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Sermon for Ad Te Levavi (Advent 1)
Romans 13:11-14 + Matthew 21:1-9
The Christ is coming. That was the focus of the Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament, God sent His prophets to announce to mankind, the Christ is coming! From the first promise in the Garden of Eden, it took about 4,000 years for that word to be kept, from the time of Abraham about 2,000 years. But it was kept. The Christ came, and you heard in today’s Gospel of His coming into Zion, into Jerusalem, on Palm Sunday, the King coming to His people to be joyfully welcomed by some, but tragically rejected and crucified by the rest.
The Christ is coming. That’s also the focus of Advent. Not Christmas music, not Christmas trees or decorations, not buying present— not even the birth of Christ. But the coming of Christ at the soon-approaching end of the age—that’s the theme of Advent. Christ is coming. There’s no doubt, no question about it. The only question is, really, O Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee? Will you be looking for His coming or won’t you care? Will you be ready for His coming or tragically unprepared? Will you flee to Him in joy or will you flee from Him in dread?
Each Sunday in Advent, with its Epistle and Gospel, is designed to prepare you to welcome Christ with joy when He comes, as the faithful crowds welcomed Him as He rode up to the gates of Jerusalem on that donkey. In today’s Gospel, the Lord gives you a good answer, if you’ll accept it, a solid, healthy answer for yourself to the question, O Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee?
Notice, first of all, who initiates the Lord’s coming. It’s Jesus Himself. No one forced Him to come to Jerusalem. No one paid Him. No one earned His Advent, or even asked for it. He sends His disciples to go get the donkey, the means of His transport. He sets up everything for His ride into Jerusalem. It will be the same when He comes again. He has chosen the day. He has chosen the time. He has chosen the means of His coming—this time on a cloud, not a donkey. He is setting the stage even now in the world as He rules over it from God’s right hand, getting everything ready for His coming, even sending forth His ministers to ready His people, to teach and to admonish, to encourage and to comfort them, to tell His people to wait and to watch.
He would have you remember who this Lord is who came and will come. Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your King is coming to you! Now, Jesus wasn’t the King of Jews in any political sense. Herod was king. Caesar was king. A few days after His ride into Jerusalem, Jesus would tell Pontius Pilate, My kingdom is not of this world. No, He didn’t come the first time as the ruler of nations, but as the ruler of hearts and of souls. And the laws of this King don’t just govern man’s outward behavior, but also the very thoughts and intentions of the heart. And everyone on earth, even the people of Zion, had broken the laws of the King, the Ten Commandments that demand that the subjects of this King love Him and His Word above all things, and that they live in love for one another. But instead, His Law reveals our love for ourselves first, our love for pleasure, for comfort, our love for the praise of men. According to the King’s own laws, His subjects should hear that the King is coming and be filled with sorrow and dread.
But immediately His Gospel sends out the blessed disclaimer, Your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey. And the prophet Zechariah adds, Just and having salvation. Jesus didn’t come in anger and wrath, but in lowliness and humility. He didn’t come to destroy sinners, but to give His life as the atoning sacrifice for all the sins of men. He didn’t come to punish, but to earn righteousness and everlasting life for everyone, even for His enemies. And until the day when the King returns, that is the hope He holds out to the world, that God has given us all a time of grace, a grace period, right now, to escape condemnation in the court of the King by fleeing for refuge to the King who lowered Himself, who became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. Now is the time for all men to flee to Him for forgiveness, while He still holds out the promise of justification by faith to all people everywhere.
Because when He comes again, it won’t be in lowliness and it won’t be for the purpose of saving His enemies. He earned salvation for all when He came the first time. He offers salvation to all now through the Gospel. But so many—too many refuse to repent. They resist His Holy Spirit and His working. They go on living in their sin. They don’t have time to care about the Palm Sunday King, and so they will be condemned in the judgment of the King of kings. When the King comes again, it will still be to save—to save those who believed and were baptized in this life from all the corruption and sadness of sin and to bring them into the blessed inheritance of the children of God. But for the rest, it will be a day of wrath and destruction.
How did the believers in Jerusalem meet their King? They spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!” In spite of their ignorance of so many things, in spite of their often weak and fickle faith, the Church insisted on meeting Jesus at the gates of Jerusalem with as much celebration, joy and praise as they could muster.
O Lord, how shall I meet Thee? It’s a vital question. For, as you heard in the Epistle, now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. Christ is coming. You’ll meet Him properly then by repenting of your sins now. You’ll welcome Him with joy then by hearing and believing the Gospel of forgiveness now. You’ll praise Him then by learning how to praise Him now. And you’ll receive Him in love then by daily putting to death your sinful flesh and by living lives of love now. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, 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.
Put on the Lord Jesus. That’s how you meet Him. By wearing Him as a garment. By wearing Him through faith, so that God doesn’t see your sins. And by wearing Him every day, wherever you go, whatever you do, with the new obedience that His Spirit inspires, that all men may see and know by your words and deeds: this is what it means to be a Christian! This is what it means to hope in Christ! This is what it means to wait for His coming! May God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—make such Christians out of us, and may we be ready to meet Him with joy when He comes! Amen.