Tuesday, November 29, 2011
How long have the warning lights been blinking?
If you listen to Car Talk and the folks who call in because they have been hearing this strange noise in their car, you might remember the first question the brothers ask. "How long have you heard the noise?" After an awkward silence the inevitable answer is "a long time." It seems that many of us wait for a long time hoping that it will just go away and we will not have to deal with it. But this is not just a car problem, it is a life problem. We find it hard to control our anxiety awaiting the good things that are coming but we are in no rush to deal with the real problems that sit right in front of us.
Today as we begin a new church year of grace and prepare for the coming celebration of Christmas, we recall how our Lord entered Jerusalem amid the palms and hosannas of a people who could not wait for Him to arrive. Why is He come? Not because they were good people seeking reward or a people happy to ignore their troubles. No, because they had been in their sins a long time and they could no longer ignore them or wish they away. So they welcomed Him who came to them in their poverty and need, with hope, with forgiveness, and with life.
It is not easy to face up to this. It is easier to celebrate a Christmas about a birth of a baby than the birth of the Son of God in human flesh and blood to become our Savior. For surely, our Lord is come not to receive the palms and hosannas of the crowd but to make His way to the cross and suffer and die to set His people free from the sin and its death. It is easier to celebrate a shallow Christmas of a birthday or a birthday party instead of digging deep into the real message: we are sinners who cannot save ourselves and He has come for us. Advent begins with this call to repentance. To be ready to receive the Lord is to be penitent and faithful, trusting in Christ even as we confess that we have been in our sin a very long time.
Too many of us Christians make our way through life like driving with all warning lights on the dashboard blinking – blinking to warn us of trouble for a long time, yet we keep on driving through life hoping it will fix itself. Instead of facing up to guilty consciences crying out for relief, we comfort ourselves that we are all in the same boat. Instead of realizing that we have grown hoarse from the constant perfunctory apologies, justifications, and explanations we make for our sins; we continue to think that it will all go away if we say some magical words.
Instead of seeing how broken down our lives are under the weight of sin and its death, we patch things up hoping that if we look okay on the outside, we will be okay on the inside. Instead of admitting that death is a terrible thief to steal from us the lives our Creator intended, we talk as if death were normal and natural – consoling ourselves with some sentimental idea of the circle of life from birth to death to birth. But we have been too long in our sins and its death to really believe that everything is okay.
Advent begins with a dose of harsh reality. You cannot just turn off the warning lights and expect the problems to go away. You cannot hope for the best. This past month we have seen our human dilemma played out on a grand scale in Washington. There people have faced a deadline for dealing with the deficit and have chosen to procrastinate, to band aid the problem for others to deal with, to play the blame game, and to minimize the problem. Where did our elected representatives learn this? This is how we have been tempted to deal with sin and death. But it won't work in Washington and it won't work for you and me. Advent is the wake up call that it is not enough to prepare for a holiday, we need to prepare for the holy day of Christ’s coming. We need repentance and we need a faith that will welcome the one and only Savior big enough to fix the broken hulk of our lives. We do not have a Savior who merely diagnoses our problem. He has come to bear the full brunt of that fallenness and to repair us lost and condemned sinners.
Advent begins with Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem because that is where His birth is pointed – to the cross. Jesus has not come for Himself but for us – for the sin that has stained us with death and the death that keeps us captive to fear. Jesus has come to be Savior and Redeemer – even thought that means suffering in our place on the cross and dying our death for sin. We are here to welcome a baby but what we met in the manger was the Son of God cloaked in our flesh and blood. We are satisfied with parties and presents but He is here to bear the burden of our sin and death that have long held us captive.
The shouts of hosanna today are not idealists in search of some spiritual guide to greatness but the realists who know they have been in sin a long time and who know there one and only chance for freedom lies in Jesus Christ alone. Those waving palms today are not using them as brooms trying to clean up our little messes or tidying up our broken lives. We lay them down as a carpet of gratitude that God has heard our cries for help, He has shown us His mercy, and He has not spared His one and only Son to be our Savior. This is the call of Advent.
The welcoming crowd was not there to meet a curiosity but a Savior. They were a people crying out in hope of Him who has finally come to fulfill all of God's gracious promises. These people cried out with the voice of death to the only one who can speak life, with the voice of sin and unrighteousness to the only one who can declare us just and holy, with the voice of defeat to the only one who can win them victory. Today as Advent begins we stand with them crying out “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”
We have been in our sins a long time.... We have waited long for the Savior... But our waiting is not finished. His sacrifice is complete. His death has accomplished its saving purpose. His resurrection holds forth the promise of our own resurrection to new and eternal life. But the great day of the Lord is not yet here. So every Advent we take up the call to repentance. We wave our palms and cry out hosanna. Not only for what took place 2,000 years ago but as a people seeking Him to finish then the new creation begun by His death and resurrection. We look not for a birthday but for the final day, the end at last for a waiting people, for God to finish it all.
We have not been left on our own. He has given us the tools of our waiting in the Word and the Sacraments. Through these means of grace we are connected to Bethlehem's manger, to Calvary's cross, and to the empty tomb. By these means of grace we are kept in the faith, sustained through trial, and daily rescued from our sins. Until this long wait is over, until time stands forever still, until today is gone as yesterday and the eternal tomorrow is begun, we take up the cry: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Repentance prepared the people for Jesus first coming; repentance is the fruit of His coming among us now in Word and Sacrament, repentance is what we wear as clothing to meet Him when He comes for the last time. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.