Sunday, November 29, 2015
Homily for Ad Te Levavi - The First Sunday In Advent
Matthew 21:1-9; Romans 13:8-14; Jeremiah 23:5-8
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
One of the reforms the Roman Catholic Church affected in Vatican II was the renaming of the last Sunday of the Church Year to Christ the King Sunday. Caught up in the ecumenical fervor of the time, most liturgical Protestant denominations followed in suit, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). However, the LCMS did not, though it permits the observance of Christ the King Sunday as an alternative to the traditional propers for the Last Sunday of the Church Year. Why did the LCMS not adopt this particular reform of the liturgical calendar? Perhaps because we already have a Christ the King Sunday observance built into Historic Church Year calendar. However, it is not the Last Sunday of the Church Year, but rather, the first Sunday, that is today, Ad Te Levavi, The First Sunday In Advent. The Historic Gospel appointed for The First Sunday In Advent is the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the day that has come to be known as Palm Sunday. In this Gospel pericope, Jesus rides into Jerusalem just like all the kings of Israel before Him, on a donkey or a mule, and the crowds received Him with jubilation as God’s anointed King of Israel by throwing down their cloaks and palm branches before Him and by hailing Him as the Blessed One who comes in the Name of the LORD.
Indeed, that is what this Gospel pericope is all about, Christ the King, both when it is read on Palm Sunday and today on this First Sunday In Advent. Indeed, St. Matthew, even more so than the other Evangelists, steeps His account in kingly prophecy and Messianic fulfillment in order to demonstrate without question or doubt that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed King of Israel, of all the Earth, of Heaven, and of everything that God has made. Matthew’s Jesus is fully aware of the prophecies and of Israel’s traditions concerning the coronation of a king. Jesus sends His disciples to procure the necessary donkey and her colt, fully expecting and knowing them to be there, for the LORD has foreordained it and Jesus is the fulfillment of all those kingly processions that came before Him. They were signposts pointing the way to Jesus. Matthew quotes the prophecy of Zechariah, “Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” For, humility, selflessness, sacrifice, and service were to be the mark of every king, but only Jesus took those traits to heart and fulfilled them perfectly. The people cried out, as they surely had done before, “Hosanna!” God save us! They surely meant just as they had meant before, “God save us through this man, your servant, our king!” But, this King was God’s own Son and not merely an instrument of temporary salvation from worldly oppression. He was not merely the one by whom Israel and all men would be saved, but He was God’s salvation of all men Himself. They hailed Him as the Son of David, the Messianic title, for He was truly David’s Son, but also David’s Lord. They hailed Him as the Blessed one who comes in the Name of the LORD. Truly He was blessed by the LORD and came in His Name, but even more, Jesus is the very Name of God incarnate.
In this Advent season we remember that our King has come. We hearken to the Baptist’s cry to repent and to prepare the way for the coming of our Lord. Even as servants would go before their king and prepare his way by leveling the road before him, filing in the holes and leveling the high spots, so by repentance are the mountains of our pride and the valleys of our hopelessness and despair smoothed and leveled that our King may easily enter into our hearts. May we ever lay down our cloaks and palm branches in humility and selflessness and love before our King who comes to us in mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness. And, may we ever show this same mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness to our brothers and sisters in Christ, to our neighbors, and to all men, even to those who hate us and mean us harm.
Our King has come! But, how do men receive Him? While many received Him that first Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, even ascribing to Him Messianic titles and the blessing of God, many more rejected Him, and before the end of that week, no one stood by Him, but all, actively or passively, handed Him over to death on the cross. Our King has come, and that’s a fact. But, how do men receive Him? Do you receive Him in faith to your great blessing? Or, do you reject Him in unbelief to your judgment and condemnation? All in Israel were looking for salvation, salvation from their Roman occupiers and oppressors. All were looking for a king, a king who would do something, a king who would lead them in rebellion and conquer their foes, a king who would make their name great once again among the nations of the world. Oh yes! God be praised, indeed, when He comes as so many kings before Him. But, down with Him when He mounts, not Herod’s throne, nor Pilate’s, nor Caesar’s, but the pitiable throne of shame and scorn and death, the cross. How quickly the shouts of “Hosanna!” turned to cries of “Crucify!”
