Nearer now than when you first believed

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Sermon for Ad Te Levavi – Advent 1

Romans 13:11-14  +  Matthew 21:1-9

The new Church Year begins today—and it does not begin with Christmas. The world, for its own reasons, is anxious to celebrate Christmas—or rather, its idea of Christmas, which has nothing to do with the virgin-birth of God’s own Son in human flesh, who was born to die for our sins and to make peace with God through His blood, shed on the cross. Many Christians, too, are anxious to celebrate Christmas, but many love Christmas more for secular reasons than for the Mass it’s intended to be—the gathering of the Church around the Word and Sacrament of the Word Made Flesh. I fear that many Christians will end up skipping the Mass part of Christmas entirely, even though Christmas falls on a Sunday this year. (Don’t you be among them!)

No, the Church Year begins, not with Christmas, but with Advent, an earnest season of penitence and preparation. But even so, it’s not a preparation for Christmas. It’s a preparation for the Advent—for the arrival—of King Jesus on the Last Day. It’s funny, we just went to see the movie entitled Arrival, about the arrival of…aliens. There are many such movies, of course, because human beings seem to be anticipating the arrival of someone from the heavens. They foolishly think it will be aliens from another planet who come to visit, willfully ignoring the words of Jesus that He is the One who will arrive, to bring salvation to His waiting people and destruction to His enemies.

It’s true, the King has delayed His second Advent for a long time—as He said He would. And as the years go by, people doubt His coming more and more. “Where is the promise of His coming?” So it’s all the more important that we awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.

The Gospel points us to Jesus’ first coming into Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago at the beginning of Holy Week. Zechariah’s prophecy foretold it: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey. Hail the King, about to die as a ransom for all our sins. Hail the King, who comes lowly, to save.

That salvation has three parts to it. The first part was accomplished by the end of that Holy Week. The King saw our race corrupt with sin, oppressed by the devil, weary, confused, lonely, guilty, sick, and dying. So the King gave His life for the world. He suffered for our sins. He allowed the full weight of mankind’s disobedience to be heaped onto Himself and punished, so that we wouldn’t have to be punished.

He was humble and lowly when He first arrived in Mary’s womb, and He remained humble and lowly all the way up to the gates of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He allowed Himself to be tempted by the devil, mistreated, mocked, rejected, or sometimes just ignored by men. But even in His lowliness, even in His humility, He was recognized by some as the King He was, as the Christ, the Son of the living God. By them He was thanked, He was praised, He was hailed with songs of Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!

The second part of the salvation that the King came to bring is the part that has been going on ever since His resurrection and His ascension into heaven: to call men out of darkness into His marvelous light; to send forth His Spirit, who comes still today to teach the world who God is, what God has done for us, and what great things God has promised to those who believe in Jesus. He comes to convict mankind of sin, to bring sinners to repentance, to lead the penitent to look to Christ, the King, for mercy and help.

But all of that is still done in lowliness, in humility. Christ still rides into His Zion, His Jerusalem, His Church, on a “lowly donkey,” that is, through the humble means of grace, through the preaching of men, through water and bread and wine. But preaching can be ignored and disbelieved, and Baptism and Holy Communion can be twisted and emptied of their saving power. The King still allows Himself to be mistreated, mocked, rejected, and ignored in His members. But at the same time, just like it was 2,000 years ago, the King is recognized by some in His lowly Word. He is still praised and thanked by His people as He comes. We still rejoice at His coming, even though our joy is subdued by the realities of living in a sinful world. We still sing with thankful hearts, Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!, even though our thanksgiving is still hindered by our thankless flesh.

But the third and final part of the King’s salvation is coming soon. That second Advent is almost here. There will come a day when the King no longer comes lowly or humble. He will come in glory. He’ll come to Zion riding on a cloud. He’ll exalt His Church, even as He Himself has already been exalted, and there will be no more oppression, weakness, weariness, loneliness, guilt, or sickness, or dying. There will come a day when His believers will welcome Him into His Church with shouts of thanksgiving, unhindered by any grief or sorrow, pain or sin. The King’s first Advent on Palm Sunday is a foreshadowing of that great second Advent on the Last Day.

That’s the day Christians live for, and sometimes you need to be reminded of that. You don’t live for Thanksgiving Day, or for Christmas Day, not for a shopping day, or a birthday, or a wedding day, or for spending good days here on earth with family or friends. No, the image that the Scriptures constantly hold before the Christian’s eyes is of the crucified, risen and ascended King coming to Zion in righteousness, with rewards of grace for His people and with vengeance for His enemies.

The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 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.

Those words of the Apostle Paul are just as urgent today as they were when the he wrote them to the Roman Christians. There is an imminent arrival—an Advent of the King—for which we must be prepared, with repentant hearts, with prayer, with zeal to hear and to know and to learn the Word of God, and with lives of obedience to all of God’s commandments. Now, in this new Church Year, is the time to prepare. Now is the time to wake up. Now is the time to love one another. For now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. Amen.



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