The First Sunday in Advent
November 27-28, 2010
Text: Matthew 21:1-11
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we begin the season of Advent. It is a twin of the season of Lent. It is a season of preparation. What does that mean for Christians to prepare? Do we clean house? Do we put up various decorations? Do we go shopping? Obviously many people do this. The Friday after Thanksgiving is called black Friday because it is the day that most retailers’ ledgers for the year go from red to black. It is the day they start to make money for the year. But, no for the Christian this has no special meaning. Shopping does not help us to prepare in the Christian sense. Preparation for the Christian always involves self examination and repentance. It is the repentant heart that is prepared. So Advent is a somber time. It is a time step back and compare our lives to the Commands of God. It is not a time of celebration. It is not a time to party. It is a time for quiet contemplation. It is a season where we need to spend some quite time alone with the Word of God. It is a time for us as Christians to act in a manner that is contrary to the way of the world.
Advent has a rhythm and structure, but it is really backwards to what many people expect. Even some pastor’s don’t get it. I remember a pastor a few years ago throwing out the lectionary in Advent, because he didn’t understand the logic of the season. First, it runs through time backwards. This is especially clear if we include the broader season and extend back three Sundays into the old church year. We start with Christ’s return at the end of time. Then we move backwards until we get to the stable of Bethlehem. The traditional text for the First Sunday in Advent is Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
What is the purpose of including this text on this day? It is somewhat different than when we examine this text on Palm Sunday itself. The last couple weeks we spoke of Christ as our judge. We could say “Here comes the judge.” And it won’t be near as funny as it was on the old “Laugh In” television show. This judge is the One who judges the living and dead, heaven, hell, and earth. But that was last week. This week its here comes the King. It is our King who comes to us. It is not a teacher. It is not a prophet, but the Prophet, Priest, and King. It is the King who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, who comes to us.
Why is this important? Why must we remind ourselves that Christ is our King. Because we
live in a world of rebels - both inside and outside the church. In colonial times there were many groups who refused to bow to the king of England. They refused to follow any of the court ceremony. Why? Because only Christ was truly king. While this is misguided and a twisting of Scripture, it was commendable. The Scriptures teach us to give to earthly rulers whatever honor and deference is owed to them. But one can understand why some Christians would come to the conclusion that they should not honor earthly kings. But today, in America, the attitude is more this; “We don’t need no stinkin’ king.” And those who utter such things would often include Christ as well. Even many Christians have so radically redefined Christ and God so that He is not our King.
Why do people reject Christ as King? Because then we are not king.
When George III fought against the Americans, did he come and lead his armies into battle? No, of course not. He sent generals like Carlton, Howe, Burgoyne, Kyniphousen, and Cornwallis. One of his sons would later serve in the Navy and another in the army. Frederick the Great of Prussia still commanded armies in the field. Later, Napoleon would as well. But even these monarchs were rarely involved in the actual fighting, staying well to the rear. George VI during World War II often wore a navy uniform, but knew little about military affairs. (His daughter, now Queen Elizabeth did serve as a driver in the army.) But if we go backwards in time, as we do in Advent, we see something quite different. Kings use to actually, literally, lead their troops into battle. Henry V of England was right in the thick of the fighting at Agincourt. Charlemagne likewise personally wielded the sword in battle. Roman emperors were often generals in the army before they became emperor. And if we go back to the Old Testament, kings like David, Solomon, Hezikiah, Jehu, and Josiah, were right in the thick of the fighting. A king had to lead by example. He had to be a warrior.
Yes, there is a point to this rather lengthy illustration. Christ, in entering Jerusalem, is entering as a warrior king. He doesn’t necessarily look it. He is riding on a donkey. He’s not wearing armor or holding a sword. That was okay. People got the picture. That was because this was how Solomon had entered Jerusalem after being anointed king on the Mount of Olives. Christ was coming in as our warrior king. He would lead in battle. But it was a battle against Satan. It was a battle He would win by dying. Thus the great Lenten hymn: “Sing my tongue the glorious battle, sing the ending of the fray... tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer as a victim, won the day. ”
So when we speak of Christ coming as our King, He is not just our ruler. He is our warrior King who fights and wins the battle. He comes as the old medieval Christmas carol says “to riffle Satan’s fold.” He come to defeat Satan and claim us as His property. He comes to dictate a peace treaty between God and man. He does that by first winning the great cosmic battle between good and evil, between life and death. He establishes peace by being the greatest warrior the world has ever seen. He crushes Satan, then says, I won, you lost, here’s the terms of the settlement. That’s what Christ entered Jerusalem to do. And on the cross He declared victory with His dying breath - “It is finished.” Sin is finished. Satan is finished. The victory is complete. Forty-two days later, Christ would entered into heaven as the triumphant conquering King.
Christ is coming. This is certain. He is coming at the end of time. He returns because He is the conquering King who has won the victory for us, over sin and death. He came to Jerusalem as the King. He stepped onto the battlefield and emerged triumphant. This is what we mean when we say that He is the King. It’s not just that He rules, but that He fights and is victorious. And this is why we must prepare our hearts. This is why we must repent. As the victorious King, Christ dictates the terms of peace. He places the conquered in to eternal bondage. But for those who are claimed by Him as His children, for those who trust in Him, we are set free. We are freed from sin and death to live with our conquering King forever.