Saturday, November 29, 2014

Advent

Sermon on Mark 11:1-10
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
November 30, 2014 (The First Sunday in Advent)

“Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  We sing these words every Sunday as part of the canticle known as the Sanctus.  The Sanctus is probably one of the oldest parts of the liturgy; in fact, according to some historians the apostles themselves sang it when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper with their various congregations.  We welcome the Son of God, who comes to us in the name of the Lord.  The crowd welcomed the same Son of God, Jesus Christ, to the Holy City of Jerusalem, with the same words.  They were going up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and here they welcome the true Passover Lamb, the Messiah, the Son of God.  They welcomed Him as the one who came for the purpose of saving them.  We do the same when we sing these words on Sunday morning.  We welcome Him who comes to give us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  In fact, you could say that the new season of the Church Year, the season which starts today and runs until Christmas Eve, is named after this Gospel lesson.  The word Advent is a Latin word that means “coming.”  During the season of Advent especially, the Church praises the Son of God incarnate by singing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

As we think about our Lord’s coming to us, we usually think in terms of three categories: past, present, and future.  These three categories refer to Christ’s historical coming among us, when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man.  This historical advent of Christ is what we celebrate at the end of the Advent season with the festivals of Christmas and Epiphany, although really it includes Christ’s entire earthly life, death, and resurrection for us and for our salvation.  The second category, the present tense advent of Christ, refers to the fact that He comes to us personally in His Word of forgiveness, in the washing of regeneration in Holy Baptism, and in His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.  The same Christ who came down from heaven, became man for our sakes, and who suffered and died that we might live, gives us the benefits of His suffering, death, and resurrection when He speaks His Word to us and gives us His body and blood.  The third category refers to the fact that Christ will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead.  This future advent of Christ was what we have been focusing upon for the last few Sundays.

This is all well and good, and it’s nice to know all this information about the season of the Church Year we are now entering, but, to ask the catechism question, “What does this mean?”  What does the coming of Christ among us signify for us?  How are we to react to the fact that our Lord is about to come to us?  The answer to that question depends upon what our spiritual condition is.  What condition is your heart in?  Are you prepared to receive Him who comes to you?  Or would you rather He wait a while and allow you to go on with your sins?  The Old Adam in all of us would rather Jesus not come to us, because when Jesus comes to a person that Old Adam dies.  This is why Advent in some ways resembles the season of Lent, which has to do with repentance and preparation.  But to those who have been recreated by God, who daily repent of their sins and return to the promises that God originally gave them in Holy Baptism, the fact that Christ is coming among us is a joyful theme.  Such people gladly and joyfully join in the songs of Hosanna in the highest which were sung by the crowd on the road to Jerusalem.

So in which category do you find yourself?  Do you joyfully anticipate our Lord’s coming among us in Word and Sacrament?  Do you await in joyful expectation and hope our Lord’s reappearing on the last day?  Or would you prefer that He hold off on both of those comings so that you can continue to enjoy life as you now know it and still have time for repentance before the end?  If you are honest with yourself, you will have to admit that there is at least a part of you that doesn’t want Christ to come to you.  Even the most pious and outwardly holy Christian still has his old sinful flesh with him that wants to do all sorts of things against God’s will.  This Old Adam hates and resents anything that would curb its sinful desires and take away the opportunity to carry those desires out.  This is why the penitential aspect of Advent is necessary.  We need to repent, to put to death the Old Adam in us which wants Christ to stay away so that he can carry out his sinful desires.

If this is not done, the Old Adam in us will overwhelm the new man in Christ that has been created in us by Holy Baptism and kill him.  And what happens then is that, even though we go through all the outward motions of being Christians, we are not going to be saved.  This begins to happen whenever we begin to excuse our pet sins instead of repenting of them.  Here I am talking about not just obviously immoral acts such as sexual immorality, murder, stealing, and so forth, but also about the kinds of sins we tend to gloss over.  Gossip, hatred, lust, and so on.  And as with all other sins, Christ’s coming to us causes us to face the fact that we have failed miserably when it comes to these things.  The old Adam in us wants to hold on to his own sinful life, and so he resents Christ’s coming.  That is why he needs to be put to death.

But Advent isn’t the same thing as Lent.  And God does put to death our old Adam and daily bring forth in us the new man in Christ which seeks to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  This is why Advent is also a season of joyful expectation and hope.  Since we have been reborn and made new creatures by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are fighting a battle inside of ourselves, the old Adam in us against the new Christ in us.  The old Adam seeks to excuse and justify its behavior and defend itself by killing the new man in Christ, and the new creature in us seeks to please God by putting to death the old Adam which would lead us into all sorts of sins.  This battle is not easy for any of us, and oftentimes it may seem hopeless, especially when we realize that it is a battle that will not end, so long as we remain in the faith, as long as we live on this earth.  Here is where the coming of Christ is good news, hopeful news that fills us with joy.  And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again and arms are strong.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  This triumph song that the author of “For All the Saints” refers to is the same triumph song that we find recorded in today’s text.  “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  For battle-weary Christian soldiers, the arrival of Christ among us is a welcome, gladdening sound.  It signals that no matter how much longer the mop-up operation is going to continue, the victory has already been won.

This is the season of Advent.  We celebrate the events that led up to the first coming of Christ among us, because these events were the beginning of our victory in Christ which took place on the cross.  We prayerfully and repentantly take part in His contemporary coming among us, because as He comes through Holy Absolution and the Holy Supper He puts to death in us the old Adam which wants to kill our faith and take us to hell.  And by this participation in His present advent among us, we prepare to receive Him when He comes again in glory and take us to that place where the battle is completely over, and all that is left is the eternal victory feast which has no end.  He is coming soon.  Yes, Lord, come quickly.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

No comments:

Post a Comment