Sermon for Advent 1 – Ad te levavi
Matthew 21:1-9 + Jeremiah 23:5-8 + Romans 13:11-14
And so it begins…again. Another Church Year. Another Advent season. I don’t suppose any of you welcomed in the New Year last night at midnight, but the Church Year is a big deal in the life of the Church as we follow, week after week, year after year, the life of the One who is our life. No matter what’s going on in your private life, or in your secular life, the Church Year calls out and reminds you, “This is your life, O Christian! This is what’s real! This is what’s lasting! This is what sustains you – God’s grace to you in the Person of Christ Jesus.”
The season of Advent is kind of like an alarm clock for the Christian. If you find yourself dozing off into the sleep of your daily routine, if you find yourself sleeping in to your earthly life and your family and your plans and problems, then the Advent alarm clock starts beeping. “Wake up! Look up! Repent! Rejoice! Jesus is coming!”
Those little Latin titles for the Sundays in Advent, like the one on the first page of your service folder, help us to narrow our focus each week. They’re in Latin because they’re ancient. The Introit that we sang today – in English, of course – has been used to begin Divine Services on this Sunday of the Church Year for about 1500 years. “Ad te levavi.” To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
What does that mean, to lift up your soul? It means that, while the rest of the world goes on naval gazing, focused inward on itself – its plans, its pleasures, its goals, its achievements – the Church sets all her longings, all her hopes, all her expectations on the Lord who is coming. The Church waits, but while she waits she looks up and watches and yearns for the arrival – the Advent – of our King. “Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation!”
In today’s Gospel, we see the King coming to His Church, coming to Zion – Jerusalem – on Palm Sunday, five days before his crucifixion. And we see Zion, His Church, lifting up her soul to Him with a loud Hosanna! Come and save us! As we begin the new Church Year today, let’s consider this Gospel from Matthew 21 under this theme: The King comes to Zion – again this year. 1) He keeps bringing salvation year after year, and 2) She (Zion) keeps singing a louder Hosanna year after year.
HE KEEPS BRINGING SALVATION YEAR AFTER YEAR
It wasn’t the King’s first trip to Zion. Jesus had made this journey dozens of times. He was coming to Zion again this year, but this time was special. This time, everything was ready. 4000 years of preparation on God’s part made this the Advent in Jerusalem that would actually complete God’s plan to redeem sinful mankind from the curse of sin. This time, the King’s Advent in Jerusalem – his sacrifice of himself on the cross – would fill up the glass of God’s requirements for mankind, topping it off, so that the Son of David could truly become The Lord Our Righteousness, as Jeremiah prophesied, for all who look to him in faith. The King was coming with salvation – with the sacrifice that would purchase the forgiveness of all men’s sin, so that, by faith in His blood, a person can stand before God with a clean slate at all times.
To fulfill this special Advent in Zion, Jesus told his disciples to go get him a donkey. He told them right where they would find it waiting for him on that day. Everything had been prepared for the king’s ride up to Mt. Zion, so that the prophecy could be fulfilled, “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
Just as God had prepared a donkey at just the right place and time for the king’s Advent, God had prepared the virgin Mary’s womb for the King’s Advent into the world years earlier. It was in Bethlehem that the world first beheld the Advent of our King. And so the season of Advent helps us to lift up our soul in wonder and amazement, getting us ready to celebrate that first Advent of Jesus that began in Bethlehem and found its fulfillment on the back of a donkey, carrying our King up to the place of his death to bring salvation to his waiting people.
But God’s plan of salvation goes beyond what Jesus’ first Advent accomplished. Our King is a one-of-a-kind King who isn’t just a historical figure. He’s a historical figure who, because he is God and Man, is able to break into our own history, to ride into our hearts and lives and distribute to us the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Our King keeps coming to us; he keeps bringing salvation to us year after year after year. The King comes to Zion as the Holy Spirit brings Him to us in the Means of Grace, in word and Sacrament. He rides into our church every time we perform a baptism. He rides into our Church this morning in preaching, in the words of the Bible, in bread and wine. Make way for your King! And just as Jesus’ disciples saw through the humble trappings of their King riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, we, his people, see through those humble signs and marvel at the majesty of our King.
Year after year, in Word and Sacrament, the King comes to Zion with more forgiveness, with more grace. His Word keeps calling you to repent of the sin that so easily entangles. His body and blood keep feeding your soul. He comes and serves you and teaches you and comforts you more and more each year, causing your faith to grow year by year, if you don’t refuse his service, helping you to persevere as you wait for him, as you lift up your soul and wait in eager expectation for the Final Advent of your King. Behold!, he says. I am coming soon. The King comes to Zion – again this year. He keeps bringing salvation to his people who are waiting for him, to Zion, His Church, His Bride.
SHE KEEPS SINGING A LOUDER HOSANNA YEAR AFTER YEAR
And she keeps singing a louder Hosanna year after year.
What must it have been like to stand outside Jerusalem and see Jesus, the Prophet, Jesus the Miracle Worker riding up the hill to the gates of Jerusalem! Here comes the King! Lay your cloak in his path. Mark his way with palm branches. And even though the crowds didn’t know that he was the Son of God born of the virgin, even though the crowds didn’t know the depth of his love and the breadth of his sacrifice, even though the crowds didn’t know about his resurrection victory that would take place one week from that day or understand what kind of salvation he was bringing, they couldn’t help but sing, ““Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!”
Hosanna was Zion’s song at the Advent of her King and that song grows louder year after year, because now we do know that it was our Creator God who rode into Jerusalem that day, who entered our human race for the sole purpose of purchasing men for God through his death. Now we do know the height and breadth of his sacrifice and his victory over death. When we sing, “Hosanna! Come and save us!”, we know what we’re asking for: for our King to come and rescue us from sin, death and the devil.
We know the bigger story of his love and so we’ll sing a louder Hosanna. We weren’t there to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with palms and singing. We weren’t there in Bethlehem, either. But we’ll sing to him from our place and our time. We’ll rejoice with those crowds and sing to the coming King, and we’ll trust that our songs reach his eternal ears.
Zion sings a louder Hosanna year after year as the King comes in Word and Sacrament, because year after year, his people know that they need him more and more. Our sinful nature doesn’t improve with age and it’s never converted. As you grow older, you realize that sin is your constant companion, and so the forgiveness of sins that your King comes to bring becomes more and important. The longer you spend in Zion – the Church – the more aware you become of how crafty the devil is, how vicious this world is against God’s people. Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes! We literally sing Hosanna to the King who comes in Holy Communion with Zion.
As each year passes, your Hosanna becomes louder because your death becomes nearer. Each passing year means you’re one year closer to death. But in the same way, each passing year, each Advent season means that your King is one year closer to arriving. Each passing year brings you closer and closer to entering the New Jerusalem, brings you closer to meeting your King face to face. And so, even if your body grows weaker and your voice grows softer and softer as your body ages, the Hosanna that your soul sings grows louder and louder, “Come and save us! Come and save us!”
As each year passes, your Hosanna grows louder as you live your life in light of the King’s coming at the end of the age. Each Advent cries out for you to realize, more this year than last, that now is the time to get your heart and life in order. Now is the time to prepare and get ready. As you heard in the Second Lesson today, The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
The king comes to Zion – again this year, with salvation that is new every morning. To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. Look up! Pry your eyes off the troubles, cares and pleasures of this world, and sing a loud Hosanna, Come and save! He did, he does, and he will. Amen.