Zion Lutheran Church, Harbine, Nebraska
IN NOMINE JESU
The word advent means "coming." In a generic sense, there are many advents around us. We are reminded of many things that are coming. We have seen tons of advertisements that remind us that Christmas is coming. When we go shopping, we can tell that Christmas is coming just by looking around at the decorated tree as you enter, as well as the red and green signs and the extra emphases given to the importance of buying toys or electronic items. "Black Friday" was a great secular reminder that Christmas is coming. The Big Ten Championship is coming. We're reminded of this because…oh, wait…nevermind; there's no point in reopening an old wound. If you listen to talk radio or watch cable TV news programs, you know the presidential election is next year. And we know that next year, 2012, is fast approaching because we see there aren't too many pages left in our 2011 calendars. And there is a movie called 2012, which depicts the coming end of the world, a movie I don't plan to watch until 2013, so that I can see what I missed. I'm sure the movie says nothing about it, but we do know, as we go through the church year and its readings for specific Sundays, that the Lord will come again—this time in judgment and in all His glory. This gets us to where we are today: the First Sunday in Advent.
Why are we observing the season of Advent? It's a penitential season, much like Lent. It's a preparatory season, much like Lent. The Palm Sunday account is read on both seasons, but during Advent, especially today, we are reminded of our Lord's return. The temptation to say we're just getting ready for Christmas is great, but it's not entirely accurate. Our Lord's first coming in the flesh took place over 2000 years ago, but that's not why we have four weeks of Advent. As we begin the Advent season, it is truly meet, right, and salutary that we keep in mind we are NOT preparing for Jesus' first coming. That's already happened. Let us remember to prepare for His coming to us in His Word and Sacraments...and to prepare for His coming on the Last Day. That said, it is better that we not speak of Christ's coming in judgment as His second coming but rather as His FINAL coming. In other words, we should prepare ourselves to receive our Lord who comes to His people sacramentally—that is, as He comes to us in His Word, in Holy Baptism, and in Holy Communion.
That gets us to where we are today, the first day of a new church year, the First Sunday in Advent, Ad te levavi, which is Latin for the first words of the Introit appointed for this day in the Divine Service: "To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul." This is what we do today and throughout the season of Advent, lifting up our souls to God, praising Him, just as the crowds in our text did, receiving the King who was coming to save them from their sins, whether they realized it or not. "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!" We praise Him in this manner as we prepare to receive Him as He comes to us today in His Word as well as when He comes to us in His body and blood. Just as the crowds in Jerusalem welcomed Jesus as He came riding on a donkey, we also welcome Him today as He comes with and in His Word. Knowing that He is coming, we ought to prepare ourselves to meet Him, getting ourselves ready to celebrate His coming, whether today in His Word or on the Last Day.. We prepare ourselves during this penitential season of Advent especially as we reflect upon our sins and our need for a Savior. Through such preparation and by the Holy Spirit we are all the more eager to meet Him face to face, just as the crowds in Jerusalem were on Palm Sunday.
One thing we may not fully understand is why the Palm Sunday account is the Holy Gospel reading for the First Sunday in Advent. The connection is there between 33 A.D. and 2011: the people of God welcoming the Messiah as King. There is another connection: these same people, then and now, have turned their backs on Him. These same people who welcomed the Son of David on Palm Sunday would also call for His execution on Good Friday, an execution we called for some 2000 years before we were even born! Yes, it was our sin too that put Jesus on the cross. It was our unwillingness to meet Him, to greet Him, and to eagerly receive Him who went from Jerusalem to Calvary. During this penitential season of Advent, this time of preparation, we need to examine ourselves and ask ourselves some questions. Will we be ready to welcome Jesus this Christmas, or are we taking Christ out of Christmas by our words and our actions—again? Will we take full advantage of the Divine Service, or will we once again be too busy to come to our Lord's house for rest, taking the Mass out of the Christ-Mass—that is, Christmas? Do we seek out our Lord here in His house, in Word and Sacrament—our Lord who gives us the one, only, and true meaning of Christmas, or will we be forcing ourselves to find some less than satisfying meaning in the rush to rehearsals, programs, parties, or even at the mall? Will we cry out, "Hosanna," or will we sneer, "I gave at the office"? Would we say we gave at the office to the One who gave Himself up for us?
During this time of the year we find ourselves pulled in many different directions and away from our Lord's house. We crave rest, but we don't find it in our numerous activities. If anything, we become more tired and stressed out than before. We lose sight of the Christ child on Christ's Mass Day, on Christmas Day. We are in great danger of having stockings full of stuff while leaving our souls empty of salvation. With that spiritual bankruptcy comes the knowledge that we have a debt no loan or credit card could repay. We need to cry out to our Lord, "Hosanna!" We do so not entirely as act of praise but also as a cry for mercy, that He would save us now.
It is for this reason that Jesus came into the world: to save us from our sins, living up to His Name. It is for this reason that Jesus came into this world in all humility, born like one of us and in a barn, lying in a feeding trough because there was no room for Him, Mary, and Joseph in the inn. It is for this reason that Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem: to come and fulfill and complete the prophecies spoken of Him in a matter of days—to win our forgiveness. He accepted the cheers on Palm Sunday and the jeers on Good Friday—for us! He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted—for us! He willingly took on the crown of thorns, the whipping, and the beatings—for us! He bled and died—for us, to take our sins away! This is why we by the Holy Spirit confess in the Nicene Creed our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, "who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate [made flesh] by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried." This would not be much of a confession of faith had it ended right there. But on "the third day," we continue to confess, Jesus "rose again according to the Scriptures." His new life is our new life, too! By His glorious resurrection from the dead, Jesus opened to us eternal life in heaven, open to us and to all believers in Him as Savior and Lord. In heaven we will forever dine at the heavenly Feast He has prepared for us, who will forever sing, "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!"
It is this song of the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven that we sing every time we are about to receive the Supper, a foretaste of the Feast to come. "Heaven and earth are full of Your glory," we sing as our Lord comes down to us, coming to His house, to His Table, bringing all of heaven with Him so that we might partake with the angels and those who have gone before us in the faith: the Apostles, Evangelists, Prophets, Church Fathers, martyrs, the spouse to whom we were married for 50 blessed years, the grandparent we dearly miss, and the friend who died tragically. All of them who died in Christ will all be here with us, eating and drinking with us as we gather around our Lord's Table, singing the hymn they forever sing in heaven: the Sanctus.
In the history of the choral Mass, this hymn was regarded by composers as two separate pieces: the Sanctus ("Holy") and the Benedictus ("Blessed is He"). We sing these together as one great hymn because they flow from one to the other and are forever connected by the Word who became flesh—Jesus Christ—in His body and blood. Let us prepare to receive Him who comes to us in Word and Sacrament. Let us during this Advent season prepare meet Him at the time appointed for His return on the Last Day. Let us prepare by confessing our sins to God our Father, seeking His forgiveness for Jesus' sake, and by singing this great hymn, proclaiming Jesus' holiness and omnipresence, lifting up our hosannas as cries for mercy and as ascriptions of praise, and announcing that He is blessed who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest indeed. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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