The First Sunday in Advent
November 28-29, 2009
Text: Luke 19:28-40
Dear Friends in Christ,
Christ is coming. That is the theme of the Advent season. The word Advent itself means “coming”. But we must flesh this out. First we must define Advent in two different ways. It is a four week season, which begins the church year and leads up to Christmas. But really, it is a seven week season that straddles the coming of the new church year. Themes of coming have already been our focus for the last three weeks.
What does that mean when we say Christ is coming? Well, just what we’ve been talking about. He will return at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. He will come and condemn the unbelievers to the fires of hell. He will come and take the believers to live in His courts forever. But this season runs in reverse. It moves from the second coming and transitions to first coming, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among men.
The traditional gospel for the first Sunday of Advent is Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. One might think this an odd place to start, but remember what I said, this season runs in reverse. We start at the end and go to the beginning. So we start near the end of Jesus life. It is important that we do this. Why, you might ask? Well, because it helps define what we are celebrating. We are not celebrating the birth of a king. We are not celebrating the birth of a child. We are not celebrating world peace and the brotherhood of man. Christ did not come to bring a harmonic convergence. In fact Christ Himself states that He came to bring violence and bloodshed. He came to divide the world into believers and unbelievers. So what are we preparing to celebrate? God becoming flesh and dwelling among men. We are preparing to celebrate the coming of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We are preparing to celebrate the coming of the one person in the whole history of the world who was born to die.
Death is one of the most misunderstood things in our world. To grasp death, we must distinguish between God’s primary and God’s consequent will. God’s primary will is His raw intention, unaltered by any circumstance. God’s consequent will is what God does in response to what is happening in the world. The primary thing that causes God to react is sin. It is never God’s primary will that any one or any thing should die. When God created the world, there was no death. As a consequence of sin, God imposed death upon the world. Death is God’s judgement against sin. The very fact that we will die, ought to remind us that we need to repent of our sins. But death is part of God’s consequent will. Thus no human being was born for the purpose of dying - except for One. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was born to die - to die for the sins of the world. Therefore, when we look into the manger, we are seeing the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Why did Christ go to Jerusalem in that spring of 33 A.D.? To enter Jerusalem as its king? He did enter as a king, but that was not why He went there. Did He go there to overthrow the government, as some contend? No. He went there to die for the sins of the world. He told His disciples this on many occasions. He was going to Jerusalem to die. That was why He was there. He was there to pick a fight, which He would win by losing. Christ Himself said, No man takes My life from Me. I lay it down and take it up again. (John 10:17-18) He had come to die, so that we might have life.
So how do we respond to this season and to this text? We contemplate death and the final return of Christ. We will all, unless Christ returns before that, die. Just as a matter of simple statistics, I think it unlikely that we shall live to the end of time. But that being said, the point is irrelevant. We don’t know the hour of our own death any more than the time of Christ’s return. In either event, we must be ready. We meditate on the idea that death comes from sin. Death is God’s judgement against sin. It is His judgement against each of us. We know that this judgement stands against us because we will die. Along with this, then we examine our lives according to the Ten Commandments. Here is God’s mirror to show us our sins. Here we see what it means to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We examine carefully all that we have done and what we have not done that we ought to have done. Then we lay these things at the cross. What do we mean by this, laying them at the cross? This means that we turn to the comfort of the sacraments. We remember our Baptism, in which we were adopted as a son of God. And we return each day to those waters as our sins are daily washed away. We lay our sins before the altar in confession. Sometimes, we might even go to the Pastor for private confession and absolution. In the absolution we hear Christ speaking through our pastor that indeed our sins are forgiven on earth and in heaven. We go to the Supper and there participate in that one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world, as our Lord bids us do.
Christ is coming. Christ enters triumphantly into His holy temple - a temple that would reject Him. Christ comes to die. Here is the message we must learn. For without this understanding, what is to come is nonsense. If Christ did not come to die, His birth is not good news at all. For then we are still in our sins and under the wrath of God. In fact His coming then can only be an act of judgement against us.
The world is jumping ahead to Christmas. You see the decorations in all the stores. You’re starting to hear Christmas carols on the radio. But we tarry behind. We are not running with the world. We are still in Advent. We are still taking time to contemplate our sins and our need for a Savior. We are remembering that this Child is God incarnate. We are remembering that this babe is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. He came as a king, yes. But He came as a king to establish a kingdom of grace. He came to build His kingdom on a foundation of the forgiveness of sins. In contemplating these things, we are preparing our hearts to celebrate the great feast, the miracle of the ages, the great exchange - the reality that God came to earth to die for our sins. That is good news indeed.