1 December 2019†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† St. Athanasius Lutheran Church
Advent 1††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Vienna, VA
Text: Matthew 21:1-11; Romans 13:8-14
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
So, whaddya think? Just skip Christmas this year? Forget the whole thing. Call it off. Maybe that thought horrifies you. Stores and retailers and the Hallmark Channel would certainly be. For they, like some people, look forward to Christmas all year. But that may in fact be Godís plan. That there would be no Christmas this year, because the King is coming back before then.
That reality, or the possibility of it, is the reason, in fact, for this season of Advent which we begin today. This season, these four weeks before Christmas, arenít here to get us ready to celebrate Christmas, but to prepare us not to. To prepare us for if there is no Christmas this year, and for that possibility to fill us not with sadness, but with joy! Because when the King comes back, when Jesus comes back, it will be for us a day of unrivaled joy. A day the joy of all your best Christmases put together would not even begin to compare.
Besides, you donít have to be a Christian to celebrate Christmas . . . as it has become. Even many unbelievers sing the carols that speak of Jesusí birth - but donít really care about it. They believe it happened, I suppose. Historically speaking. But it doesnít mean anything to them. He has no relevance for their lives.
So if all the Church does during Advent is prepare for Christmas, we are no different than the world, and no better for it. So it must be more than that. And it is. Advent prepares us for if there is no Christmas this year, and helps us see once again that Christmas is not the big celebration that comes at the end of every year, but the beginning of something new. Not the end of an old year, but the beginning of a new life.
And so we heard today the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem - entering the city He knows will kill Him. Itís very unChristmassy. Itís adult Jesus, not baby Jesus. The donkeyís not looking into the manger, but being ridden on by the one who once laid in it. Itís not the beginning of Jesusí life in this world, but mere days from the end of it. And itís not the angels singing Glory to God in the highest (Luke 2:14) to shepherds, but the crowds shouting out Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!
Weíll sing Glory to God in the Highest, too . . . soon . . . when we celebrate Christmas - IF we do! But for now, we sing Hosanna. Every week. In the liturgy of the Lordís Supper. Hosanna is a very adventy word. Glory to God is an announcement, a proclamation. Hosanna is a prayer. It means: Help us, Lord. Save us. Intervene and rescue us. The people of Jerusalem were crying that out in their distress and confessing their faith. That Jesus is the Son of David. The one who could save them and rescue them. The promised one come to be their king again. To set things right again.
Thatís a good prayer. Itís a good desire. Itís the how the surprises. That Jesusí throne is a cross, His crown is of thorns, and that He saves by not saving Himself. Thatís not how the world does things. Thatís why Pontius Pilate is so flummoxed. What do you do with a king whose kingdom is not of this world? What do you do with a king who fights not with weapons but with words? What do you do with a king who is not about power but about truth?
We might ask the same. Jesus humility is proof for some that He cannot be God. No God worth His salt, no God worth believing in, would be like that. But to others, though - to us! - this is rather the deepest revelation of His nature. A contradiction only in this world. Thatís Godís almighty power is joined with a boundless love so great it allows Him - no, it compels Him! - to be trampled upon and sacrificed to save the children He loves.
And so those prayers of Hosanna are answered with His It is finished. He loses His life that we might gain our own. That we might gain a life in Him, a life that is eternal; not a life that is here today and gone tomorrow. Not a life that is found in the things of this world. We already have that kind of life. Jesus has come to give us more than that, and better than that.
So the Church, in her wisdom, put Hosanna into the liturgy for us to sing every week. It doesnít have to be there, but itís good that it is. To teach us, as Paul said to us today, that salvation is nearer to us now that when we first believed. That one year, there really wonít be a Christmas. And that thatís a good thing.
So what if you knew . . . what if you knew that this would be the year? The year with no Christmas? That, again to use Paulís words, the day is at hand. The day of the Lordís coming. That sometime in the next 24 days, the King is coming back. You will see Jesus. What would you do . . . now?
Well, this is what Paul said: So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. So have you? Cast these things off? Or have you indulged your sinful desires and welcomed the darkness that hides you and keeps you safe? Have you Hosanna-ed Jesus to save you from these? Or are you not quite ready to leave them yet?
Truth is, we are and we arenít. We do and we donít. Weíre one way one day and different the next. Even hour to hour! But what if you knew there would be no Christmas this year? Would you change?
Thatís the possibility this season of Advent is putting before you. And calling you to repentance and change. That whether Jesus comes again soon or not, that whether we get to celebrate Christmas or not, your life be filled not with the works of darkness, but with love and joy. Which is exactly why Jesus entered this world; and entered Jerusalem on that donkey. To provide that for you. To give you that kind of new life.
Which He did on the Churchís own Black Friday - only we call it Good. For retailers, Black Friday is (or at least, used to be) the day when the red ink of debt in their financial ledgers would turn black - their debts paid and all now to the good. So too for us. Jesusí Black Friday is the day when the red ink of our sinful debt to God was washed away by the red blood of Jesus shed on the cross. So weíre on the right side of the ledger again with God. Not the side of sin and death, but the side of resurrection and life. In the black, because weíre white - washed clean and righteous again. So that if Christmas doesnít come this year, thatís okay. It will be a day even better.
Maybe thatís hard to imagine. Thatís okay. We learn. We grow. And itís always by faith - faith that what Jesus has told us is true. But not blind faith, but faith that looks to the cross and empty tomb and says amen! My sin paid for, my death defeated. Jesus answered my Hosanna. It is finished.
But we still live in a sin-filled world and sunful bodies and lives. And so still today we pray our Hosannas, for still today there is darkness in our hearts and in our lives, in our thoughts and our desires, in our words and our deeds. We have given ourselves to what we should not, have not loved God above all things, and have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have favored our own agendas rather than the truth. Weíd rather lead God in the way we want Him to go, rather than follow Him in the way we should go. We donít want to learn from Godís Word as much as be wiser than it. Itís true.
And so we will pray Hosanna! once again, today - Help us Lord! Save us! -† and it will never be more true. And today Jesus will answer: Take and eat, this is My Body given for you. Take and drink, this is My blood, shed on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. I come for you now, I come to you now, here in this way, giving you the fruit from the tree of My cross, My forgiveness and life and my it is finished, that you be ready. Ready for no more Christmases on earth, but the eternal Christmas of heaven. Ready to join the shepherds, the crowds, and the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven around the King in His glory.
Thatís what this season of Advent would prepare us for. That if Christmas comes, we rejoice in the coming of our Saviour in humility. And if Christmas does not come this year, weíll rejoice even more in the coming of our Saviour in glory. And that we live this season and every day, knowing that salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. And that the night is far gone; the day is at hand. The day when those nail-pierced hands of Jesus will welcome us home.
So skip Christmas this year? Forget the whole thing? Call it off? I donít know. Above my pay grade! Weíll let God decide that. Weíll just pray Saviour of the nations, come! (LSB #332) And if weíre ready for that, weíll be ready for Christmas, too.
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.