Welcome to the beginning of a new year. I know it’s only November 27. I know January is still over a month away. I’m not talking about the normal calendar year, but we have come to the beginning of a new Church Year. And what better way to start the Church Year than with the story of Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday, we hear of Christ’s entrance to Jerusalem, marking His impending death. Today, when we read our text, we read it in light of the new Church Year and its beginning, pointing us to the manger which will point us to Calvary.
The word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “appearing” or “coming,” referring to the appearing of a great king or even a god. In Christian usage, it refers to the appearing of Jesus Christ in two ways – His first appearing as the Child born of the Virgin Mary and His second appearing in glory on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. You see, Advent isn’t only about getting ready for Christmas; it’s also about getting ready for Jesus’ final appearing in glory only the Last Day.
The prophet Jeremiah writes, “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” But there’s a problem: we don’t like to wait. With the hustle and bustle leading up to Christmas, waiting is the last thing that we want to do. And so, the day after Thanksgiving, the trees go up and the Christmas music begins playing, officially, until Christmas Day. But once the sun sets on December 25, so does Christmas and its true meaning, if we even focus on its meaning.
So what do we mean when we speak of Advent as a season for waiting? In a sense, the weeks leading up to Christmas are intended as a training ground. Yes, we are preparing for another commemoration of our Savior’s birth. But it’s much more than that. In one sense, we join with the ancient Israelites who waited for centuries for God’s light to shine forth in the person of His Son. But our waiting also focuses on Christ’s promise that He will return. Our Lord gives us neither the day nor the hour, but only His sure and certain promise. And He commands us to be watchful and ready.
For us, we need the season of Advent. We are acutely aware of the busyness of the Christmas season, even though we haven’t gotten there yet, as these few weeks speed away ever so quickly. With preparations for holiday celebrations, the pace of an already hectic life tends to accelerate as we rush from one thing to the next. There are projects to complete, appointments to keep, and commitments to honor. There are parties to plan, gifts to buy, and cards to send. We need Advent as somewhat of a liturgical speed bump to slow us down so that we do not miss what Christmas is truly about, the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
On Palm Sunday, our Lord arrives in Jerusalem ready to celebrate Passover. The streets are littered with people celebrating this great festival. Then, Jesus arrives and things begin to get interesting.
When Jesus arrives, it’s not with pomp and circumstance, but instead, He arrives on a lowly beast of burden. As Jesus makes His way down the streets of Jerusalem, the crowd erupts in a wonderful chorus of words they don’t understand: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Like most people, those on the streets of Jerusalem had no idea what it was they were saying. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Not only is this the one “who comes in the name of the Lord,” this is the Lord! This is the one that the people have been waiting for since Adam and Eve received that promise from God so long ago, the promise of a Savior. This is the one who was promised to come and crush Satan’s head. The worst part of it: most of them don’t even know it! They quite rightly called Jesus their Messiah, but they would not know what that meant until the coming week was over. For Jesus, God in the flesh, had come to die. He had come to Jerusalem to offer Himself up as the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world.
What is even worse is that most people today don’t even know it. They think of Christmas as the time where they receive presents from Santa Claus and sip on eggnog at Christmas parties. Christmas is more than presents and parties. Christmas is the celebration of God taking the form of human flesh in order to live and die for your sins. That is made clear to us in our text as Jesus comes to Jerusalem to experience once and for all the full guilt of our sin and take the punishment for that guilt. He had come to remove the guilt that caused our terror at His coming. He had come to grant us the gift of His righteous life. Jesus came to Jerusalem on that Sunday so that on that Friday He could suffer and die on a Roman cross and so make the full payment for the sins of the world.
Today, we begin preparing ourselves for Christ’s entry into this world, coming into this world by being born in a stable in the small town of Bethlehem. We prepare our hearts for what Christmas brings: it brings the Savior of the Nations, the Virgin Son who makes His home amongst the chosen people of God, as sinful as we are. God came to His people and lived among them as one of them. As God came to us in flesh and blood, He experienced all the things we experience – birth, childhood, weeping and laughter, pleasure and pain, and all the other things that make up the human experience. He even experienced temptation, but He never gave in to it.
All of this, He did for you. He is the Blessed One, for in His saving death, He brings all the blessings of heaven – forgiveness of sins and peace with God – down to earth, down to you. It is no wonder that during the season of Advent, we especially hear that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, God with us. Even as God lives with us, He still comes to us. He comes to us as we read and hear His Word. He also continues to come to us in His flesh and blood as we eat and drink the bread and the wine of His Table.
Consider God and His coming during this Advent. Consider His coming at Christmas, but don’t limit your consideration just to Christmas. Consider the love that God shows in His coming in that even while sin causes terror and hatred, He continues to come with His love. Consider how He came to save us with His suffering, death, and resurrection. Consider how He now comes in Word and Sacrament. Consider how He will come to take His people home with Him. Consider the blessings that He once gave, that He now gives, and that He will give when He comes again. In Jesus name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.