We have entered again the season of Advent. What is this “Advent”? What is it all about? Even some of us who have been Lutherans our whole lives become a little fuzzy on the details of what Advent is and what its purpose is.
Let us see that purpose in the coming of Christ on a donkey. He does not come proud and mighty. He is mighty, but He does not use His strength. When He spoke to the disciples about the donkeys, He said, “The Lord has need of them.” Think about that. The Lord Almighty in human flesh, the Omnipotent One, needs nothing and no one, least of all a couple of dumb animals. Yet He lowers Himself. He makes Himself weak. Christ comes in humility and meekness.
We should learn to be like Him. We set aside whatever high opinion we hold of our qualities or whatever we think is great about us. We cast away pride and instead see ourselves as we truly are. We are lowly sinners. This is important in Advent because the King is coming. We should not be proud before Him.
When He approached Jerusalem, He did not look like much. Yet the crowds hailed Him and praised His arrival. We should do no less.
But why? Why praise the coming of Christ? Because He comes to save, and all people need the salvation that He brings. Yet if we do not humble ourselves and realize that we are lowly sinners, then we will not feel that we need Him. Maybe those other people need Christ; you know, those bad sinners. We are pretty good people, so we love the coming of Christ, but we do not really need it. Or so the prideful sinful flesh believes.
To combat such attitudes, the Church observes Advent, which is roughly four weeks of restraint. We restrain ourselves by not singing the Gloria in Excelsis. We hold back from the full jubilation of the Christmas celebration. We wait, as Israel waited centuries for the Messiah. We try to wait patiently because it is not Christmas yet, in spite of the decorations we see and the carols we hear. We discipline ourselves by waiting, so that we learn to eagerly desire His coming.
But it is hard to wait. It is hard to use discipline and restraint. We want to break out into joyful carols. That is more fun. We want the full celebration now. This is what the world does. The world rushes ahead and does not wait. It seizes what it wants without discipline. So the world so easily loses the true meaning of Christmas, which is that the mighty King comes in humility to save us, lowly sinners.
For this reason, we Christians humble ourselves, and we anticipate His coming. It is hard to anticipate and yearn for something if you do not need it, so we remind ourselves that we are sinners who sorely need this Savior to be born of the Blessed Virgin.
Of course, Christ is not born this coming Christmas Day. He was born two thousand years ago. So we are anticipating the commemoration of His birth. He became Man for our salvation. He took flesh and blood so that He could lay them down in death to pay the penalty for our sins.
The Son of David came in the manger just as He came to Jerusalem – in humility. Therefore we are also humble as we yearn for His coming.
He also comes to this House, and we hail Him with the same words the crowd used. “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.” We sing these words as He comes to give His Body and Blood. He approaches here as surely as He approached Jerusalem on a donkey. He came then to give His Body and Blood on the Cross for our sins. The same Body and Blood are given for us today.
We anticipate this coming by humbling ourselves. We hunger and thirst for these gifts because we poor sinners need them. If we feel that we are good people who are doing okay, then we will feel no great need for the Body and Blood. So we eagerly anticipate in humility.
He also will come on clouds of glory. When that day comes, it will be the best day of all days, and the beginning of endless days of perfection in the new Heaven and new Earth.
But it is hard to wait for that coming. There is so much trouble in the world, problems in our lives, pain in our hearts. We want to rush ahead to the unrestrained celebration. We want to skip to the end.
So Advent discipline also teaches us patience in times of difficulty. We trust God’s will that He brings the last day at the right time, not according to our feeble wisdom, but His. We wait, and we try to be patient. In the same way the people of Israel waited for the Messiah.
This Lord knows all things. He knew where the donkeys were that He needed. He told the disciples what to say because He knew that someone was going to ask them why they were taking them. He always knew exactly what to do to fulfill all Scripture, as He did when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. For He is not only a prophet of God, but He is also the all-wise God in human flesh.
Since this Lord knows all things, we commit ourselves to His times and seasons. He knows best, not us. The end of all things and our liberation from all sin, trouble, and death will come at exactly the right time.
So we are patient, or at least try to be. What happens if we are not? What if the disciples thought to themselves, “Hey! I see a donkey in that pasture over there. That will be quicker and easier than the one Jesus told us to find.” Things that seem quicker and easier are not necessarily the best. Perhaps the disciples would get that other donkey and then Christ would scold them for disobeying Him. Maybe they would chase the donkey in the pasture and never catch it. Maybe the owner was a grouchy guy that would chase them around with a pitchfork.
Impatience leads to trouble and sin. Being patient and following the direction of Christ is always best. We wait for Him and do not run ahead as if we know best. But it is hard to wait. It is hard to restrain. We need to train ourselves to wait.
The world runs ahead in matters of marriage. “Why wait for a ceremony?” asks the world. “It’s only a piece of paper. We love each other.” So the world lives together and hops into bed without marriage. It is hard to convince people to wait. When they follow their feelings, they do not want to be patient.
It is good and useful to learn to wait. Christmas is just a few weeks away. By the time the holy day arrives, the world may have exhausted itself with all its parties and celebrations. Even if they are still full of joy, they will have missed the mark all along, by taking the focus away from Christ. Let us not abandon our discipline and patience, least we join the world in an empty, meaningless celebration. Christ and His gifts are quickly left behind. After all, if the day of His birth is irrelevant to the celebration, then why mention it at all? Christmas is then all about family, or giving, or emotions, or whatever a person wants it to be.
But let us humble ourselves. The true holiday, the holy day, is about the Son of David coming, as promised, to save us pathetic sinners. Let us keep our eyes upon Him, and in humility prepare for His coming.
In His Name, who came, and is here now, and will come again. Amen.
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