Sunday, November 29, 2020

Ad Te Levavi - The First Sunday in Advent (Advent 1)


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.

Advent means to come. Our Lord and our God has already come among us in lowliness and humility as the Babe of Bethlehem born of Mary, and as the man Jesus who willingly suffered and died for the sins of all. And, our Lord is coming, as we’ve heard these past three Sundays, as King and Judge on the Last Day, at an hour and day we cannot know. Even still, our Lord comes among us today, right now, veiled in Word and Sacrament that we should be prepared for His coming today or tomorrow, whether we are awake or asleep, the Spirit-given oil of faith filling us and producing through us good fruits and works of love that serve our neighbors and glorify our Lord.

All this advent, all this coming – then why is it so hard to see Him? Because, apart from the Holy Spirit’s work through the Word of God, apart from the light the Word creates and provides in and through us, we are spiritually blind, deaf, dumb, and dead. Thus, did Jesus regularly say to His disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see and the ears that hear what you hear,” for these are Spirit-gifted sight and hearing and the only knowledge of the Lord and life.

How else but by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God could the magi hear of a King born for all and, after traveling far to find Him, recognize and acknowledge this King in the infant Jesus in a humble dwelling in Nazareth. How else but by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God could Simeon and Anna recognize the Redemption of Israel and the Light of the Gentiles in the same infant Jesus when Joseph and Mary presented Him in the temple. How else could John the Baptist proclaim Him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” and Peter “the Christ, the Son of the Living God?” Those who received Him on Palm Sunday had also heard the Word of the Lord and by the Holy Spirit confessed Jesus to be the “Son of David” and “blessed,” having come in the Name of the Lord, though they did not understand fully what they confessed.

He was raised up as a branch, even a fresh green shoot sprung forth from the seeming dead, dry, burned out stump of Jesse, as was promised by Jeremiah, Isaiah, and others. That means, no one was looking for Him or expecting Him by human reason alone or by what the eyes could see and the ears could hear. Still, the Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God, gave some eyes to see and ears to hear, even if these were still hindered and obscured by sin and corruption. The Word had promised Him to be the unlikely “seed of the woman,” and even more unlikely “virgin-born.” He would be the promised descendant of aged Abraham and barren Sarah, continued not through the traditional line of eldest first-born sons, or even favorite sons, but through unexpected Judah and David. When He arrived on the scene, Israel had been without a prophet for four hundred years, political rule had transferred from the Greeks to the Romans, and the Pharisees had arisen teaching righteousness by obedience and works under the Law instead of salvation by God’s grace through faith in His promised Messiah and King.

Thus, when King Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, they readily hailed Him as King, for He was fulfilling what the Word had said, yet by Friday of that same week they were calling for His death by crucifixion, because He was not the kind of king they were looking for. How can this be? This can be because, as much as faith is the creative work of the Holy Spirit and not a matter of human reason or choice, the Holy Spirit can be rejected. Men routinely stop their ears, shut their eyes, clinch their teeth, and shake their fists because their reason cannot accept the Truth, or because they do not like the Truth. The people readily heard the Word when it spoke of a King and freedom and a release from captivity but, they stopped their ears when it spoke of the death of this King and His subsequent resurrection. Like Peter, they were ready to proclaim Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” but they would not accept that the Christ must suffer and die and be raised again.

As the past liturgical Church year came to a close we were exhorted to remain watchful and vigilant for the coming of the Lord our Bridegroom, for He will come at a day and hour we cannot know. Therefore, we must be prepared, keeping the Spirit-given oil of faith in the lamps of our bodies and souls, that we should be found burning and shining forth with the fruits of faith, good works, which serve our neighbor and glorify the Lord, when He comes. Today, at the beginning of another year of grace, we are exhorted to hearken to His Word that we should recognize His coming in the ways in which He comes, not according to human reason, wisdom, and desires or worldly values, but in lowliness and humility, veiled in weakness, in people and things both flesh and world overlook and despise.

In this respect St. Paul exhorts us to remain awake and watchful, recognizing that each day “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” This is literally, logically true. The problem is that, as time passes, we become sleepy and drunk, if not with wine then with worldly and fleshly pleasures, possessions, cares, worries, and anxieties. St. Paul exhorts us to commit ourselves all the more to good works of love toward one another while making “no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” The Palm Sunday crowd were distracted by their political and social oppression and weakness; they had lost sight of their spiritual poverty and need for a redeemer and not merely a political savior. Thus, when Jesus entered Jerusalem and went straight to the temple and not to Herod’s palace or Pilate’s fortress, they were scandalized and began to reject the Christ of God. But, Jesus did ascend His throne, the cross, where He was crowned the King of heaven and earth. Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve, and to lay down His life as a ransom for many.

And so, St. Paul’s exhortation is as true, valid, and relevant today as it was in the first century: “The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. 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. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” You “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” precisely by doing what you are doing right now – hearing His Word, receiving His gifts, dying to your flesh and its desires, and walking in the Light of Christ. All of these things enable and equip you to live freely, even now, in faith and hope and in love. As St. Paul famously wrote to the Corinthians, “so faith, hope, and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.” Our hope is in God’s gift of love, Christ Jesus.

Come now and receive your King who comes to you, humble and hidden within bread and wine, which is His absolving, sustaining, and life-giving body and blood. He who is the love of God incarnate will fill you with His love that you may love others without fear, that you may be His gift of hope and love to the world.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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