Monday, November 29, 2021

Our Advent King. . .

The Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent (C) preached on Sunday, November 28, 2021.

Death clarifies so many things.  In death, the details of a person’s life are laid out to highlight only the things most important – date of birth, date of death, parents, spouse, children, family, place of funeral, and place of burial.  The high cost of obituaries only emphasizes even more the succinctness of what we publish about the dead.

In a month or so the news will tell us the list of all the famous folks who passed away in 2021.  If you are like me, you will be shocked – not only at those who died but at those you thought had died long before.  Famous and anonymous, death is no respecter of persons.  It comes to young and old.  I guess I have reached that point in life where I notice in the obituaries the ages of those who die – especially those younger than I am.

The news of the past year has been filled with death.  Terrorists, natural disasters, pandemic, accident, and the like.  They force us to think of what none of us wants to think.  Death is passed to all people.  Though we might wish not to die, death has passed to all people because of sin.  It is the unnatural natural condition of our humanity.  We have a moment in time when we are born and we have a moment in time when we die.  We cannot wish it away or ignore it.  But neither do we need to surrender to it.

Now, weeks before Christmas and its glow of love, gift-giving, holiday gatherings, special foods, and time with family, Jesus points us to the reason for the season.  He has come to die.  The Palm Sunday entrance of our Lord is not some distraction from His purpose but the very reason for His birth and life.  He has come to die, to take upon Himself the weakness of our flesh, to become like us in every way except sin, and to plant in death the cross of life.  This does not spoil the Christmas message but frames it so what we know what it is we are welcoming, what is the cause of our joy, and what it means that Christ was born of the Virgin in our flesh.

Our Lord rode the donkey into Jerusalem not for the adulation of the crowd but for the sinners, marked with death, who cry out “Hosanna!”  Lord, save us.  Help us.  Rescue us.  We carpet His way not only with palms but with our prayers to be released from the prison of death and the captivity of our sin.  We cry out not to prevent the reason why He has come but to urge Him on – “Ride on, King Jesus!
Ride on to the cross!  Ride on to die!”  Advent tells us right up front what life this baby was born for and what death He must die if you and I are to have any hope of redemption.  Jesus is not ashamed of this.  His whole life and ministry is focused on this future.  And if He is not ashamed or embarrassed that hidden in Christmas is Good Friday, why would we?

Jesus is clear about it.  Death is the enemy and sin is the cause of death.  There is no ignoring it or escaping it.  Death clarifies our lives and leaves us with a stark sense of what is important and what is not.  Isn’t that what the family tries to convey in the obituary?  What was important and, by omission, what is not?  In the same way, death clarifies what Jesus has come to do.  He has come to die the death that was ours and to offer us the life that is His.  To do this, He must break the back of sin, overcome the devil, suffer the taunts of this sinful world, and rise to show forth His victory, accomplished once for all.

We are the sinners for whom Christ has come.  We are the faithful who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, cry out to Him:  “Hosanna!  Lord, save us!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”  We would rather ignore death or be satisfied to postpone it a bit but Jesus is not weak or afraid, like we are.  He has come to confront death, to meet it face to face upon the brutal agony of the cross, to lay alone in the cold, dark tomb, and to rise up with the surprise of victory.  Death clarifies everything – even Christmas!

For YOU our Lord has come.  For YOU He has taken on the weakness of our flesh and blood.  For YOU He has entered into this earthly domain of death and doom.  For YOU He has come so that you are not alone in death or on your own to deal with sin.  For YOU He has come and embraced every evil thought, every hateful word, and every shameful act.  For YOU He has come to answer the sinful desires that just want to be set free with the power to silence their old voices and teach you the new desires of holiness and righteousness.  For YOU He has come and carried the inheritance of Adam that we might receive His legacy of life.

He has come willingly and was not compelled against His will.  He has loved YOU more than His own life and in the surrender of His life to our death we learn what true love is.  He is perfectly in tune with the Father’s creative and redemptive will and purpose.  He knows what He is doing and what it will cost Him and for this reason He is born of the Virgin, laid in the manger, and lives the perfect life.
This is not the time to set aside talk of death until after the holidays.  This is not the time to pretend niceties that put a good face on a life lived in the long, dark, shadow of death.  No, my friends.  It is right now, at the start of Advent, making our way to the Manger, that remind ourselves and announce to the world that Christ has come to die.  Ours is not a good times God but a God for the worst that we face, the sin that troubles our souls and the death that kills our bodies.  That is what Advent says from day one.

Christ rides the donkey into Jerusalem not for a photo op but because this is the King He is – the King of life who dies that we might live in His kingdom of life forevermore.  Advent has become too easy.  We have no stomach for waiting and no patience.  We want our presents now and all the good times we dream about.  But the reality is that death is in the way.  If we cannot deal with it, somebody must come to deal with it for us.  That someone is Jesus.  

Silent Night is not the culmination of our song of praise but the warm up to the song of death and resurrection that is the beating heart of the Gospel and the only hope for sinners dead in trespasses and sins.  He who came as a Son of Man to Bethlehem and the manger but lives as Second Adam to undo what the first Adam did and rises up the New Man over whom death has no power and comes to us in Word and Sacrament that we might be born again, called and gathered, fed and nourished for the life that death cannot overcome.  And to this the Church cries out on the First Sunday in Advent and all the way to heaven’s gates:  “Hosanna!  Lord, save us!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!”  Amen.

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