Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Who is coming?
We saw it so many times before and so many times since. A crowd is gathered because something is happening. The frenzy of the crowd builds as a city is stirred with expectation and imagination. Somebody is coming. But who? Somebody is coming. What will his coming mean?
In the welcome of a city so long ago, palms were laid down as red carpet to prepare His way. As some people held their breath and others began to shout, they still wondered who is coming? Everyone is excited but the One who comes will not be fully recognized until the cross. Everyone is filled with anticipation but no one will know why He comes until they see Him suffer and die for us all.
For most of Christian history, the first Gospel reading of Advent speaks not of John the Baptist nor of the Annunciation but of the Palm Sunday entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem and to the cross. Advent begins the revelation but clearly answering the question “who is it who comes” so that we may not mistake or miss Him who comes. He is the promise to a people who had long forgotten the promise. He is the One who completes the past for a people who live captive to their past. He is the One who brings a future to a people who did not know they had one. Advent begins with Jesus entrance to His suffering and death so that we make no mistake about who it is who is coming and what He accomplishes by His coming.
He is a prophet. No, not some oracle of the future, not some palm reader or diviner of what is to come. He is the prophet who fulfills the Word of the Lord given so long ago. He is THE prophet of the prophets. He does not tell what is to come, He writes the future with His blood. He makes the future – not some grand plan but forgiveness for the sinner, life for the dying, and hope to those captive to despair.
He is a prophet but He is also a King. No, not the easy King who is defined by fear and terror but the humble King who has to borrow a donkey, who has no entourage, and who is come not for the adulation of the crowds but for the thorns of suffering and the curse of death on the cross. He is the King who serves. He did not come to be served as He should, but, in the surprise of grace, He is come to serve us undeserving, to suffer for what our sins caused, and to die as the price of our peace.
He is a prophet and He is also a King. But He is come to be our Savior. No, not the kind of Savior who rallies His people for a cause, but the One who sacrifices Himself to set His people free, who fights through the broken dreams of suffering and death to lead us to relief and life. He is the Savior first promised in the shadow of Eden's rebellion, the fruit of the woman who will crush the serpent's head, and the hope of a people who thought there only recourse was to cover their sin and hide.
Advent is not about preparing for the manger but making sure that we see in the manger the Savior who is bound for the cross. Advent is not some simple call to slow down and smell the roses but to focus our vision so that we see in Christmas the shadow of His suffering and death, so that we do not miss the Christ who came for us, died in our place, and rose to lead us to the new creation prepared for us for all eternity.
The One whom Isaiah prophesied and John prepared His way came not to reform a rebellious people but to pay the awful price of their sin, to carry the burden of their failure, and to die their death so that they may have His life and His light. Advent begins with the unmistakable recognition that the Child in the manger is the Christ of the cross. If you do not get this, there is nothing left to Advent or to Christmas.
We have Advent so that we might not mistake who it is who has come and why He came. We have Advent so that He who has swallowed death forever may be welcomed by the faithful hearts of a people who know He has come for ME! We have Advent so that we may know Christ as the prophet who writes our future by His blood, the King who suffers to redeem His lost people, the Savior who dies to swallow up death forever. Apart from this Christ, there is no Advent, no Christmas at all.
Advent positions us to see who it is who came that we might be saved by His coming and prepared for His coming again. The word of the prophets is empty until the One who fulfills the prophet's word stands poised to enter the city to do what only He can do. All prophecy points us to the cross. The nature of the King and of His kingdom is defined by that cross. He is not the King of pomp but a King whose glory is revealed in suffering. He is the Savior who knew what His coming would require and willingly pays the price with His own death so that we might live. Unlike the crowds of old, we do not wait for a mystery. We recognize Him who came, we receive the fruits of His coming even now through Word and Sacrament, and we are prepared by His coming to meet Him when He comes to finish His new creation.
We may have Christmas on our minds but Advent serves to point us to the wood of the manger that became the wood of the cross, a creche that has the shadow of Good Friday and Easter Sunday always in the back ground. Who is this? He is not some mystery to be solved but the fulfillment of our hope. We meet Him at the manger but we see His glory on the cross and faith teaches us to cry out now for the gift of His presence in the means of grace: Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord... And for the finish of His new creation: Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord...
So we here... Advent begins the cycle again. There is no surprise ending. The story is familiar. The prophet's promise is realized in the Son of God in flesh and blood, the King who comes to serve us by His suffering, the Savior who dies that we might have life by His death. You can't get there except through here. Today as Advent begins anew, we add our voices in praise. We know who came. We recognize by faith His coming still. We trust in His promise to bring all things to completion. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen