Monday, November 29, 2010
November 28, 2010
“Palm Sunday in Advent?”
If you just came to church today and heard our Gospel reading, you might think that someone had messed up the scheduled readings for the day. After all, Matthew 21 is the Palm Sunday reading – we usually hear that the week before Easter. Jesus makes his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Holy Week begins, and soon his suffering and death are at hand. The crowds welcome him as the Son of David, but then turn on him and shout, “Crucify!”.
So what are we doing now, at the beginning of Advent, reading about Palm Sunday? Is this like “Christmas in July” only, backwards? What is our lectionary thinking today – beginning the Church Year with Jesus' donkey ride into Zion?
Perhaps it's best to review what Advent means – in a word, it means, “coming”. Jesus is coming. Jesus is coming as a little baby in Bethlehem. That's Christmas. He's also coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead. That's his second coming – and that's been a theme for us the past few weeks. Jesus is coming, and he's coming to Jerusalem in our reading today. He's coming to do what he came to do – to suffer and die, and save.
So it makes sense, really, that Advent begins with a very important beginning – the triumphal arrival of Christ to his people, to his city – marks the triumphal arrival of the Church Year anew. And so Advent begins in this way.
One theme of the Palm Sunday account is that it all took place in fulfillment of prophecy. Zechariah proclaims that the king would come humble on the foal of a donkey. And Jesus own words to his disciples – telling them where to find his ride – they also are fulfilled. But really, this is the fulfillment of God's longstanding promise of a Messiah – a king from the royal line of David. This is God's own appointed Savior – the Christ – coming to do what God promised he would.
He would suffer and die. That's not what many expected, or wanted. When Jesus comes, it's not always how we hope or the way we expect. God is full of surprises. But his word is always fulfilled, sooner or later – according to his will.
So what does it mean for us, today, 21st Century Lutherans standing at the turn of another Church Year – with Thanksgiving Day behind us and Christmas around the corner? What does Jesus coming to Jerusalem, or to Bethlehem, or in Glory on the Last Day... what does it have to do with your problems today?
Everything. For your problems come from sin. And Jesus comes to deal with sin. Your struggles and hardships, your sorrows and pains – all result from being a sinner in a sinful world. It's not that God isn't good, it's that we are evil – and evil is all around us. We should first blame ourselves. We have a hand in our troubles – our own sins of thought, word, and deed tell the story. From the garden of Eden to the place where you live – we humans sin, sin daily, and sin much. Sure we try to cover our sins like Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves. But God knows what you do, he's not so easily fooled. So let's not fool ourselves.
An honest look at our own lives would show a mess that needs to be cleaned up. Like when holiday guests are coming and the house is a disaster – you do what you can to pick up, vacuum, make things look nice for company. But imagine someone just dumped a truckload of garbage in your living room and you have only minutes to clean the place. And the guest that's coming isn't just some family or friends – but the king! How will you hope to be ready? How will you be prepared for his coming?
You can't be. But the good news is that he prepares you. He prepares your heart and mind and spirit. He comes to you for that very reason. He comes to make you ready for his coming. He comes, to you, today.
Jesus comes to his people – not only as a baby, as a donkey-riding Son of David, and as a glorious omnipotent king – but he also comes to you today. He comes in his word of forgiveness. For when you hear his word proclaimed and preached – he is present, working his salvation. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
He also comes in bread and wine that are his body and blood. Jesus is truly present here, in this place, in this simple meal, in accord with his word of promise. And with that promise, you who receive him receive his forgiveness, and life, and salvation.
And it is in these humble ways of word and sacrament - that he comes to prepare you for his glorious and final coming.
One of our advent hymns strikes many of these notes:
“Once he came in blessing, all our sins redressing:
came in likeness lowly, son of God most holy.
Bore the cross to save us, hope and freedom gave us”
but the hymn goes on – how does Jesus come today?
“Now he gently leads us, with himself he feeds us.
Precious food from heaven, pledge of peace here given.
Manna that will nourish souls that they may flourish.”
and then his final coming gets a verse:
“Soon will come that hour, when with mighty power,
Christ will come in splendor and will judgment render.
With the faithful sharing joy beyond comparing”.
Yes, Jesus came – to Bethlehem, to Jerusalem.
Yes, Jesus comes – in the Word, in the Sacrament.
Yes, Jesus will come – in Glory, to fulfill all things.
As he comes to us sinners, let us repent of our wicked ways, and receive him with thanksgiving, who came and lived and died for us, who comes to us and forgives us, and will come again to bring us to glory with himself.
Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Monday, November 15, 2010
November 14th, 2010
“Words Enduring to the End”
It's that time of year again – that time of the church year, I mean. That time of year that we begin to speak about the end of time – the last days. The fancy theological word is “eschatology”. But you might think of it as judgment day, the second coming of Christ, or the beginning of the kingdom yet to come.
No matter what you call that day and its events, talk about the end gets people – even Christians – a little nervous. Maybe a lot nervous. Will there be gloom and doom and destruction and plagues and suffering and cataclysmic disasters? Will I, personally, have to stand before the throne of God and answer for all my sins? How will I be judged? These are the sorts of questions that make people want to read some other passage of the Bible. Let's just no think about it.
And some of what Jesus says today might bring us fear. For while he speaks, on the one hand about the end of days, he also weaves it together with predictions about the fall of Jerusalem. And still, he manages to include us and all believers in his warnings – and his promises – about the things to come.
Jesus knew it would be tough for his disciples, and for you. He knew that there would be all sorts of troubles and temptations. Persecution and pitfalls. He warns them, and us – of the difficulties – not just of living in this world, but as one of his disciples. The difficulty of avoiding false teachers who come in his name. The dangers posed by authorities who are hostile to his teaching and his people. There's a lot going against us. It could make us hang our heads.
But there's hope. Jesus says, "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. In other words, when you see the signs, you know the end is coming. But that end is a day of joy for you, my people. So lift up your heads and look toward the heavens. I come with victory for you and all who belong to me.
For Christians living in this world, there is hardship, trouble, grief, pain.... but all these things are temporary.
Even the most permanent things in this world will melt away. The great and mighty temple of Herod, with huge stones built high and magnificent – that would be torn down not 40 years from Jesus' departure.
And then there's our very life. Yes, we know we will die. This corrupted body won't last – it can't. Sin takes its toll. Its wages come due. And the grave waits for us all. Whether it comes through sickness or accident or because someone takes our life away – no matter. Our earthly life may be taken, but our eternal life is secure. Our body may be destroyed, but not a hair on our head is harmed – not according to his promise. For we shall rise at the end, and stand, and live in perfected and glorified bodies – living with our Lord and all his people forever.
None of the troubles of this world will last forever. Even death itself is on the clock. But Christ says his words WILL endure forever. And we believe it by his grace!
All that terror and destruction the Bible describes – all the horrors of the end – are all consequences of sin. And while we bear them in part, even now, and while we may bear them more fully as the birth pangs of creation increase and the end hastens – only one bore all the suffering for sin. Jesus Christ.
His cross is the end of sin's hold on this world, and on you. His sacrifice there is the death of death, the source of your life. And the words he speaks, even there, will endure forever: “It is finished”. Sin, death, the power of the Devil – all are finished at the cross. Salvation is accomplished there on Calvary. It is confirmed at the empty tomb of his resurrection. And it will be completely fulfilled on the day that he has appointed. For the world, and for you.
We don't know when it will be. But we see the signs. The fig tree has sprouted. All around us we see the things Jesus is talking about – wars and rumors of wars. Earthquakes, famines, and pestilence. Persecution of Christians – we may even feel we are under siege like ancient Jerusalem. We look around and the world seems so messed up, our country is in turmoil, and our own personal lives are a disaster.
But fear not! His words endure forever. And he calls you to endure, by faith, and to remain strong in his word. It's a sure word of hope in the midst of all that is tumbling down around us. It's a sure word of promise that gets us through the dark days into that bright tomorrow of forever.
They can take away our life, goods, fame, child and wife – but the kingdom ours remaineth. His word fells the adversary. His promise never goes away. We belong to Jesus – that's the eternal truth that will never change, yesterday, today, tomorrow – even at the end. Amen.