Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Blessed is He who comes. . .

Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, preached on November 29, 2020.

The question that begs our attention at the start of every Advent is who is coming?  The world is content to settle for distractions.  We can all well understand this.  Is there any one of us who would not forget the past 9 months or so and every mention of COVID 19 and every new normal thing imposed upon our routines?  The world is looking for quick fixes that will band-aid us through – from masks to not so social distancing to vaccines.  We would all like to have a moment apart from all of those memories and the new rules of life shaped by the pandemic.  But that is not who or what is coming.

We do not need a little magic nor will a distraction do either.  We need something more powerful and profound.  We need a God who can mend our broken hearts, sort out our confusion, forget our yesterdays, and build for us a new tomorrow.  We need a God who to do more than fill our feelings.  We need a God who can fill the emptiness of our lives, the weakness of our frailty, the shadows of our death, and the shame of our sinful guilt.  Where is this God when you need Him?

And so the Church heralds the Advent season with the call:  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  From Eden’s disappointment to the waters of the great flood to the slavery in Egypt to the many imprisonments and exiles to the loss of an earthly kingdom and power, the prophets have pointed God’s people to a hope big enough to meet all of their enemies, troubles, and defeats.  Today is no different.  The prophets who address us are not voices of doom and destruction but of hope and redemption.  Who is coming?  The one who comes in the Name of the Lord to save us.

This God spoke from the burning bush and carved His commands on hearts of stone.  This God came down Jacob’s ladder to meet His people in their wounds and brokenness.  This God did not watch and grieve over His people from afar but entered our history by the incarnation of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Sprit.  Who is coming is the question upon which rests every issue and need of our disappointed minds and heavy hearts.  And in this question is the answer, the only answer that will make a difference.

The God of the angels who came to Mary’s womb enters into Jerusalem on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.  Here is the King of glory, the God of gods, the Lord of lords.  But He does not come as we would expect.  His glory is not His power to destroy but His power to redeem.  He comes not to reign down fire but to take upon Himself the torture of our sins and to die in our place upon the cross.  He comes in weakness to meet the strength of the devil and win back the people God had claimed for Himself.  He comes as the ram caught in the thicket of our need to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  

The God whom we welcome and whose coming we herald is not some Christmas deity to be packed away like the decorations we grow tired of and the presents we did not want or need.  No, indeed.  He is no seasonal Savior but has come to wrap Himself around us, to cover us with His blood, to clothe us with His righteousness, and to lift us from this body of death.  He enters to reclaim what was God’s until we surrendered His kingdom to doubt, to fear, to selfishness, and to pride.  That is the Advent call of Christendom to world still licking the wounds of pandemic and pestilence, war and violence, prejudice and racism, sin and death.

This Jesus rides in not in the grand parade of earthly might but in the humble voice of the Word that speaks and does what it says, in the ordinary water filled with extraordinary life and power to rescue and give rebirth in baptism, in the simple bread and wine that tastes of the body of Christ and His blood.  No one knows this or sees this without the power of the Spirit to replace our broken eyes with a faith that sees and believes.  God has heard the cries of His people and seen the wounds that would not heal and wept for the disappointments and despair that would not go away.  God has seen what we want to forget, what we wish we had never seen, and God has acted decisively to meet us in the pain of our loss with hope and redemption.

The story of our salvation is not new.  We know it well.  We know how it begins with a Virgin and a manger, with angels and shepherds, and with the sound of a baby’s cry into the night.  We know where the Child is headed to Jerusalem and the cross.  We know that death will not hold Him and heaven’s door is now open.  And because we know this, we stand with the crowds of old:
    Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!
    Hosanna in the highest!

Christ is come for this.  He is born in a stable, laid in a manger, raised to manhood, baptized in the Jordan, gathers disciples, manifests the Kingdom in word and work, suffers and dies, rises and ascends.  Christ is come for you.  You are the reason why He sheds the heavenly glory for an earthly frame.  You are the reason why He lives the obedient life with righteousness to clothe every sinner.  You are the reason why He suffers and sighs under the weight of your sin.  You are the reason He is laid in the tomb and rises on the third day.  You are the reason why He still comes into the Jerusalem of this temple, riding upon the humble forms of water, word, bread, and wine.  He comes for You.  If we are at the end of our ropes and desperate for hope, let it be for something more than a distraction or a present or a holiday memory.  Let us be desperate for hope, desperate for salvation, and desperate for the redemption of our lost lives.  Let us be desperate not for a return to the old normal but for the dawn of the new and eternal day.
And let us mark every doorpost of our disappointment and death with the blood of Christ so that death will pass over us.  Let us be washed in the blood that makes us clean and let us live the new life that death cannot overcome.  Let us lift our voices within the household of God’s people and before a world in need and say with the people of old:

    Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!
    Hosanna in the highest!

For the gift God gives us is a clear conscience through forgiveness, a new life that is no longer captive to death, and a future that is beyond earthly imagination.  For this gift we strip our lives of all that has value and lay it down to become the path for our Savior to bestow something of far more value.

    Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!
    Hosanna in the highest!

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