The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
I almost always start off the sermon with a little story or tale of some sort. There’s a reason for this…a method to my madness. These little prologues help to introduce the text we’ll be meditating on for the day…at least I hope they do. It’s always my hope that the introduction “sets the hook” and helps you to assimilate with and more easily relate to the text. There is nothing new under the sun, right? It’s always my hope that the little introduction helps you to realize this. Sometimes, though, this has a way of backfiring. Sometimes the little introduction is all that’s heard. There have been more than a few times that people come through the handshake line and comment on the opening lines of the sermon. That’s all they heard! I can guarantee that the main focus of the sermon has NEVER been about Machiavellian principles or parking at Walmart or going to rummage sales or cooking bacon. And yet…that’s all some folks heard. That’s all they could think about and focus on for the rest of the worship service. And this isn’t conjecture, mind you. I once had a guy come out and tell me (very proudly, I might add) that the introduction about a naughty, evil cat we used to own that terrorized my daughter is all he could think about. The little snippet of comical family history I had hoped would help serve as an introduction to the Word of God wound up only serving to be a distraction. He missed the entire message! It’s like he filled up on a single hors d’oeuvre, and missed the Thanksgiving feast that God wanted to feed him with.
This is why I love how our forefathers of the faith arranged the lectionary readings for the Advent season. They get right to the point! No beating around the bush. No distracting introductions. They get right down to business. Now, at first glance this may seem a bit off. In fact, for some of you it may seem completely wrong. After all, this Gospel lesson is the recounting of Jesus’ Palm Sunday processional. That’s one week before Easter! That’s after five weeks of Lent! Clearly, whoever was in charge of arranging the lessons for the year made a big mistake. Clearly, the committee in charge of lectionary organization tried doing their work after happy hour! We’re not in Lent. We’re in the Advent season. There’s only 28 shopping days until Christmas. Look around. Christmas trees and garlands and wreaths and angels and nativity sets…‘tis the season. In fact, in terms of “Christmas spirit” we’re a bunch of Johnny-come-latelies. Walmart has been ready for Christmas since Labor Day. We need to get into the spirit of Christmas! It’s time for Christmas carols and Christmas hymns. Give us “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”! Give us “Joy to the World”! Give us “And shepherds were out in the field keeping watch over their flock by night.” Palm Sunday?! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord?! Check your calendar! Get with the program!
Well…why did God send His only-begotten Son into this fallen and sinful world? Believe it or not, but that’s a very good Advent season question. Why did God make a promise and then keep His Old Testament Word and promise and send His Holy Son to be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary; the very birth that angels sang about to the shepherds in the fields who were watching over their flocks by night? If your answer is anything but, “to die for our sins,” then you don’t understand God’s will or Jesus’ mission of redemption and salvation.
In fact, when you think about it, this is what the penitential season of Advent is all about. Why did God send Jesus to be born? Why did Jesus give up all of heaven’s glory and majesty to take on the flesh of Adam? Why did Jesus fulfill all the Law of God perfectly, including circumcision and baptism? Why did He fulfill all righteousness? Why did He willingly suffer all that persecution, abuse, bloodshed, misery, hatred, and scorn? Why? Because of us and our sin. He did all this and endured all this because we can’t redeem ourselves from the sinful death sentence that justly hangs over all men born of Adam. We can’t save ourselves from the deadliness of our own sin. We’re dead in our sin, completely incapable of redeeming ourselves. We can’t pay for one single sin, let alone an eternity’s worth of sin. Folks: You could spend multiple lifetimes (if possible) trying to “work off” even one single sin, and you would still come up woefully short, just as dead in your trespass as the moment you were first conceived.
This is why Jesus came to live and die for us. This is why our heavenly Father sent His Son to live and die for us. He came to take our place and suffer our justly-deserved death sentence. He came to pay our wage of sin for us. We can’t do it. And even if we could, we wouldn’t. You may not want to admit that, but it’s true. It’s human nature. We quit and give up on things because we can’t find a parking spot closer to the door or the line is too long or we might lose our spot at the restaurant if things take any longer. We throw our hands up in the air and walk away when there’s a chance we might have to give up a little extra time or effort or money; at least more than we think is our “fair share.” “What about the other guy? They need to do their share too! Why do we have to all the work? It’s their fault too!” We’ll cut and run simply because someone disagrees with us or—gasp!—dares to tell us that we’re wrong. Not Jesus. Not ever. He made a promise in the Garden of Eden to our first parents, and He saw it all the way, through to Calvary and an empty tomb three days later to today and into all eternity.
