Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.

Sermon for Advent 1C, preached on Sunday, December 2, 2018.

    Everyone knows Advent means coming but hardly any of us know what to do with Advent.  It seems such a waste to put off Christmas until, well, Christmas, when the stores have had Christmas since August and the sounds of Christmas have long ago become old in our ears.  For many of us Advent has come and gone and with it Christmas.  Part of us wishes it was over already.  It snuck up on us, we are too busy, and it got old a long time ago. Even Jesus got lost in the mess.  So it would seem to be a fools errand to have us try to restore Advent preparation and Christmas joy. Or would it?

    The Lord’s coming is not simply to a manger in Bethlehem.  In fact, this coming in flesh is His first coming.  He came in meekness to save us.  Humble, mounted on a donkey, Mary takes Him in her womb to Bethlehem and then some thirty years later He came again on a donkey, this time to Jerusalem, and not for a birth but for a death.  His is the humble entrance of the Son of God in human flesh and blood.  Advent and Christmas recall this coming and shout:  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord to do the bidding of the Father and rescue a sinful and dead people.

    But still He comes to us in the living voice of His Word that speaks and delivers that it says to ears who are willing to hear and hearts ready to receive the Lord our Redeemer.  He comes to us in water that kills and gives life that death cannot kill.  He comes to us in bread and wine.  He comes in the means of grace to woo and win us over, to address us with the Word of Life, the water of life, and the bread of life.  He came in humility to save us and now He comes to bid us come to Him.  And we recognize that and sing in the Sanctus, just before His Word turns bread into His flesh and wine His blood:   Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord -- to win over our fearful hearts and fill us with the joy of repentance and faith.

    And yet even this is not the end or even an end.  Soon, we say, even though we do not know the day or the hour, soon He comes again in glory not to accomplish salvation for us, not to woo and win us over by the power of the Spirit but rather to call us before His glorious throne where He sits in judgment over us and all peoples.  This would probably be something to fear were it not that we know Him who is coming and He is our familiar and loving Savior.  We also know why He comes, to finish His new creation – even the new creation of you and me.  Because we know the Father’s heart in the Son whom He has sent to save us and because we have been fed and nourished in this joyful Word and blessed food, we do not fear His coming. We cannot wait for it to happen. In anticipation of this coming we eat the foretaste of the feast to come and practice singing with the angels:  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.

    The Psalmist instructs us.  Long ago when a people gathered to receive David’s Son, they recalled the words of Psalm 118, and they cried out to Jesus as He entered the holy city in humility:  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.  When we bow before the Lord’s table to receive nothing less than His flesh and blood in and with the bread and wine, we look to the same Psalm to inform our voices and give us something to say in this awesome mystery.  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.  And when we hear the solemn trumpet call, see the heavens open, behold the myriad of angels, and follow the train of saints and sinners to the judgment hall where all eternity hangs in balance, what can we say but what the Psalmist has instructed:  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.

    It may seem strange to wait for Christmas instead of jumping in whole hog into the fray of shopping, partying, giving, and decorating.  But we do this so that the focus is on Jesus, so we do not forget Him who came in humility into the womb of the Virgin and was delivered in a stable.  Before Christmas can be about us, it must be about Him.  So we wait.  We slowly unfold the great and grand mystery of His incarnation.  We learn to say and sing with the Psalmist of old and the people of Jerusalem:  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.  It may seem strange to hear of the Palm Sunday entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on the first Sunday of Advent, but the manger was not why He came but the cross, not to live but to die, not for His freedom but for our redemption.

    It may seem strange in an era of fast food to take so long on Sunday morning to get to the meal.  So much liturgy, so much singing, so many signs of the cross, and so many bows.  Too many, some think.  Just get on with it.   But the food of heaven is not fast food and we cannot eat this bread or drink this cup with dirty hands and ungrateful hearts.  So we take our time.  Slowly and surely we make our way to the altar and the words of Christ over bread and wine.  And we learn to see what only faith can see:  this is Christ’s flesh for the life of the world and this is His blood as our food and our drink.  And what can we say in response but:  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.  Perhaps you have noticed that the pastor crosses himself at the altar at that point.  You can too.  It is when we acknowledge He has come for you and for me, to save us and then to woo and win us for Himself.  Hosanna in the Highest!

    It may seem strange that the food we eat and the words we hear in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day are not simply about this moment, not simply about what we see with eyes or experience with these senses.  Such is the nature of types and signs of that which is to come.  They deliver what they sign but they point to more.  We are not destined for an eternity here but for the glorious flesh Jesus already wears and for the life death cannot touch.  Now we know this by faith but soon face to face. 
    This is the foretaste of the feast to come, the appetizer for the grand buffet that eye has not yet seen nor lips have yet tasted or minds yet imagined.  We are heirs of a wonderful past and we live in the precious and blessed moment of grace but neither yesterday nor today can deliver to us that tomorrow that God has prepared for those who love Him.  We are blessed by His saving work upon the cross.  We are forgiven, restored, and renewed by this merciful work for a people undeserving and unworthy.  We are even now blessed to kneel before the Lord and open our mouths and receive Jesus as the food of heaven and the cup of salvation.  We are blessed with a vocation of good works that serve our neighbor and point to Christ.  But we are even more blessed for a future not yet fully revealed or known to us.  Our best life is not yesterday or today but the eternal tomorrow where Christ has prepared us place and a future.

We say and sing today:  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.  We say and sing it to the humble Lord who came once to womb and tomb, the servant King who suffers for the unrighteous and dies for those marked with death.  We say and sing it to the humble Lord who comes even now in powerful Words that speak and deliver His grace to us and in water that gives the dead life.  We say and sing it to the humble Lord who sets His table in the presence of His enemies, and feeds us the promise to sustain our faith for the longer journey not yet complete.  We say and sing it to the humble Lord who will come to finish His new creation, to call the saints into His presence, to reach in the dust of the earth and bring for the dead in Christ to life, and who render the judgment of eternity to those prepared and those not.  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the Highest.

The Lord has come and nothing can be added to what His coming accomplished to save us.  The Lord still comes to bestow the fruits of His saving work.  The Lord will come again and finish what is now only hinted at.  And the voice of faith responds to all three with the same acclamation:  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.  With the voice of faith we joyfully acknowledge what His first coming accomplished, with the voice of faith we rejoice to receive what the fruits of that first coming, and with faith that trusts Him to keep His promise, we do the good works of Him who called us from darkness into His marvelous light while we wait for His coming again in power and glory.  By faith we will be ready.  Not simply ready for Christmas, but ready for eternity.  Amen.

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