Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sermon: Ad Te Levavi (Advent 1)

29 November 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 21:1-9 (Jer 23:5-8, Rom 13:8-14)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

One of the most exciting times in our lives is when we have company coming – especially when it is a beloved family member, an important person, or someone we’ve been hoping to see for a long time. And the longer we have had to wait, and the farther he has had to travel, the greater the excitement. There is exuberance and joy when we learn of this impending coming, and as the person’s advent draws near, the excitement and anticipation builds.

Of course there is also a lot of work to be done. The house must be cleaned. Sleeping arrangements have to be worked out. Food has to be bought. We have to do a lot of extra work to prepare. And yet, it is a labor of love.

And quite often we spare no expense in our preparations. We buy food and beverages – often way too much. We may decorate our homes and purchase gifts. We might plan things to do. And in spite of the extra cost, it is all worth it for the sake of our love for the one who is coming to visit us.

This, dear friends, is the meaning of the Church’s period of Advent, the season of the church year that begins today. This is a new year, a new beginning, and a new anticipation of looking forward to the Advent of our Lord in the flesh. And this beginning anticipates an end, the Alpha points to the Omega. The “drawing near” of our Lord in this time of Advent looks forward to our “going away” of a final Exodus from this age into eternity.

For this Advent Visitor is none other than the King of kings and Lord of lords Himself. He is the Word of God made flesh. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the one who has come to die that we might live. He is the one who redeems His creation. He is the “righteous Branch” from the house of David who shall “reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” He is the Priest of God Most High who is God Most High. He is “The Lord is our righteousness.” And it is in this context that the royal welcome of our Lord into the Holy City is a fitting passage for us to hear and reflect upon as we begin yet another Advent, even as we anticipate His final coming to establish His eternal rule over us.

But unlike our preparations when company is coming, our Blessed Lord Himself makes the preparations for His own Advent, preparing for the feast He will share with His disciples on His way to the cross. For it is on the cross where the preparation has truly been made, preparing us to meet Him, God Himself providing the Lamb not only for the sacrifice, but also for the feast.

And as the Lord draws near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, He makes the arrangements for His visit Himself, securing a donkey to not only bring Him to the city, but to fulfill the prophecies concerning Himself. For you, O daughter of Zion, pay heed, for “your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”

The Lord Himself does the heavy lifting for this royal welcome. And instead of a white stallion, His royal transport is the offspring of a beast of burden – even as the Lord Himself transports our burdens to the cross.

The disciples carry out the Lord’s instructions, and they take part in the joyful preparations for His coming.

And when the Son of David comes into the Holy City on a donkey – even as His ancestor Solomon rode his father David’s donkey into Jerusalem – the people greeted Him as their King and Lord. “Hosanna!” they cried. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they shouted. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” they prayed. “Hosanna in the highest!” they repeated.

And we too repeat this refrain, dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

For we too greet our mighty Lord – humble and presented to us as bread and wine, and yet the very King of the Universe – with this very same “Hosanna.” For He is the Thrice Holy One. He is the Lord of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are indeed full of His glory, and we acclaim Him with our “Hosannas” and with the lyric of praise: “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”

This, dear friends, is not simply a re-enactment of the Jesus of the long past – even though we certainly call to mind the Lord’s historic and very real entry into Jerusalem. Nor is this just a rehearsal for the coming of the Jesus of the distant future – even though we do confess and pray for His return to establish His dominion over all creatures, knowing it is certain and imminent. But we sing “Hosanna” to the Lord now, in this holy time and at this holy place, for He comes to us in the way He promises to come – riding on the donkey of His Holy Word and the colt of His Holy Sacraments. The Lord sits on the humble cloaks of bread and wine, using His Word to command and compel these lowly elements to become His very flesh and blood. The Lord says: “Let there be…” and it is so.

We sing Hosanna to our King in His Advent – not only to recall the Babe of Bethlehem, the One to whom we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” not only to greet the risen Victor of the empty tomb, and not only to anticipate His coming back in glory to usher in the end of time. But even better, we sing “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” because He comes to us in the here and now:

King of Kings yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords in human vesture,
In the body and the blood,
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heav’nly food.

This is what it means, dear brothers and sisters, to “prepare the Royal Highway,” to “greet the King of Glory, foretold in sacred story,” to “fling the gates wide open,” to “greet your promised King.”

We greet Him here, where He promises to be, where His apostles have followed His instruction, where His Word rings out in “justice, truth, and love,” where His forgiveness brings “peace and freedom” and where we continue to greet our “Word of God made flesh, woman’s offspring pure and fresh.”

And even when we are temped to distraction by the world’s hustle and bustle, by the season’s lure of drunkenness, quarreling, jealousy, and the promotion of materialism and greed, let us, as the apostle implores us, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh.”

For this is the good news, dear friends, the gospel, the life-giving Word of our almighty and merciful Lord, who has come to us, continues to come to us, and will come to us: “you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”

“Hosanna to the Lord, for He fulfills God’s Word!”


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Theophilus said...

I found this sermon, in which you tied together the images of Jesus' birth and the images of Holy Week, to be meaningful.

The season of Advent focuses also on Christ’s “Second Coming.” I have heard preachers describe his Second Coming as follows: At the end of history, Jesus will descend in a cloud in his physical, earthly body with its nail scars to gather all the dust particles of the dead saints and recreate their physical bodies like they were when they died. Then he will remove all their physical defects and take them to heaven with him. Such an explanation results when you take highly symbolic language and interpret it literally.

I much prefer the following interpretation of Christ’s “Second Coming:” Jesus promised his followers that when he departed from them, he would not leave them orphaned. He would return in the spirit of his Father wherever his covenant-gospel continued to be proclaimed. Jesus embodied the word of God. Where his words are proclaimed, he himself is present. Jesus and his word are one. Therefore, Christ’s Second Coming is taking place today throughout the world wherever his covenant-gospel word is being proclaimed.

What do you think? Will you be preaching on Christ’s “Second Coming” during this season of Advent?

It is good that you are receptive to feedback on your sermons. Every preacher should be open to that in order to understand what the people in the pew are actually hearing, and whether or not the message makes sense to them.

Theophilus, "Follower of the Way"

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

Thanks for the input.

I do believe in the literal return of the bodily Christ and the actual and physical recreation of heaven and earth.

The first creation was literal and material, and so was the first coming of Jesus, and so I have no reason to believe the New Creation and the Second Coming will simply be a fairy story by contrast.

I do believe in the bodily resurrection, even as our Lord appeared to His disciples bodily - making a point to eat fish for breakfast (John 21:9-14). Jesus explicitly denies that this is a spiritual resurrection by eating in front of them saying: "a ghost does not have flesh and bones" (Luke 24:37-43).

To paraphrase the theologian Madonna: "We are living in a material world, and we are material men."