27. November 2011
The beginning of a new year is an occasion to contemplate the past, consider the moment, and look forward to the future. The church’s new year began last night at sundown with Advent. With Advent we shift our focus from the coming of Christ is judgment of the end of the church year to the perennial and future coming of Christ is grace in the year to come. No matter how Christ comes, we prepare.
Most of skip preparing with Advent and go directly to Christ’s nativity. You may have noticed the chancel decorations are more restrained that the narthex or even your own home. This is intentional. Before we commemorate our Lord’s birth, we prepare for another year of Christ’s coming in grace but not for Christmas. This is a recent misunderstanding that we Christians have readily accepted from Macy’s and the rest of the Christmas martketeers.
To further aggravate the church year of grace, new holidays have been added that miss the whole spirit of Advent. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the whole shopping season are contrary to the intent of our spiritual fathers. They intended Advent as time of penitent preparation with fasting, acts of charity, and more frequent devotion. About the only thing preserved in our midst is increased devotion through midweek advent services.
Contrary to the original intent of Advent as a time of fasting is the gluttony of Thanksgiving and frequent “holiday” banquets. Contrary to the acts of charity is the greed and materialism of shop-‘til-you-drop. Contrary to Advent as a time of increased devotion to the Word, families instead gathering around the TV for football and holiday specials having little or nothing to do with Christ’s coming again in grace. At best, nativity scenes cut through the darkness of the sinful world, although even they are used to sell car washes, holiday fashions, and animated talking vegetables.
All the pagan idolatry of stuff, the greed and envy of the self, nor even the utter devotion to TV are not Advent. Food, gifts, and families aren’t bad if cherished not worshipped. To worship them is the way of our flesh. We love our stuff. We love ourselves. We love our entertainment.
Anything we love more than God is our god. Any god other than the true God is an idol. Idolatry takes our eyes away from the cross of Christ. Idolatry steals our heart from love of God. Idolatry distracts us from truth. Idolatry feeds us with the mammon of unrighteousness.
Advent is chiefly about penitent preparation for Christ’s comings in the flesh and blood of the Sacrament, the Word incarnate preached, and the visible King of Glory on the last day. It is about fleeing idolatry and preparing for this Christ. Preparation requires acknowledgment of weakness, deficiency, and error. Preparation requires God-given strength, knowledge, and correction.
Christ’s birth needs little preparation. We know the story by heart, straight out of the King James Version of Luke chapter two. Babies are born every day and its generally uneventful for everyone but the family. We know the carols, the hymns, and even when to bring out the candles.
You really don’t need Advent to prepare for Christmas. You need Advent to prepare for what Christmas began. Or rather, what was begun when our God spoke the word of promise to Eve, the seed that would crush the serpent’s head. The nativity of our Lord is a milestone in your journey to heaven.
Your savior was born of Mary. He was born in meekness and humility. He wasn’t born as simply a model son. He was born to die at the hands of wicked men, to die for your rescue. He was born to enter into Jerusalem as the Son of David. He was born to hear all the elect cry out “Hosanna… blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
This is the message of the first sunday of Advent. This is Palm Sunday. This is every Sunday. Every Sunday Jesus rides in meekness and humility just as He was born and just as He died. Every Sunday Jesus rides in with forgiveness. Every Sunday Jesus rides in with the fruits of forgiveness.
You are baptized. You were assured of this forgiveness in the name of the Triune God and by His authority in the preparatory rite. All your sins are forgiven and forgotten. Now, our Lord speaks to you and you respond as his redeemed and forgiven. By eating and drinking you are about to proclaim that you firmly believe that Jesus died for you. You are remembering every good gift from Jesus.
We remember the birth of the Son of Man. We remember this boy preaching in the temple. We remember this man turning water into wine. We remember healing and teaching. We remember all He did, all He is, and all He has promised to do.
Remembering is the first step of preparation. We prepare by remembering that He came and still comes. He came in the manger. He comes in Word and Sacrament. These are one and the same. In the beginning is the Word and the Word was God and the Word is God. Jesus is the Word. Jesus is the Word of the Sacrament.
The second step of preparation is acknowledging our need, acknowledging who Jesus is, and acknowledging what He brings. We need forgiveness and He brings it. We need a savior, born of God and born of woman, and He is the one. We need heaven and He will come again to bring us to this heavenly home.
Forgiveness and its fruits of life and salvation are not a one-off gift. They are the gift that keeps on giving. They are the gift that needs to keep on giving. Our redemption is accomplished in His blood, but our salvation is a continuing process. Every day we need to be prepared for our final hour. Every day we need to be saved again from some besetting sin, from some weakness or doubt or unbelief, from some selfishness, self-love, or lovelessness.
He comes and saves us. He comes in humility of bread and wine. He comes with His body and blood that we would be strengthened in faith toward Him and fervent love toward one another. He comes to prepare us so that when He comes again, we enter through those gates singing “Hosanna!”
Salvation is near to us. The night is gone. We have donned the armor of light, having put off the works of darkness. We have our cloaks ready and palm branches in hand. Our king comes and we rejoice! Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory! (Psalm 24:7-8)
He comes with salvation. He comes with rescue. He comes with deliverance. He shows us the hill, the gates, the path, and the way unto eternal life with Him. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church