Friday, December 5, 2008

Sermon for November 29-30

The First Sunday in Advent
November 29-30
Text: Mark 11: 1-10

Dear Friends in Christ,
Happy New Year! Yes, today we begin a new church year. We also begin the festival half of the church year. We begin, as we do each year, with a season of preparation. Advent means “coming”. Christ is coming. He is coming at the end of time. He is coming to us in Word and Sacrament. He is coming to us in the absolution - that is the forgiveness of our sins. He is coming. Are we ready? All of this, of course, is to prepare us to celebrate the coming Christ in the flesh - that is Christ’s incarnation. Christmas is not Christ’s birthday, as such. The date of his birth was not recorded. But rather it is a celebration of Christ, who in coming to us as a man, became for us the light of the world. The date was originally chosen because December 25 was the winter solstice. Over the centuries the solstice has moved a few days, as it will continue to do. Some claimed that Christians chose this date to celebrate Christ’s birth in order to keep Christians away from a pagan festival. But recent scholarship suggests that the pagans began to celebrate the feast of Sol Invictus, to keep the pagans from joining the Christians in celebrating Christ’s birth.

What a place to begin! We begin with Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem. Now before you wonder whether or not the lectionary committee was smoking some wacky tobacco in their pipes, consider this. Until the mid 1960's we used a one year lectionary that had not been significantly changed in more than 500 years. The Gospel for the first Sunday in Advent is from Matthew 21 - Christ’s entry in to Jerusalem. In the mid 1960's we began to introduce the three year lectionary. There is still some debate whether this is good or bad. It has be pretty fluid, with frequent adjustments. But here, we hearken back to the old one year lectionary and began, as we did for 500 years with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.

Christ is coming. Are you prepared? That certainly must have been the question many were asking on that Sunday - March 29, 33 A.D. Christ made His entrance as a king. Christ reenacted Solomon’s coronation entrance. Solomon had entered Jerusalem riding on his father’s donkey after he was anointed king by Zadok, the high priest, on the Mount of Olives. The people recognized what Christ was doing and they responded in celebration. They threw their coats and palm branches before him. They cheered Him with cries of Hosanna - that is Lord Save us. They praised the “Son of David”. Yet, were they really prepared? Did they understand the King that was before them. One suspects that they did not.

Who is this Christ who comes to us? The promised one. The Messiah. The Son of David. But does that really tell us who He is. This, I think, is the hardest concept for Christians to grasp. Yet, grasp it we must. For if we don’t understand who Christ is, everything about the Christian faith falls apart. So who is Christ? He is God the Son. He is the Second Person of the Trinity. He is the Angel of the Lord. He is Immanuel - that is God with us. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. He is the God who appeared throughout the Old Testament. He is God who deals with man. In entering Jerusalem to be our king, Christ was not elevating Himself. He was humbling Himself. He was condescending to be our King of grace. As St. Augustin said: “The master of humility is Christ, who humbled Himself and became obedient even to death, even death on the cross. Thus He does not lose His divinity when He teaches us humility...What great thing was it to the king of the ages to become the king of humanity? For Christ was not the king of Israel so that He might exact a tax or equip an army with weaponry and visibly vanquish an enemy. He was the king of Israel in that He rules minds, in that He gives counsel for eternity, in that He leads into the kingdom of heaven for those who believe, hope, and love. It is a condescension, not an advancement for one who is the Son of God, equal the Father, the Word through Whom all things were made, to become king of Israel. It is an indication of pity, not an increase in power.” St. Augustin is here reminding us that the One Who comes to us is fully God. He is not grasping some higher thing. Rather, Christ is lowering Himself down to us, to bring forgiveness to us. He is reducing Himself to bring peace between God and man.

This teaching is more important than ever in a world that constantly wants to say that Christ was just a man. He was true man. Indeed, were He not, He could not save us. But Christ is not just true man. He is also true God from all eternity. He is the eternal Son of God. He came down into our broken world, into the stinking muck of our sin, breathed our poisoned air, so that He could save us from sin and death. For Christ’s coming is always connected to His cross. He lowered Himself into our world, in order to lower Himself even further, that is to death. Understand something, since Christ is without sin, He cannot die. It is not possible. Yet, He took our sins upon Himself and died the death of a sinner. He did this out of His great love for us. And what is Christ’s great reward for this? He gains us. He becomes our King. Consider again the strangeness of this. He is King, just because of Who He is. But He comes down and makes Himself King again in a new way by dying on the cross for our sins. So then His reward is us - us stinking, filthy, miserable sinners. If we consider this judgement on the nature of mankind, too harsh, consider what happened in New York on Friday. Shoppers trampled a man because they were in a hurry to get a bargain. One must ask here is God insane? For indeed, who would die for mankind? Are we worth it? I cannot imagine a man reckoning mankind as so valuable. Yet, Christ considered us of sufficient value to die for us. Christ turns everything upside down.

Christ is coming. Are you ready? Have you prepared your heart? Have you confessed your sins? Have you sought to amend your life? Have you studied and learned, so that you understand Who this is that is coming to You? Do you understand that this is God coming to you to forgive your sins? Do you understand that God is coming out of pity for our sinful condition? Do you understand that Christ has become our King by becoming our servant? All these things are important to preparing our hearts. This is why we take four weeks to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming. There is much to do before we are ready. Yet, for us, this preparation is a joy. We know that our King comes not to exact revenge, but to save. We rejoice at His coming because we know that He brings peace between God and man.

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