Monday, December 01, 2008

Sermon - Advent 1 -

Mark 11:1-10
Advent 1
November 30, 2008
“Christ is Coming”

A new church year has begun. The wreath of four colored candles is out, the paraments are blue, and we're singing, “O, Come, O, Come, Emmanuel”. We're starting those midweek services, and pretty soon it will be Christmas – but first – Advent. Let's not pass over this time of preparation, in which we focus our attention on the coming king.

Christmas is coming. The manger, the angels, the shepherds are coming. The little town of Bethlehem is coming. “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is coming. In the secular celebrations, Santa Claus is coming to town, but here in the church we know that Jesus is coming. The king is coming. That's the theme of this season of advent – the word “advent” itself, means, “coming”.

With all that in mind, it makes sense, doesn't it, that our Gospel reading today takes us to Palm Sunday. For Jesus went many places, and he came many places, but one of the most memorable was when he came to Jerusalem riding on a donkey.

When Jesus comes, you better take note. When Jesus comes, it means something. He arrives with a purpose. He comes with a plan, and he always accomplishes it. Let's use his coming on Palm Sunday to focus our thoughts on the other times and ways he comes – and see today how he comes to us, and what he comes to do.

Palm Sunday – the “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusaelm. Jesus knows the plan. The disciples are to find a donkey, he tells them where, he tells them what to say. He knows how it will go, down to the last detail. But he also knows the bigger plan. He also knows what the week will bring, and how by Friday he will face death, and on Sunday he will conquer it.

The people welcome him with cries of praises, “Hosanna!”, which means “save us”. And that's what he came to do, though they had no idea how. Still, they knew his arrival was important, they knew he was special, and they put their hope in him. They showed him honor – strewing branches and coats before him, preparing his way with the best they had – humble as they were.

Wasn't it the same in his first coming – at his birth? He came in humble form – a baby in a manger – no room at the inn. Sharing a stable with ox and ass, attended by shepherds. Yet there were hints of greater glory – stories about angels appearing. Strange men, foreigners, visiting with expensive gifts. This child had come to bring peace on earth and good will to mankind.

Jesus comes, and we notice. Well, at least we should. But when he came to sleepy Bethlehem, very few noticed. When he came to Jerusalem in triumph, even though they took note, their expectations were suspect – did they know they welcomed the Lamb of God, the sacrifice appointed for sin?

So much for Palm Sunday and Christmas, but did you know he still comes today? He still comes – to us. He comes when 2 or 3 are gathered in his name. He comes when his word is preached. He comes when sinners are convicted and forgiven. This is his plan, his purpose, still.

He comes in baptismal water – a common substance made holy and miraculous by his promise – a lavish flood of grace. He comes in the humble form of bread and wine, which are his true body and blood – always with the same purpose – for the forgiveness of sinners.

He comes to us – but do we notice? Or do we neglect his means of grace? Do we think of church as a chore? Do we receive his sacrament by thoughtless rote? Do we forget his daily gifts flowing from the waters of our baptism? He comes to us, but do we have ears to hear, eyes to see, and lips to receive?

When Jesus comes, you see, it's always worth taking note. For he comes to us, too, with a plan and purpose. He does not come to condemn, but to seek and save the lost. He comes to find that one wandering sheep – that's you – and bring you into his fold. He comes to dig up that precious treasure – that's you – to be his prized possession. He knows just what it will take, and he is patient. And whether you see him or not, notice him or not, understand him or not, sing Hosanna or not – still he comes in grace and mercy with gifts for you.

But at his second coming, his great and final arrival, on “that day” - everyone will notice. All eyes will see him. We'll hear the trumpet and shout of the archangel. The dead will rise. And he'll come in the clouds with great glory and all his angels attending. It will be impossible to miss.

And we will receive the fulfillment of all his blessings. We will be called sheep, good and faithful servants, wise virgins, and invited into his eternal dwelling. It will be our day of victory – our triumphal entry into heavenly blessings.

And our enemies will be judged. Yes, Christ comes to them too, but not in mercy. He comes to destroy sin, the forces of hell, and death. He comes to cast the devil away for good.

You see, when Christ comes it can be a good or bad day – depending on your relationship to him. What side you are on. By grace, through faith, we are with him. By our baptism we belong to him. By his word he has called us to believe in him. By his Supper he feeds and keeps us strong in him. And while we are with him by faith now – we will surely be with him when he comes again to judge the living and the dead.

Christ has come, and Christ will come again. He came as a baby to Bethlehem, as a King to Jerusalem, and he comes to us as Lord and Savior in his means of grace. And he will come again as judge and victor, to bring all things to completion.

When John the Baptist knew the messiah was coming, he preached repentance. And so should we use this season of Advent to repent – for palm branches and coats on the ground are no preparation for his coming – compared to the repentant heart. The heart which knows sin, and knows where to look for salvation – out there – to the king – to the king who comes in the name of the Lord. To Jesus.

Maybe that's more than you bargained for on this first Sunday of Advent. But in the church our minds are always on Christ. And as we anticipate the celebration of his first coming, we anticipate the day of his final coming with eager hearts. For Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. Always, for you.

In Jesus' Name. Amen.

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