So very soon would they fulfill the prophecies by raising Him up on the cursed tree. Most thought they were crucifying a false Christ, an imposter king, a criminal insurrectionist, but many others knew that they crucified their Messiah, their King, even the very Son of their God and Creator. But, God Himself raised Him up as a Righteous Branch. God Himself raised Him up as did Moses the bronze serpent in the wilderness, that all victims of Satanic snakebite unto death may look to Him and live. God Himself raised Him up that men would cease looking to themselves, cease looking to their works and their piety, cease looking to their own filthy-rag righteousness, cease looking to their own false divinity, and gaze upon the objective righteousness God gave as a free gift to the whole world and live. For, God so loved the world in this way: He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever looks to Him, whoever believes and trusts in Him, will not perish but live.
This is what God’s King looks like. And, this is what God’s King was given, and came, to do. But, how do men receive Him? How do you receive Him? Do you receive Him gladly with praise and thanksgiving when things are going your way, but begin to doubt and grumble and complain when your fortune turns? Whether the LORD is in a giving mode or a taking mode, we must confess with Job, “Blessed be the Name of the LORD,” for all is His, you are His, and He will steward and manage His creation as He knows best. Are you offended by the seemingly backward and pitiable ways in which He chooses to interact with His creation? Do His gifts of Word and Sacrament offend you in their simplicity, that He deigns to give you holy things through the means of sinful, fallen, and corrupt materials and men? Does your King’s torn, tortured, and lifeless body upon this cross offend you because you think of your God, not in weakness, humility, and death, but in glorious victory without suffering? You are no different than those who received their King on Palm Sunday who, within days, rejected Him and nailed Him to the tree.
No, you are no different. That’s also what this Gospel, and this Advent Season, is all about. You are no different. You are a sinner. Your wisdom and expectations are fallen, corrupted, and sinful. You consider God’s good things to be evil and man’s evil things to be good. You see glory in wealth and power and success, while your God reveals His glory in humility, lowliness, selflessness, and sacrifice. You still must hearken to the Baptist’s cry, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” You still must have your mountains of pride brought low and your valleys of hopelessness and despair filled in that you may receive your King, your Lord, and your God into your heart, into your mind, and into your soul. For, King Jesus did not take His seat upon Herod’s throne, or Pilate’s, or Caesar’s, but He sat down at the right hand of God in Heaven as Lord, God, and King of heaven and earth, that He might fill all things – that He might be your King, and the King of your body and soul, your heart and mind.
Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand! How will you meet your King? Once again our Epistle lesson describes what the Christian life should look like and be. St. Paul says that you must love: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.” Why is love the fulfilling of the Law? Love is the fulfilling of the Law because, while it is focused outward upon another, it can only flow from what you have received from God yourself. This is to say that, when you love another, that is living proof that you have received love from God. For, you love with God’s love in Christ, even as you give of His gifts and forgive with His forgiveness. This can only happen when you have obeyed and fulfilled the First Commandment, when your fear, love, and trust is in God above all things. If you fulfill the First, then you have fulfilled them all, and the fulfillment of the First and of all the Commandments is love. For, love is not a work, but love is a gift. Love is the gift we have all received and which we remember at Christmas. For God so loved the world that He gave…, He gave the gift of His Son. As God has loved you, so you must also love one another. You must love one another, not because your love is a meritorious work – it is not! – but you must love one another because that is what necessarily must happen as a result, as a fruit, or your being loved by God. If you do not love, then you are not of God. If you love, then you know that you are of God. The loving thing is always the right thing. Others will know that you are subjects of King Jesus when you have love for one another.
How will you receive your King? Receive Him in repentance, in humility, in lowliness, selflessness, and love. He doesn’t need your gifts, your money, or even your time and your talent, but He loves your sacrifice. Your sacrifice is what you give away to others of what He has given to you. Your sacrifice is what you give back to Him of His own gifts to you. Your sacrifice is your body, your soul, and all you have. This is how you meet your King: Give Him yourself. Give Him your body, your soul, your mind, and your heart. And, receive from Him mercy, compassion, forgiveness, life, and salvation. When? Now! Today! And, everyday! For, salvation is nearer to you now than when you first believed! Indeed! Salvation Himself is here in Word and Water, Body and Blood for you this very hour! That is why we sing “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” each and every time we receive the Lord’s Supper. King Jesus has come! King Jesus is coming! King Jesus comes now! How will you receive Him? Lift up your soul unto the LORD. Trust in Him, and you will not be put to shame.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.