Saturday, December 12, 2015

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent (November 29, 2015)

Advent 1 – Series C (November 29, 2015)
“Rejoice as Jesus Draws Near” (Luke 19:28-40)

As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
            Our December expectations don’t quite match the Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent.  In fact, it’s a bit of a slap in the face.  It gives us a case of liturgical whiplash.  You were expecting greenery, tinsel covered trees, Santa and Rudolph and Frosty, Christmas music all day long on Warm 106.9.  Well maybe that’s not what you expected in church, but you at least expect to hear about Bethlehem and a Baby in a Manger and Big Shots from the East bringing beautiful gifts.
Instead, all we have is one little candle lit upon the Advent wreath.
Instead, we hear about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.
We call it “The Triumphal Entry.”  Someone might be tempted to say that it’s not very “triumphant” since the week ended with Jesus nailed to a cross.  “We expected him to be a mighty king.  The Messiah.  Sticking it to the Romans.  Finally setting up a glorious kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital.  An eternal era of peace and prosperity emanating from Israel.”  That’s why the crowd was rejoicing, and crying out “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”  That’s why so many turned their back on him later on when he didn’t turn out to be the triumphant King they were expecting.
But Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was triumphant in the sense that he came to conquer his enemies in the way that was planned … by dying for the sins of the world and rising to life again in victory over sin, death, and the devil.
Hearing about his Triumphal Entry today prepares us for his Triumphant Return in Glory, his Second Advent, or “coming” since that’s what the word “Advent” means.  It also points us backward to his First Advent which we will celebrate in just under a month.  The disciples cry out “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” although they misunderstood how that “peace in heaven and glory in the highest” would be accomplished … through the suffering and death of God’s one and only Son.  They also surely had no idea that they were echoing the song of the angels who announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds of Bethlehem … “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14).
That was the day when the Incarnate God broke into the darkness and gloom of this world marred by sin and disobedience.  And so we light one candle today.  We will light another one next week, and so on until all four are lit.  The light increases the closer we get to Christmas, reminding us of the eternal hope that we have in Christ Jesus, even when our lives and our world seem so dark and distressing.  Even as Christmas Day approaches, we are also getting nearer to eternity with each passing day, when there will be no more need for candles or any other source of light as St. John says in Revelation chapter 22 says, “And night will be no more.  They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).  Cue the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
As Jesus drew near, the text says that his disciples “began to rejoice and to praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen.”  What about us?  Are we rejoicing, or are we complaining?
What do we complain about this time of year?
·       Those awful Black Friday crowds.
·       “I didn’t get what I wanted last year for Christmas, so I better get what I want this year.”
·       Another Christmas party? Another family gathering? For some of us, family is the last crowd we want to spend our holidays with.
The holidays do tend to bring out both the best and the worst in humanity.  All the peppermint and sugar, all the lights and garland, all the ribbons and shiny wrapping paper, all the snowflake-covered sweaters can never cover up our sinful nature that always finds a way to sneak out and spoil a perfectly delightful Christmas celebration and make it so hard for us to truly rejoice.
There are things we do rejoice over.  We rejoice over getting the gift we wanted.  We rejoice over a new baby.  We rejoice over a crush that has returned our affections.  But why do we not rejoice more about Jesus?  About his return?
I suppose one reason may be fear.  Fear of judgment.  But remember … through Jesus’ shed blood, you are forgiven!  There is no reason to fear.  Jesus came to bring peace in heaven, peace between you and God the Father.  Another reason may be that this Jesus business is all too spiritual, it’s not something you can really grab on to, it all seems a bit “pie in the sky,” and that makes it hard to rejoice.  But remember … Jesus is here for you today with his Body and Blood under the bread and wine.  He knows that we are not merely spiritual beings, and so he gives us something tangible, something to hang on to, something that you can literally sink your teeth in to … not only his promises in his Word, but also his presence in Holy Communion.
Before Christmas arrives, Advent is a necessary reminder for us …
·       to repent of our sins,
·       to welcome Jesus into our hearts by faith as we celebrate his first Advent when he came to die for our sins,
·       to prepare ourselves for his Second Advent, when he will once and for all do away with all the effects of sin in the world,
·       and to rejoice like the disciples at his Triumphal Entry and not let the skeptics and the naysayers keep you from publicly rejoicing, like the Pharisees who told Jesus, “Rebuke your disciples.  They are a little too stirred up over you.  They are causing a ruckus.  Tell them to be quiet.”
            In the National Gallery in London, there is a painting by Piero della Francesca from 1475 entitled “The Nativity.”  In typical Renaissance fashion, everything is quite orderly.  Five angels, two playing lutes, gather behind the baby Jesus and appear to be singing quietly so as not to wake the Baby Jesus.  To their left kneels Mary, piously folding her hands and gazing down at her newborn Child who is sleeping on the long train of her blue cloak.  Joseph is seated on a chair behind her, gazing into the distance, and looks like he could care less about the miraculous event that just took place.  Behind him are two shepherds who also look surprisingly disinterested, although one is pointing to heaven, as if to remind us of the meaning of what is going on here.  No one is wearing any haloes.  Everyone looks rather mundane here, perhaps even a bit bored.  Even the Christ Child looks more like a porcelain doll that someone forgot to put clothes on.  (Thoughts here adapted from Jean Blomquist, Weavings v IX, No 6 Nov/Dec 1994)
But there is one figure in the scene that really seems to get it.  There is one character that really seems to be rejoicing.  It’s the donkey.  Between the angels and the shepherds in the background, you get a glimpse of a donkey, throwing his head back, mouth wide open, teeth exposed, engaged in a full-throated bray.  In the midst of this tame, serene scene, the donkey is the only who seems to be having a good time.  He’s the only one who isn’t afraid of looking like an … well, looking like a donkey.
So, rejoice in Christ.  Rejoice in Advent.  Rejoice in Christmas.  And don’t be afraid of looking a little foolish as you do.  That’s the way it will appear to the rest of the world.  But remember what St. Paul said:  “…we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:23-27).
If no one else will cry out, the stones will.  More foolish talk from Jesus, right?  But you are stones.  You are living stones in this building called the Church of Christ.  You are those who once had a stony heart of unbelief, but given a new, believing heart when you heard the Gospel and when you died and rose with Christ in the waters of Holy Baptism.  So rejoice and praise God for that mighty work done to you.  Rejoice and praise him for his mighty work of sending his only Son into the flesh to be your Savior, and for his mighty work when he returns to take you to be with him in eternity.


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