to appease God’s wrath or to win God’s favor. Salvation has been earned by the lowly Christ, once for all.
Jesus came in lowliness also so that we might be able to know Him and receive His salvation. He wanted to be known as the God who was willing to be born in a manger, as the God who was willing to associate with people of low degree, as the God who loved the world and wanted it to be saved. He wanted to be seen riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and going to the cross willingly, because in His first coming, His first Advent, He did not come to destroy, but to save. He did not come to punish sinners, but to be punished for sinners. And in revealing God to us as the lowly God, who was willing to come into our flesh, Jesus knew that His Spirit would break the proud and conceited hearts of many so that we would trust in Him and so receive forgiveness for our sins and eternal life.
Most people rejected Jesus in His lowliness, but some received Him and hailed Him with their hosanna’s at Jerusalem’s gates. Most people still reject Jesus in His lowliness, but for us who have received Him, how much greater our hosanna’s must be, especially when He comes with His body and blood, bringing His own presence into our presence, and bringing with Him the same lowliness, the same mercy, the same forgiveness to us who eat and drink in the Sacrament.
Christ came in lowliness to serve us poor sinners. How much more should we who have received Him be lowly toward one another as we await His second coming. The time for anger and strife has ceased. The time for satisfying the cravings of your own sinful flesh and worrying about your own desires ahead of the needs of your neighbor has come to an end. The time for pursuing earthly pleasures and selfish ambitions is passed. If we bear the name of Christ, if we await the second coming of Christ, if we recognize that our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed, then, as St. Paul said in the Epistle, Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
May this season of Advent be for us a time of repentance and hope in the coming the Christ. Use this time to prepare your hearts for His coming, to increase the amount of time you spend meditating on the Word of Christ, and to beahve as children of light in this dark world. Because Christ, who is our Light, is coming! Amen.