Sermon for First Sunday in Advent – Ad Te Levavi
Matthew 21:1-9 + Jeremiah 23:5-8 + Romans 13:8-14
The short season of Advent is upon us again. Christ is coming! Ah, but how? And, when? And, why? And, so what? Those are the questions that are answered throughout the Church Year. But already now in the short season of Advent, all of those questions are touched upon. Already now in the short season of Advent, God teaches you one of the most important truths you can know: All of life, all of history – past, present and future – is about God’s Advent. In all the other religions of the world, it’s about man’s journey to god, man’s ascending to god, man’s appeasing of God. Only in the Christian religion is it all about God’s Advent, God’s coming to you.
Your God comes to you, not you to him. For a brief, brief moment in human history, way back at the creation of the world, man had communion with God, a joyful fellowship. There was no separation, no chasm, no gap between the two. But man sinned. And then it was gone, just as God promised it would be if man sinned. God remained righteous and holy; man abandoned the righteousness and holiness he had with God, creating a chasm between the two. If this chasm is ever to be crossed, if the gap is ever to be bridged, then it has to be God who does it. It has to be God who comes all the way to man. And so everything depends on his Advent – God’s Advent to his lost and condemned creatures.
“Oh, look!” Matthew calls out. “Here he comes! There’s your King, coming to you now, riding on a donkey.” Your Advent King comes riding in.
First, your Advent King comes riding in, bridging the gap between God and man by taking on our human flesh and blood. That’s the Christmas message, isn’t it? “The Word was made flesh.” It was God’s promise to Adam and Eve that a Savior would be born of woman to crush the ancient serpent’s head, to save us from our sins and reconcile us to God. For four thousand years mankind watched and waited for God to come, although only in Israel was the promise preserved. The prophet Zechariah promised that God would come, Israel’s King, riding humbly on a donkey. But in order for that to happen, first Isaiah’s and Micah’s prophecies had to be fulfilled with our Advent King riding humbly into our human race, coming into the womb of the virgin Mary and being born in Bethlehem, born as our brother so that we could know God, and so that he could offer up to God the Father one perfect life as a ransom payment for the very sinful lives of his brothers. You can’t go to God. God had to come to you, and starting with his Christmas Advent and lasting to all eternity, God has come to you. Your Advent King has come riding in as your brother.
But sharing our humanity wasn’t enough. There still remained a huge gap between the righteous God and unrighteous men – and that’s everybody. There is no one who is righteous, who is good enough to be with God. And you have to see this in yourself, too, in how quick you are to tell God how the world should be, and in how slow you are to listen to his Words and learn from him – and even slower to submit to his Word, and to humble yourself before him and to obey his commandments, not to mention how much it grates on you to humble yourself before your neighbor. Your sins are real, and the punishment you earned for yourself with your sins – that’s real, too, even death and eternal separation from God. Baby Jesus didn’t take that away.
Ah, but here he comes, your Advent King, all grown up and riding in, bridging the gap between the righteous God and unrighteous man by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey so that he could offer up his life on the cross, for you. See him riding down from the Mount of Olives on that little donkey! See how humble he is, your Advent King. He has to be! For God to sacrifice his Son for those who hated him, for God to give up everything in order to redeem sinners… And to do it gladly and willingly, for God to rejoice and want to spend eternity rejoicing with those who would put his Son on a cross… Now you know what humility really looks like. It looks like a 33-yr-old man, who is also the King of the universe, riding up to the gates of Jerusalem in order to die for his enemies.
That perfect humility of your Advent King, even humble obedience to his Father’s will that he should die on a cross, bearing the sins of the world – that perfect humility gave Jesus the well-earned title, “The Lord Our Righteousness,” as you heard Jeremiah say in the Old Testament Lesson today. You couldn’t move an inch toward God, you couldn’t lift a finger or produce even the tiniest work of righteousness that would count before God or that would atone for a single sin. God had to do it all, and pay it all and suffer it all. God had to come to you. And now, in the cross of Christ, God has built a bridge between himself and sinners, a sturdy bridge that can never fail. Just when it seemed like all was lost, your Advent King came riding in with his Palm Sunday Advent that would culminate in a Good Friday crucifixion and an Easter Sunday resurrection.
But a gap still remained, and still remains for most people. Because it’s by faith in Christ as Our Righteousness that his righteousness becomes ours. It’s by faith in him that God counts us as righteous and unbars the gates of heaven to us and justifies us and forgives us our sins. But faith is beyond your grasp. The message of the cross is foolishness to us by nature. And even if someone believes the facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection, that’s not faith yet. The essence of faith is to rely on Jesus’ death and resurrection, to stake your eternity on it, to despair of all your works and to look to him as your Throne of Grace. And that is something you cannot produce in yourself. You can’t come to Jesus. Only he can come to you.
Oh, look! Here he comes! Your Advent King comes riding in, bridging the gap between God and man by sending his own Holy Spirit in this ministry of the Gospel. When you hear this Gospel, you aren’t just hearing about the historical facts of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. No, this Gospel is the humble donkey that brings your Advent King to you right here, right now. Bread and wine will become the humble donkey that brings the sacrifice of Christ from 30 AD Jerusalem to 2011 AD Las Cruces, so that his life is fed to all who eat and who drink. Your Advent King comes riding in on these humble means of grace over and over again, riding into your heart to make his home there, forgiving your sins, drawing you to himself, strengthening your faith and preserving you in the one true faith unto life everlasting. And this Advent ministry of the Gospel will not cease as long as the earth exists.
Finally, there is one more gap that separates us from God, and that gap is only a gap of time and experience, not a gap of grace or a separation from God’s love. God’s grace is yours now. His life is yours now, and by faith in Christ you have access to his grace and his love and nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, not angels, not demons, not even death.
But you know what I mean by this gap. You don’t see Jesus now. What you see is separation. Your life is not yet the glorious, perfect, pain-free life that it will be. It’s still humility here and struggling against sin and putting up with pain.
But see! He’s coming, just beyond the horizon. Your Advent King comes riding in, and you’ll see him one day, no longer riding on a humble donkey, but riding on the clouds of heaven. As Paul said to the Roman Christians, “Your salvation is nearer now than when you first believed.”
So what? So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
The season of Advent is God’s call to you to remember that Christ is coming, and so to live as people who are waiting for him. Live as saints, as people who are rehearsing for a sinless life of love and peace and service in the new heavens and the new earth, not as people who are rehearsing for hell.
Instead, take up your palm branches and sing a Hosanna to your Advent King. “Oh, no!” you say. “I don’t have any palm branches to place in his path, and I can’t carry a tune to save my life.” That’s all right. You don’t need palm branches or a voice like an angel. Here’s how you welcome your King at his Advent. Here’s how you receive him: with a broken and contrite heart, with humility and confession and renouncing of sin, with faith and hope and love – love for him and for your neighbor. You receive him by receiving the ministry of the Gospel in both Word and Sacrament. You worship him by believing what he says and by receiving what he gives and by giving thanks to him for the salvation he has brought to you. You couldn’t move a muscle to go to him. But he has moved heaven and earth in order to come to you. Your Advent King has come riding in to save. He still comes, and he will come. Lift up your soul to him, and get your Hosanna’s ready! Amen.