Today is the beginning of a new church year. And if there ever is a time when the secular calendar and church calendar wildly collide, it’s got to be today. We’re supposed to feast, drink, and gorge ourselves up to Christmas, but the church historically suggests fasting and almsgiving and additional times for prayer. We’re told to go on a shopping binge, and have Amazon deliver to our doorstep everything our heart desires, but the Church warns us of the accumulation of possessions where moth and rust destroy. “Instead, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” says the Lord.
We’re told to jump right into Christmas. But today the Church in her wisdom says, “Not so fast.” Because to celebrate Christmas rightly, to know the full joy of the season, it’s got to start with repentance. And that’s what the season of Advent is all about. Of examining our life in light of the Ten Commandments. You shall have no other gods says the Lord. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder – but help your neighbor in every physical need. You shall not commit adultery – but lead a sexually pure and decent life in everything you do. You shall not steal but instead you are to promote and protect everything your neighbor has. You shall not bear false witness about your neighbor or tell any lies – but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor. That is, be content with everything you’ve got – trust God in every situation.
But face it. You haven’t been the model disciple. So what’s the verdict for law-breakers? Well, the Bible and Catechism put it this way: “God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them.”
But you have. You’ve broken all the commandments. You’ve lived as if God did not matter and as if you had mattered most. The collect appointed for today really cues us in to the reason for the season. We asked that our Lord would stir up His power so that He would come and save us from the threatening peril of our sins, sins which threaten to destroy us and throw us into hell.
That’s what we prayed. That’s what we asked God today on this first Sunday of Advent. We prayed, “Cause us, O Lord, to see that our sins are threatening and perilous. Cause us, Lord, to see that our sins are hated by You, that they are dangerous to our eternal salvation, and hurtful to those whom You would have us love.” So we pray that God would come and rescue us.
But how would you have God come and rescue you? What if God came to you in all His unfiltered glory? He is, after all, infinite, all holy, overwhelming, and beyond all words. “Millions of lightyears mean less to Him than a centimeter for us. Nebulae and the Milky Way are like specks of dust that dance in the sun for Him” (Bo Giertz). So what if He came down to us in all His burning holiness? In His raw power and might? How terrifying that would be! The psalmist prays to God “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?”
But what a strange thing occurs this morning! Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. This eternal God, who is so infinitely exalted above everything, and who lives in a ray of light that no one can approach, has come down to us in unspeakable mercy.
This morning, the eternal Lord rides into Jerusalem just as Zechariah had foretold: “Say to the daughter of Zion, behold your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
The elated crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road before Him. Listen to their joyful cries. They shout, “Hosanna. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” And what a beauty of a prayer that is, because the word “Hosanna” is a short Hebrew word, which means simply “Save us now.” Save us now, O Lord, from the threatening perils of our sins. Save us from ourselves. Come, deliver, and rescue us.
And look how this Lord comes. Not on a warhorse or a chariot but on a donkey. Not to terrify but to comfort. Not to destroy but to heal. He comes so gentle and kind, you might even say with mirth and gladness. Because He knows exactly what He’s come to do, and He goes willingly, cheerfully even. For in that pure heart of his was nothing but joy and love for us poor sinners.
A few days later Jesus would explain to a perplexed Pontius Pilate what all this had to do with His kingdom. His kingdom, He explained, was not of this world.
He is a king unlike any other. For He comes to reign by means of self-sacrifice and to give His life as a ransom for many. Those who wish to reign with Him are called to set aside all claims to glory, and to follow in His way as He enters the city that will reject Him and crucify Him. As he staggers on, carrying the cross, this is a coronation unlike any other. For this King wears a crown of thorns and reigns in glory from the cross – suffering and dying for sinful man. By His enthronement on the cross, Jeremiah’s words in our Old Testament today are brought to a glorious fulfilment, for there on the holy cross He shows Himself to be “the Lord is our righteousness.”
He died. He rose for our justification. He ascended to heaven to blaze the trail for us all. And He’ll come again, and next time in all His glory – all His holiness on full display for the whole world to see, coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And on that day, you’ll gladly awake, and walk out of your grave to meet Him, being clothed in His righteousness, your Baptism, which covers all your sin.
Today is new year’s day in the church year. A blank slate, a new page, and a fresh start. Another year of grace. Let’s leave behind our sins, give them all to Jesus, and in exchange receive His righteousness and blessings, and a whole new life – lived in service to Him alone.
When our Lord rode into Jerusalem, plenty of folks missed it. They couldn’t conceive that the Lord God would come mounted on a donkey in such gentle and humble means. So don’t you dare make the same mistake today – don’t miss the mystery of the Lord’s Advent: that that very same Lord who came humbly into Jerusalem on a donkey comes to His people today through humble means, bread and wine – body and blood – a preacher’s voice – a splash of baptismal water and the Word of God. These are the very means by which He saves, rescues, and delivers.
As you receive the Sacrament this morning, set your hearts on Jesus’ return in glory, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus.” And as you reach out for the Sacrament, deeply ponder the words of Paul in our epistle this morning, where he writes, “Our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed!” In the name of Jesus. Amen.
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OFFERINGS TO LMC
Please remember your gifts to LMC. There are a few options for giving:
- You can mail your weekly offerings to the church.
- You can also do an online bill pay through your bank account, which can recur each month. Your bank then sends LMC a check with your offering. There is no cost to you or LMC for this.
- You can set up online giving through an App called Tithe.ly. There is a small fee associated with this transaction. You may find this option at www.lmcusc.org/give.