We have entered again the season of Advent, in preparation for the coming of our Lord. He has come to us as the Baby in the manger. He comes to us in Word and Sacrament. He will come again on clouds of glory.
How will we recognize His coming? We are born too late in history to recognize Him as the Babe in the manger, although we commemorate that event at Christmas. The Old Testament Israel had certain signs to watch for, and even the shepherds were told to look for the sign of the Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. But these are not signs for us.
When He returns for judgment, we will have no trouble recognizing Him. Every eye will see Him, and the dead will be raised. There will be no doubt when He comes then. Even the unbelievers will know and acknowledge the return of Christ. Although there are certain signs that Christ will reveal Himself in glory, actually recognizing the coming will not be difficult.
The difficulty is in recognizing Him today. He comes, and we do not see Him with our earthly eyes. He is hidden underneath humble means.
This is an important lesson for Advent. Do we discern our Lord Jesus as He comes to us?
As He came to Jerusalem, He came in humility. He was riding on a donkey, not upon a mighty steed of war. This also was a sign predicted by the prophet Zechariah so that the faithful could recognize the true King when He came.
He was not crowned as King for all to see. Yet the crowds hailed Him as the Son of David who came in the Name of the Lord. They surely did not all fully understand what they were saying. Yet they were enabled to confess the truth that here was the Messiah, the Son of God, come to save His people from their sins.
Their recognition of Him was particularly miraculous because Christ came in His state of humiliation. He did not reveal His full glory as true God in human flesh. He did not exercise His majestic power to its greatest extent. He came in a lowly way, in the form of a servant. He appeared to be an ordinary man.
Today, He is no longer in His state of humiliation. He now fully exercises His glory and might throughout the universe. Yet He does not do that visibly before our eyes. If He came here in His visible majesty, His holiness would overwhelm us, just as surely as He could have overwhelmed the crowds on Palm Sunday.
So He comes in lowly ways. He comes riding a donkey, so to speak. Do we recognize Him?
He has given us signs to know Him when He comes. He has sent out men to preach and teach in His Name. He has promised those sent-out men that “He who hears you hears Me.” So you can know and recognize that the voice of a called minister is the voice of Christ. The teaching of the Word, so long as it is faithful teaching, is the teaching of our Lord Jesus.
Do we recognize Him when He speaks among us?
When a minister of Christ Baptizes in His Name, it is truly Christ who is Baptizing. The hand at the font may appear to be a mere man, yet it is far more. The sinless Son of Man uses the sinful minister to cleanse His Church with water and the Word.
Do we recognize Him? It may be very difficult at times, because He comes in such a lowly way. He comes upon a beast of burden, so to speak, who is very lowly. This donkey of a man has none of the glory of Christ. Compared to my Lord, I am little better than a witless, stupid animal.
Yet Christ truly comes here, upon the words and actions of this humble donkey.
Our sinful flesh does not want to recognize the Lord when He comes this way. We want to look for Him in other places. Surely, says our flesh, the Lord should look more glorious. Surely He should make us feel more like He is here.
Sometimes, we look at the donkey and think how offensive he is. Who could blame you? The donkey is not the Lord. Much as the donkey may try to act as a pure servant of Christ to do the will of his Master, yet in the end he is still a donkey.
Yet the Master, the Lord of the donkey and the Lord of the Church, says this. “I have promised to be there, in and with the Holy Ministry. Look for Me, and recognize My coming, there.”
So look for the donkey, and you will also find the Lord.
The Lord comes today in His Body and Blood. He brings His presence in a way that is not found anywhere else on earth. Yet He gives His bodily presence here under lowly bread. He gives His precious Blood under ordinary wine. Again, He is coming in a humble way, riding upon these physical elements that are not glorious.
We especially need to recognize Him here. Saint Paul warns that to eat and drink without recognizing His coming is to eat and drink judgment upon oneself. We should eat and drink with faith to recognize that here is the most glorious food and drink in the universe, although hidden in a humble way.
Even though we Lutherans know this very well, we sometimes act as if He is not here. We sometimes want to be casual around the glorious Son of God. We sometimes want to treat this meal as if it is only an outward ceremony, not a communion in the Body and Blood of the King of Israel.
We often lack an aching hunger and burning thirst for this Sacrament. Perhaps this is because we do not feel our need as much as we should. We seldom if ever recognize how great our sin is, and therefore how greatly we ought to desire this Food for our souls.
Most of all, we should recognize Him here. This is His coming, as much as when He rode physically into the gates of Jerusalem. He is as much here as He ever was on earth. He is among us in His Body and Blood to give us His precious gift of forgiveness of sins to us who need it so much. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
So we do not only recognize His coming, but we also recognize that He comes to give salvation. We greet His coming today by singing, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” The King is here, humble and lowly to our eyes, in bread and wine. Yet He comes bearing the incredible gifts of His grace and mercy. He gives remission for all your sins. He rescues you from the stranglehold of satan. He has conquered death, and gives you immortality through His death.
For this King came to be crowned with thorns. He came to wear a purple robe of mocking. He came to be treated shamefully, and then executed as a despicable criminal. He came to suffer and die for you.
He comes now in this Divine Service to give out the benefits of His Cross. He pours out all the peace earned by His bitter suffering. If we recognize in faith that He comes to us here in mercy, then we sinners receive His gifts.
But if we follow our sinful flesh that wants to reject or ignore His coming, then we will receive only judgment. If we do not think that we need mercy, as if we are perfectly fine without Him, then we will receive no mercy. If we think we can commune with Jesus just as well in nature, or we can find Him just as well sitting in front of our television at home, then He will pass us by.
But we do recognize Him, as miraculously as the crowds did so long ago. We recognize Him coming in lowly forms and ways today, not because of our fine discernment. No, we are sinners, incapable in ourselves of recognizing Him. But the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see Him. We receive the gift of knowing that our King comes to us today to give to us His salvation.
In His Name, the great and glorious King. Amen.
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