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Advent in Proper Focus

Matthew 21:1-9

Pastor Jason Zirbel

First Sunday in Advent
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

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Sun, Nov 29, 2020 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

“Hosanna!  Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” This is what Advent is all about, and these lessons get right after it!  Let there be no confusion or distraction.  Our Lord Christ draws near.  This is what it’s all about.  This is why the very first Gospel lesson appointed for the very first Sunday in Advent doesn’t speak of Christ’s nativity, but of Christ’s Palm Sunday procession, which led ultimately to His bloody cross six days later.  This is what Advent is all about.  This is what Christmas is all about.  This is what the entire Christian faith is all about (at least… what it’s supposed to be all about). This is the MOST important thing.  In all reality, this is the ONLY TRULY important thing.  All the other things we get so worked up over… it’s so sad.  All the other things that, if you’re honest, really do take first place in your life; they really are the most important thing to you... it’s so very sad.  Jesus Christ—Almighty God Himself—took on flesh for the sole purpose of taking that flesh to the cross as an all-redeeming sacrifice for the sins of all mankind… for YOUR sin.  Almighty God humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross for you.  He willingly took your place, suffering your justly-deserved divine wrath, all so that you wouldn’t have to experience a single second of it for yourself.  God in the flesh gave up all of heaven’s majesty in order to keep His promise of salvation, which He first made to our first parents in the Garden of Eden after they rebelled against Him and fell into sin, death, and damnation.  Right off the bat; immediately out of the gate, this Gospel orients us to this; to the most important thing; to the ONLY truly important thing; to what it’s really all about.

Look to this font.  Look to this rail.  Look to the altar, the pulpit, and the lectern.  Here are the truly MOST IMPORTANT things.  Here is Christ, even in the midst of all the dysfunction and despair, really and truly coming to you, bringing to you His free and unmerited gifts of mercy, grace, and peace.  Honestly: Is there ANYTHING more important than this?  I wouldn’t be too quick to answer, because the fruits you bear sometimes contradict your confession.  Is there anything more important than this?  Your Lord still presently comes to you and draws near to you by means of His Word and His sacraments.  “Where two or three gather in My name, there I am.” Well…here He is!  “Yeah… but the two or three gathered with me aren’t wearing masks or staying six feet apart!”

Folks: Here is Christ!  And—yes—just like that first Palm Sunday, it’s not exactly a big, glorious event filled with all kinds of royal pomp and circumstance, is it?  No royal procession.  No chariots.  No warhorses.  The welcoming committee isn’t a delegation of the best and brightest.  No one “important” is there to meet Him or welcome Him in.  Rather, the whole Palm Sunday welcoming committee consists of the lowliest of the low throwing down their cloaks or waving palm branches. 

Again, look to this rail.  Look to the font.  Look to the altar, the pulpit, the lectern.  There’s no royal fanfare here.  The heavens don’t rend.  The earth doesn’t quake.  The lights don’t even flicker.  Not very impressive, is it?  Maybe this is why it’s become so very easy for people to abstain and stay away.  It just doesn’t seem all that important.  As far as a welcoming committee, let’s face it: These veiled means of Christ Himself aren’t even enough to get people out of bed or to look up from their phones or whatever else it is that we do that we deem “more important.” Just think of all the things that people will don masks for right now.  Think of all the reasons people will put on masks and go out in public to be around a bunch of strangers.  People will courageously brave all kinds of potential danger in order to wag their finger in the face of someone they disagree with or to get their hands on a latte or a Big Mac or on the last 80-pack of toilet paper, and yet taking the same precautions in order to come and be in the presence of Christ and receive His good gifts from His almighty hand… that’s just crazy talk!  “Pastor, you just don’t care if people die, do you?!” I’ll say it again: Here is Christ.  Here is the King of kings, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.  Here is our salvation, in our very midst, executing His justice and righteousness, making us holy and righteous in His sight.  By faith, we know this, but we also know that this isn’t the end of the story. 

And here’s the other very important part of Advent that is so often ignored.  We know that Christ will return again in glory and might, don’t we?  When will that be?  That we don’t know.  Nobody but the Father knows.  This is why St. Paul urges the Christians in Rome (and all who hear these words) to basically “wake up.” Paul speaks with a tremendous sense of urgency.  “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  The day is at hand.”

I know you’ve already heard it more than a few times over the past couple of weeks, but it bears repeating: If you knew exactly when Jesus would return in Judgment, would it change you?  If He was going to return by the end of the month, the end of the week, or the end of the day, would you stop doing certain things, and start doing other things?  How many times have you seen people “get real religious” after they’ve received bad news from the doctor?  It’s amazing how a terminal diagnosis can change a person’s priorities.  Things that used to be so important suddenly become not so important.  I have NEVER heard a person on their death bed lamenting how they wish they spent more time arguing with other idiots on Facebook.  I have NEVER had a single person lament in their final days and hours that they wish they spent more time complaining about bylaws or personality differences.  I’ve heard an awful lot of confessions though.  I’ve had an awful lot of people who were preparing to enter into eternity want nothing more than for me to give them Holy Communion.  No small talk.  No discussions about their ideas for the food pantry or the voters’ meeting or anything like that.  Nope.  They just wanted Christ’s Body and Blood.  They wanted to hear His Word of absolution.  That’s it.  They wanted the most important thing.  If you knew that your clock was about to run out, would your sense of urgency shift to God and His means of grace?  Would your priorities change?  If so, why? 

Folks: This is precisely why we set aside a little time (and it is just a little bit of time; a mere couple of weeks) before Christmas.  We set this time aside for reflection and repentance; for re-orienting ourselves to the truly most important thing; to the Truth and reality and source of our salvation.  Our forgiveness came at great price and sacrifice.  Just look at what our salvation cost God!  No, we’re not singing joyous Christmas carols yet.  It’s not time yet.  Jesus came to this earth for us and our sin.  Let us not forget this or look past this.  Let this fact not get drowned out in premature Christmas celebrations or buried beneath an impatient, Walmart sense of joy and peace or suffocated/paralyzed under fears of masks and germs and a mass toilet paper shortage.  Jesus suffered and died for us and our sin!  We set aside this brief bit of time so that we can get our priorities straight and our perspectives rightly focused on the only truly important thing. 

And even here in this penitential time, we do still have joy.  Look around: We’re not in somber lock-down.  We still have every reason to celebrate and give thanks today.  Again, just consider all the ways your God and Lord still processes into your very midst today in very lowly, humble, and common ways in order to give you His grace, mercy, and peace—Word, water, bread, and wine.  He doesn’t rend the heavens and come to us on a blazing war horse with trumpets blaring (or Christmas carols blasting).  Nope.  He comes to us, as He will do in just few minutes, in, with, and under lowly elements.  BUT… He comes to us!  “Take and eat.  Take and drink.  This is My Body.  This is My Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin.” How can your faith not rejoice in this Christological Truth?!  Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes to us in the name of the Lord!

May this truly Christ-centered joy and peace be your joy and peace, and may this joy and peace truly be your most important thing.  May this cruciform reality be at the center of all you say and do.  No matter what happens, it is finished, in Christ and because of Christ.  Not even the gates of hell can prevail against this.  I’d say that makes this the most important thing.  I pray that it is your most important thing, now and into this covid-tainted and chaotic “holiday” season and into all eternity.

To Him alone be all glory, all praise, all honor… and all the focus.

AMEN



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