1st Sunday of Advent
December 3, 3017
“A Not So Sentimental Journey”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us on the 1st Sunday of Advent is today’s Gospel lesson from Mark 10.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Have you ever felt like you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or like something is out of whack? Maybe that’s how you feel today. I’ll explain. It’s after Thanksgiving so the preparation for Christmas is kicking into a higher gear. In church we expect to be transported to Bethlehem, to a manger, surrounded by animals. Instead, our Gospel lesson takes us to Jerusalem with Jesus riding on a donkey. Remind you of another time and place? Like Holy Week? But wait! The Christmas decorations are up! Wal-Mart’s Christmas stuff has been out for weeks. Cyber Monday came and went. Santa Claus appeared at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the mall here in town. So why do we have the Triumphant Entry for a Gospel lesson?
Interestingly enough, the traditional Gospel lesson for the First Sunday of Advent is the same as that of Palm Sunday—Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It seems, in a way, wrong. Out of place. Children everywhere are already rehearsing for Christmas programs, getting ready to reenact the story of Mary, with child, riding on a donkey into Bethlehem. And instead, we heard about Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem a week before He dies. In Advent, we should be moving toward a celebration of our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, and instead we hear a story about our Lord moving toward his death. We should all be going to the theater to see A Christmas Carol, and instead we get The Passion of the Christ. What gives?
But maybe there’s something we can learn—something that, like Mary, we can take with us and ponder in our hearts. Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. “Ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die” (LSB 441:2). For this reason, our Lord came from heaven. For this reason, the Son of God became the Son of Mary. The narrative that we hear today is the reason why Christmas has real meaning and lasting value.
In our society, Christmas has become a largely secular, worldly affair. We celebrate Christmas, and we even fight for the right to say “Merry Christmas” in the public square, but we rarely talk about why Christmas is merry. The absence of Christ has left for many a big hole, an emptiness that needs to be filled. And so many folks try to fill the void with man-made traditions, songs, stories, and receipts. Rather than tell the story of Christ at Christmas, the world tells countless other stories: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Frosty the Snowman,” not to mention It’s a Wonderful Life and A Miracle on 34th Street. The world has its own hymnal as well, with Christmas “hymns” ranging from Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” Nat King Cole sings about chestnuts roasting in “The Christmas Song,” and Gene Autry still can be heard singing of Santa Claus coming down Santa Claus Lane. I like a lot of those stories, enjoy some of those songs. But if that’s all there is, we don’t have much to celebrate.
But if we’re to be honest, even for us Christians, Christmas often does fall flat. Perhaps we should blame the angels for raising our expectations. “It came upon the midnight clear, That glorious song of old, From angels bending near the earth To touch their harps of gold: ‘Peace on the earth, goodwill to all’ ” (LSB 366:1). A beautiful hymn and a beautiful sentiment. But peace and goodwill? Really?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t see much peace on earth, nor, for that matter, good will to all. For two thousand years, we’ve had nothing but wars and rumors of wars. And so at Christmas, when peace on earth seems unattainable on a large, global scale, we attempt it on a smaller scale, at home with family and friends. But even at home, there is not always peace. Christmas is great, but the bills aren’t so wonderful. Throw in anxieties over work issues, a chronic medical condition, a dispute with the kids/family, the loss of a loved one, or a broken relationship, and there’s a lot of strife and sadness. Some of this sadness is because we live in a fallen sin-filled world, and truth be told, some of this sadness is of our own making: bad choices we’ve made, people we’ve hurt, relationships we’ve damaged. Where, then, is peace to be found? Nowhere else than in the Christ Child. Not in some Precious Moments Christ Child but in the Child who was born to die. I want my Christmas to be about a real-world Savior for a world with real problems.
At our Lord’s birth, the angels sang, “Peace on the earth, goodwill to all.” But there is still another song to sing, and we sing it as Jesus is riding on a donkey into Jerusalem: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna” Sure, it doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Silent Night,” but you know what I mean.
If we are to reclaim Christmas, we must, I think, recover Advent. Granted, Jesus is the reason for the season of Christmas, and Advent is a season FOR a reason. Advent is NOT “almost Christmas” or “X # of days until Christmas.” Advent is a season of preparation—not simply of our homes, the tree, meals, and presents, but a time of preparation for our hearts. A time of assessment and acknowledgment and a time to recognize WHY our Lord came in the first place. We cannot have Mary and the manger without palms and Pontius Pilate. But by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we now have peace and forgiveness and life eternally because of the Christ Child; the One who as a man rode into Jerusalem to die.
The season of Advent is one of self-assessment and not getting sucked into the things of the world. It’s a time to remember that the things of this world are indeed already passing away, a time to set our hearts, now more than ever, upon things above. A time to look at the child who came to die, a time to crucify our sinful passions. Indeed, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and we who bear his name now also take up our crosses, follow him, care for the “least of these,” and go forth to make disciples of all nations.
In this season of Advent, let us prepare our hearts once more for our Lord’s coming. Let us forgive as we have been forgiven. Let us embrace the child who came to embrace us; to die for us and for the forgiveness of our sins. And let us offer up our lives as gifts to the One who came to offer up his life as his gift of salvation for us all and joyfully sing this Advent “Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna!” Sure, it doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Santa Claus is coming to town,” but you know what I mean.
Welcome to Advent 2017. Amen.