Sermon for Advent 1, preaching on Sunday, November 29, 2009.
Did you think perhaps you had overslept a couple of a months -- skipping Christmas and heading right to Palm Sunday? The use of the Palm Sunday entrance as the Gospel for the first Sunday in Advent may seem odd but it fits perfectly.
The Gospel for today was special for the early Christian believers who lived in Jerusalem. Like the homecoming of a hero, they remembered the day that Jesus was welcomed into the capital city with palms and hosannas. For the first 100 years of Christian history, there were actually people who could say, “I was there when Jesus entered Jerusalem. I cried out with my voice added to the crowd shouting ‘Hosanna!’” Now when you hear that, it might seem that you are too far removed from Jesus’ coming to have any personal connection like the people of old did. That is what you might think, but you would be wrong.
What might have been said so long ago, is truly our own claim today. We too can say we were there for Jesus’ coming. We spoke hosanna with our own voices to welcome the King who comes in the name of the Lord. We are God’s people who meet the Lord who comes to us in His Word and at His Table every week. Every week we sing in the Sanctus: “Hosanna in the highest... Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.” But unlike the people of old, our claim is not merely to have been there for an event, we have received from Him the fullness of His grace and gifts. We are not merely those who cry out to Him, we are those who receive from Him the fruits of His life, His suffering, His death, and His resurrection. And we are those who look through this Word and Table to glimpse the heavenly future He has prepared for us. The Lord who came, who comes, and who is coming again is what we proclaim with hosannas today.
Later in this service when we sing “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord,” think of those who first spoke those words long ago, how you are like them, and how we celebrate His coming then, now, and on the last day. For the very same Lord who entered Jerusalem that day is here with us today in Word and Sacrament -- not some spiritual Jesus confined to our feelings but the flesh and blood Savior who comes to us still in the mystery of His Holy Meal.
“Blessed is He who came,” is what we sing in acknowledgment of Jesus’ incarnation by the Holy Spirit to the Virgin Mary, of His holy life keeping for us all the commandments, of His suffering for us the full weight of our sins, of His dying in our place the death that overcame sin, and of His rising to life that death has no more power to overcome. Blessed is He who came is the song of those who remember how Jesus became flesh and blood, lived and die for us, and rose to open to us the door to everlasting life.
We praise Him for the mercy that His coming in flesh made possible both to us and for us. We praise Him for answering the call of our need and accepting the burden for what our sins have done. We praise Him for giving to us all that He won – a free gift for us that cost Him His life on the cross.
“Blessed is He who comes...” we sing every Sunday. For our Lord did not only come once long ago. He comes to us still through His Word and Sacraments, the means of grace. We believe that the same Jesus who entered Jerusalem on the back of that donkey now comes to us on the back of bread and wine in the Eucharist, on the back of water in baptism, and on the back of a voice in the Absolution that forgives our sins and proclaims the Gospel.
I have often wondered how it is that we who know this can absent ourselves from the Lord's House? We come to Church not to meet friends or hear a preacher or listen to a choir or sing a favorite hymn. We come because Christ is here where He promised (in Word and Sacrament). We come here to meet the living Lord Jesus Christ and receive the gifts only He can give.
We praise Him who is still among us as He promised “Lo, I am with you always” and who still passes out to us the fruits of His victory over sin and the grave. How does Jesus keep His promise to be with us always except through His Word and Sacraments? We praise Him who is not distant from our lives or confined to hopes and feelings but near to us in our time of need and always. He is our Emmanuel, the God who is with us, who is accessible to us, and who is present among us in water, in word, in bread, and in wine. Our Lord once came among us to suffer and die and still comes to deliver the grace He won.
“Blessed is He come will come again,” we sing. We believe that Jesus will return to claim those who are His own, to open the graves of the blessed dead, to bring to an end this veil of tears, and to bring us and all the saints to be with Him in eternity. Jesus promised this return over and over again. He would go on ahead to prepare the way for us, that we may be with Him, where He is. When we sing this benedictus we are looking forward, anticipating, and grasping for that day when we exchange mortality for immortality, sorrows for joy, and death for life eternal. Our Good Shepherd will return to claim His sheep and to feed and water them in the green pasture and still quiet waters of our heavenly home.
We praise Him who comes again – a day hidden in the heart of God but for mercy’s sake and not for fear or judgment. We praise Him for that day when the work is finally done and salvation’s miracle is finally complete. Until then, we live in His presence and grace in Word and Sacrament.
Until then we admit all the limitations of our sin filled world and are sinful flesh. No, we are not the people we should be, not the people He has freed us to be. This mortal journey is too filled with tears and sadness at every turn. The good we would, we do not and the evil we should not, we do. What is wrong with us, we cannot repair, but He who comes in the Name of the Lord has the power to save and redeem us. Only in the arms of our blessed Redeemer do we find hope. Until we are with Him in heaven, His coming to Bethlehem is the ground of our hope and His coming to us in Word and Sacrament delivers to us His grace of forgiveness, life and salvation.
Our joy lies in Christ. In the Christ who came among us in great power, whose life, death and resurrection purchased hope and grace for all. Our joy lies in Christ. Who still comes among us through His Word, His Water, and His Table. Our joy lies in Christ. Who is coming again to finish His new creation. And in that joy in Christ, we joyful sound out what the disciples of old proclaimed so long ago: Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!
We were there with Him in our baptism. We are still with Him through our communion in the bread which is His body and the wine which is His blood. We are still with Him in the Word that has the power to keep all its promises and do what it says. And we shall be with Him in eternity. We are already numbered among the saints, whose names are written in the book of life.
This is how Advent begins. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord... So we begin this first Sunday in Advent another journey... to the Manger to remember His first coming.... to Galilee and Israel and Jerusalem where He fulfilled the prophet’s Word... to the cross and suffering and death where He paid its awful price.... to the empty tomb and the resurrection where He pointed us to what waits for us, who live in Him... We sing every Sunday “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord...” and while singing we recall how He came, even as we celebrate His coming among us still at font, table, and pulpit... and we stand with hearts planted in heaven waiting for the completion of our journey of faith... for the eternal moment when we meet Him in His glory so that we might enter into that glory forevermore... Amen!