"Blessed is He who Comes in the Name of the Lord!"
Ad te levavi, First Sunday in Advent
St. Matthew 21:1-11
December 1 and 2, 2007
(Concordia Lutheran Church, Brockport, New York)
IN NOMINE JESU
Today we begin a new year in the Church, known as the church year or the liturgical year. They rhythm of the church year follows that of Christ and the New Testament Church. The first half of the year traces the life of Christ, beginning with the days leading up to His birth. These days we celebrate as the season of Advent, a word that means "coming." During these four weeks we prepare ourselves for the celebration of His first coming into the world, a day we have liturgically reserved as the Mass of Christ—Christmas. From this, the first of three major festivals in the church year, we move to the eighth day, when our Lord was circumcised and given the Name of Jesus. It is on this occasion that we ring in the new year. We proceed a bit further into Jesus' life and, on the 12th day of Christmas on our liturgical calendar, we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord, when the toddler Jesus was revealed to the Wise Men, who came from a distant land to worship Him as the Lord—the Lord of all nations. These seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany comprise the Time of Christmas. From there we move to the Time of Easter as we remember our Lord's suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension in the seasons of Lent and Easter, Easter Sunday being the second major festival. Following our Lord's ascension, we eagerly await the celebration of the Holy Spirit's coming on Pentecost, the third major festival of the church year. Pentecost marks the birthday of the New Testament-era Church and, in the liturgical year, leads to the beginning of the non-festival half of the year—the Time of the Church, which ends with the promise of our Lord's second coming on the Last Day, the Sunday of the Fulfillment, Christ the King, the proper names for last Sunday on the liturgical calendar.
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 on Christmas Day and 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 on Christmas Day or on the Last Day or even today during Vespers/Matins. 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 what the Palm Sunday account is the alternate Holy Gospel reading for the First Sunday in Advent. The connection is there between 33 A.D. and 2007: 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 that took Jesus from Jerusalem to Calvary. During this penitential season of Advent, this time of preparation, we need to examine ourselves and ask ourselves some questions. Are we 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? 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. 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 this day and 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. They 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 to celebrate His birth. Let us now and always prepare to 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!
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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