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The First Sunday in Advent
“Who Is This?”
Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
Matthew 21.1-11 [vv. 10-11 added]
28 November 2021
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
Advent has arrived. Happy New Year in Christ! A new Liturgical Year has begun. Thank God for the season of Advent! Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of the King.
The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem seems out of place in a season filled with preparations for Christmas. And it is. Advent preparations have nothing to do with decorations and shopping for gifts. Advent actually looks further forward than Christmas. It looks to Holy Week, the high point of the Liturgical Year. It looks to the cross. It looks to the resurrection of our Lord.
Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, or as we also now call it, Passion Sunday. The same Gospel reading us used for both the First Sunday in Advent and Palm Sunday. If Passion Sunday is observed after the procession with palms, then the entire Passion narrative is read. It would be fitting to do so today. Advent has little to do with Christmas strictly speaking.
Christ’s people prepare in Advent by quiet repentance and reflection on why Jesus became incarnate. Our Epistle reading calls us to wake up from sleep by repenting because salvation is near. Christ is coming. But it is difficult to repent at a time when all around us there is nothing bur frenzied preparations that distract us from the real preparation.
Over the years I said, “Advent is a season which has its own integrity.” It is to be observed by Christians as a short penitential season which breaks into joy at the Nativity of Our Lord. Advent is not Christmas. “May all your Christmases be bright” has nothing to do with putting on “the armor of light,” as Paul advises in our Epistle reading. Advent marks a new dawn. The King is coming. Prepare by repenting. Cast off the works of darkness.
One word in the Collect of the day sums it up: “Come!” The longing appeal of the Church is “Come!” With it we pray that our Lord will “stir up his power,” with the result that our King will rescue us not from earthly rulers or earthly enemies, but from the “threatening perils of our sins.” We pray also that our Lord’s mighty deliverance will save us.
Who Is This? Sadly, the Historic Gospel reading stops short, leaving out the next two verses which only Matthew records. I think they’re important.
10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
The crowd was shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!” They were applying the Messianic title to Jesus. “Hosanna—Save now!” That’s what the word Hosanna means. The crowd acclaimed him King of Israel but the city was abuzz about Christ’s identity.
The crowd identified Jesus as the Prophet from Nazareth of Galilee. He was well known from all the miracles he had performed as well as his teaching. The Evangelist John mentions one other reason that the crowd came out:
17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. [John 12.17-18]
Advent cannot be understood apart from the cross. Advent must be more than preparing for a feel-good time with family and friends around the Christmas tree. It must be more than a season of good will. It must go beyond the superficial. It must see the suffering and death of Jesus.
In our preparations for Christmas we do all the preparing. It is exhausting work trying to get everything done in time—even in the Church!— yet, truth be told, there would still be The Nativity of Our Lord if we did none of that! You see, God is the one who has done all the preparing. Jesus told his disciples to go into the village and get the donkey that has been set aside. God prepared that. God announced through the prophet Zechariah that the King would come to them, humble and riding a donkey. A donkey is not a war horse. Military parades have kings and officers riding mighty steeds. Jesus rides a beast of burden because he carries the burden of the world’s sin. He is humble, that is, one who is not overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentle, considerate, patient.
Who Is This? Jesus is the One who will offer the final sacrifice for the world’s sin. He will be the great High Priest who enters the Holy of Holies, that is heaven, and offer himself as this one final sacrifice for sin. He will redeem the world by his death. Some years ago I came across some artwork I thought captured the Nativity of Our Lord best. There in the crib lay the baby Jesus, but out of the back of the crib stood a cross. A crib with a cross! How fitting! Dr. David Scaer summed it up best: “We do not have to wait for Lent to see the mystery of heaven. The cross is the overlay that gives meaning to our Advent.” Perhaps he had seen that graphic, too.
Who Is This? Here is the Son of David, the promised Messiah, the King who shall rule forever and ever. How fitting that we sing the great Sanctus every week in preparation for receiving the body and blood of our Lord who comes to us for the forgiveness of our sins and our strengthening in the faith!
Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabbaoth;
heav’n and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He, blessed is He, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.
“Save us now! Save us now! Save us now!”
It is interesting that the crowd shouting out the hymn never rehearsed it. Our choir spends hours rehearsing the music for the Divine Service, yet here is a spontaneous hymn of praise to our Lord. The crowd sang of political salvation, of earthly things while we sing of heavenly things. A few days later those who sang these words would shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Yet, through it all the will of the Father was being carried out. His Son, true God, begotten by him from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, must be the sacrifice for the sin of the world.
Who Is This? Jesus is the King who comes into his world. The world does not come to him. Indeed, it cannot because it is in darkness. We do not find him; he finds us. He sends pastors to proclaim his Gospel telling you what God has done to save you. Zechariah makes his coming personal: “Behold, your king is coming to you.” To you! To you! Salvation is personal. Christ came to save you! None is excluded.
In some denominations it is customary in these four weeks before Christmas to decorate their worship space with greenery. They call it “the hanging of the greens.” While they don’t observe Advent they decorate with fir and balsam and other items of Christmas. Perhaps we Lutherans should decorate our sanctuary on this First Sunday in Advent with palms. Perhaps we should give out palm leaves as we do on Palm Sunday. It would be appropriate but would probably seem out of place to most. But those palm leaves would remind us of the true purpose of our Lord’s Advent in coming to earth.
Who Is This? The Lord of Hosts, that is, the Lord of heavenly armies, the Lord of heaven and earth, has come in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. He comes today in his body and blood in the Sacrament. And he will come again on the Last Day to gather his saints and take them to his eternal kingdom, the kingdom which has no end.
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.