This is why I love the faithful wisdom of our ecclesial forefathers, who appointed the first Gospel lesson for the penitential season of Advent to be the account of Christ’s faithful, humble, lowly donkey-riding, Hosanna-filled procession to His cross and our glory. “Hosanna,” as in “save us now!” This is what it’s all about! Christ came to die for our sins. Jesus came to this earth for the express reason of the cross. He came for our sin. He came because of our sin. He came to save us. The season of Advent serves as special time to remind us of this fact; to remind us that we need saving from our sins, and God did just that in the work and person of Jesus Christ.
Now…did God work this deliverance—this gift of salvation—in ways that were easily recognizable and understandable? No. Born of a lowly estate to a couple of lowly nobodies who were essentially squatting in a stable? Raised in the sticks of Galilee, and not in the metropolitan capital of Jerusalem? Friends of uncouth fishermen and dirty prostitutes and lepers and tax collectors and all the other dregs of society? Almighty God—the King of all kings—processing to such a cosmically glorious thing as the salvation of all mankind, processing on the back of a donkey and welcomed into town by the societal dregs with palm leaves and cloaks in some sort of pathetic hobo parade? A cross?! This is as low as one can get in life! Even God Himself says in Deuteronomy that anyone hung on a tree in such a fashion is cursed by God. Cursed by God!
And that’s the very thing that’s happening here [the crucifix]; the very thing we so often miss. Jesus became our curse. The perfect Lamb of God humbled Himself to be cursed by God, all so that we accursed ones could be made into lambs and children of the King. And this same almighty King continues to work these miracles of deliverance and salvation in our very midst this very day. The King of kings comes to us, not because we’re such good and deserving people, but because we are sinners. We still bear the deadly flesh of Adam. Sin still clings to us; it penetrates and permeates to the marrow. This merciful and loving King processes to us with the same unconditional and limitless love that led Him to the cross. He comes to us today, mightily and assuredly, and yet still humbly and lowly. He comes to us in, with, and under the lowly means of a pastor’s voice, the Word of Scripture, the Word of Holy Absolution. He comes to us under the veil of ordinary water and ordinary bread and wine. It doesn’t look like much. In fact, even many Christians despise and forsake these lowly means for the simple fact that they don’t match their great expectations. Surely there must be more than this, right?
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Here is the King, and here is His feast. Granted, it’s a foretaste of the heavenly, eternal feast to come—crumbs from the Master’s table—but it’s no less magnificent or effective. Here is Christ! He comes to you today because of your sin. He comes to you today because He loves you and has mercy on you. He comes to save you; to heal you; to restore you to oneness and wholeness in Him. He comes to give you His blood-bought victories, which He bought and paid for on His cross.
Folks: This is what Advent is all about! Jesus Christ came and died for us and our sins. He paid that wage in full, and it is finished, once and for all. We have every reason in the world to be repentant. Repentance isn’t just a hashtag or a buzzword. It’s a reality. It’s a state of being. Don’t worry about the other guy. Worry about yourself! Do you need to repent? Did your sin send Jesus to the cross? Does Christ come to you today because of your sin? Do you still harbor darkness and ill-will in that hard little heart of yours? Do you rejoice in God’s mercy and love, and yet turn a cold shoulder or icy stare or sharp tongue to a person you disagree with…a person who Jesus died for too? Repent! Repent and rejoice! Lift up your loud hosannas, for the King comes to you today! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He; blessed is the King, who comes to us in the name of the Lord!
May this divine reality—this interactive Word and Sacrament of almighty God Himself—penetrate to the marrow of your soul and turn you from your sin. This is what it’s all about! Mission, evangelism, youth activities, fellowship potlucks, Christmas parades…everyday life—this is what it’s all about! May these undeserved gifts of God’s love and grace re-orient you in your daily walk of faith. May these gifts of the King form and shape your heart, your soul, your words, and your deeds so that they may ever and always be cruciform in nature. May the crucified and victorious Christ be ever and always your reason, no matter the season.
In His holy name…AMEN
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