1st Sunday of Advent
December 2, 2018
“A Not So Sentimental Journey”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that serves as the basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Luke 19.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Have you ever felt like you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time? Maybe that’s how you feel today. I’ll explain. It’s December, and it’s Advent, the preparation for Christmas is underway. In church we expect to be transported a little bit towards Bethlehem, to at least get a glimpse of the manger. Instead, our Gospel lesson takes us to Jerusalem with Jesus riding on a donkey. Remind you of another time and place? Like Holy Week? People around town are already putting up the Christmas decorations. Wal-Mart’s Christmas stuff has been out for weeks. Santa Claus appeared at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. So why do we have the Triumphant Entry for a Gospel lesson? Pastor, did you make a mistake?
No…not that I’m aware of. Strangely 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. In Advent, we should be moving toward a celebration of our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, and instead we hear the narrative about our Lord moving toward his death. We should all be going to the theater to see A Christmas Story, 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. You may have come today wanting “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.” Instead, you got 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. 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 Palm Sunday narrative that we hear today is the narrative from Holy Week that gives Christmas its real meaning and lasting value. You cannot have the manger without the cross, which awaits Jesus in Jerusalem.
The cross/manger. The manger/cross. Yet, Christmas seems, for so many, to be a holiday about the things of this world. In our society, Christmas has become a largely secular affair. 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 store 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. No wonder Christmas has a tendency to fall flat in our eyes and hearts.
For many, Christmas is staying ahead of bills and credit card statements and not so much about the Babe born as the Christ. Throw in anxieties over work issues, a chronic medical condition, a dispute with the in-laws, the loss of a loved one, or a broken relationship, and you get a month 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.
At our Lord’s birth, the angels sang, “Peace on the earth, goodwill to all.” Peace? How could God be at peace with us? How could he be at peace with a world that is constantly at war? How could he be at peace with a world that disregards him, ignores him, mocks him, and takes his blessings for granted? How could he be at peace with a world that has taken the celebration of the birth of his Son and turned it into just another time to shop, eat, drink, and be merry? How could he be at peace with me, a sinner?” Where, then, is peace on earth, goodwill to all stuff 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. A real-world Savior for a world with real problems.
If we are to “re-discover” Christmas, we must, I think, re-discover Advent. 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 to recognize why our Lord came in the first place. A time to recognize why that infant child, born to be King, would one day receive a crown of thorns. We cannot have the manger and wise men without Pilate and the cross. But by Jesus’ life and resurrection, we now have peace and forgiveness and life eternally because of the Christ Child and our faith in Him; the One who as a man rode into Jerusalem to die.
In this season of Advent, let us prepare our hearts once more for our Lord’s coming, remembering his journey that lead to death. Let us love and forgive as we have been loved and 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 living sacrifices, gifts to the One who came to offer up his life as his gift of salvation for us all.
Welcome to Advent in the year of our Lord 2018. Amen.