SERMON FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 12-2-2018
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
Today begins the season of Advent, so let’s just get to the point. Advent is really a season of repentance. It’s about self-denial. It’s about alms-giving and fasting. All the while, focusing more deeply on the Word of God. We come to midweek Advent Services. We come to the Holy Supper of our Lord. We receive His Holy Spirit, and so by his grace, reset our lives and refocus on Him who gave His life for us.
Therefore it’s also about penance. Not the idea that you can somehow appease God’s wrath or merit forgiveness of sins – that’s a doctrine from the devil. Only Christ can forgive sins and save. But real penance. Meaning that those things in our lives which are disruptive to the holy life of faith should be removed and put away. So are you overeating? Then, repent. Has drinking become a problem? Repent. Are you focusing too much on career while wife and children suffer for it? Then change, repent.
Is computer pornography an issue? Then unplug it and throw it away. It is better to enter into life without one, than to cozy up to demons and be thrown into hell. Have you been harboring anger and resentment? Are you wallowing around in frustration, envy, or self-pity? Then repent.
Do you know every new show coming to Netflix but can’t remember the name of your next-door neighbor? Nor thought to pray for them? Repent. Have you fallen away from prayer altogether, even though the Lord has commanded you to pray, and promises to hear and answer you? Repent.
Dear Christians, the first words of Jesus public ministry are simply this: “Repent” he says, “for the kingdom of heaven is near. These last several weeks we’ve heard about the Abomination of Desolation. We heard preached to us the separation of the sheep and goats on the Day of Judgment. Last week Jesus preached to us on the wise and foolish virgins and the delayed arrival of the coming of the bridegroom. The wise were welcomed into the feast, while the door is shut on those whose lamps had flickered out, “truly, I do not know you,” said Jesus. These are all not really warnings against unbelievers and those outside of the outward fellowship of Christ. Those warnings, threats, and wakeup calls we’ve been hearing the last several weeks are really directed at those who call themselves Christians. These words are written for us, for our instruction.
St. Paul preaches to us this morning, directing our attention, to the struggle of the flesh, which we heard in today’s epistle: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify it’s desires.”
Today’s collect really nailed it. We prayed to God the following: Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance.
We cannot forget that our sins are precisely that: threatening and perilous, which that collect reminds us. Threatening and perilous of what? Threatening and perilous to our salvation, that’s what! We must acknowledge that sin does real damage. It hurts us and those we love in ways we cannot even perceive. It puts us in grave danger. With sin, comes God’s displeasure and both temporal and eternal consequences. If we can come to terms with this sobering reality – and accept the severity of our own sins, the devastation and destruction sin has caused in our own lives and lives of others– then, and only then, can we begin to appreciate why we need Advent.
This penitential season teaches us to be discontent with the status quo. Discontent with our sin and discontent with life as it currently is. We yearn for something better, to deeply desire a better life in Christ, one in which we are enticed by the Holy Spirit to love as God loves. To hate sin as God hates sin. To rid ourselves of the works of darkness that St. Paul urges us to cast off. To walk properly as in the daytime, in the realm of the holy light of Jesus. Repenting, turning, putting on Christ, and living out our baptisms - making no provision for the flesh to scratch its various itches.
Therefore we pray. We fast. We give of ourselves – sacrificially, our gifts, our incomes, and our talents. Not because God needs these things from us – but because we need it. These are disciplines of the Holy Spirit to crucify the flesh with its constant demands of putting itself first. The Old Adam, you see, is a stubborn beast. It’s a persistent, tenacious, obstinate brute. One that needs to be broken in with a new rider.
And that’s one of the delightful little mysteries in our reading today, that Jesus, enters Jerusalem as your king, riding in on a donkey. And that’s very good news. Because you know how stubborn that old Adam can be. He’s a mule. You’ve tried to cajole him into compliance, but he’ll dig right in. You’ve tried to pull and persuade him to move but he won’t budge.
So just open your eyes and look how your king comes to you. Humble and mounted on a donkey. That’s the King you need. For what you can never do to tame the beast that is your flesh, He can and does do. He rides the beast and even the one never ridden, and it does his bidding. What we can never do in conquering our own flesh, Jesus Christ can do. Only he can tame us and make us Christ-bearing servants.
When our Lord came riding into Jerusalem, the folks probably had it all wrong. They thought freedom from the Romans would be pretty sweet. But all the while Jesus was thinking of something far greater than that – because he was thinking about freeing us from our sins.
He rides into the city that kills God’s prophets and stones God’s messengers. He goes to carry our sins, take them all away and suffer and die for them. He’ll be enthroned upon the cross and wear a crown of thorns. He will rule over our stubbornness and disobedience and blot it all out with his precious and holy blood, by his innocent suffering and death. And by the power of his resurrection free us from being slaves to our own appetites and desires.
He’ll give us in exchange a new life, a new heart, and a new will, by baptizing us, branding us as his very own, and therefore setting us free to serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
So this morning, at the start of the new church year, let this Lord and King ride in once again, humble and mounted on bread and wine. Cry out to him that ancient song and sing out: Hosanna! Which means “save us now” and receive the salvation of your souls.
Leave behind your servitude to the old Adam, and your old donkey ways, and let Jesus become your master once again. He’s the rider we all need, that stubborn and resistant hearts might become compliant and obedient to him, tame, and subject to the Father’s will. In the name of Jesus. Amen.