Sunday, December 1, 2019

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Advent (December 1, 2019)

MATTHEW 21:1-11


In the name + of Jesus.

     One of the blessings of our liturgical tradition is that we listen to readings which keep us focused on Jesus Christ. This year, the Gospels will mainly be from St. Matthew.  St. Matthew's Gospel proclaims to us that Jesus is the Messiah who was promised repeatedly by Moses and the Prophets.  We have an example of St. Matthew's focus in today's Gospel lesson when he notes: “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet...” (Matthew 21:4)
    Our liturgical tradition also observes a Church Year.  The benefit of this is that we review the life of Jesus year after year.  The Bible reminds us: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)  If salvation is found in no one else, then we do well to keep our focus on Jesus.  So, year after year, we review Jesus' coming, his birth, his being revealed as the Christ, his sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension.  And of course, we remember that he will come again to judge the living and the dead.  So now we have begun a new church year.  We have begun the season of Advent.  The word Advent means “coming,” and we remember that the Savior is coming. 
     If today's Gospel seems out of place, it is because it takes place during Holy Week.  It is not about a maiden in Nazareth, shepherds in the fields, or a hay-filled manger in Bethlehem.  This is Jesus' Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem.  We begin the Church Year remembering why the Savior comes.  He does not come merely to be born or to be swaddled.  He comes as a man to suffer and die.  He comes to make a sacrifice—to BE the sacrifice—for sinners.  If he does not come for that reason, we have no reason to be here.  But the Savior comes.  As he enters Jerusalem, we remember why.
     The crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9)  The praise of the crowds was right, but their expectations were wrong.  The crowds were waiting for the Messiah, which was right; but the crowds were wrong about what the Messiah had come to do.  The crowds had hoped for a Messianic kingdom where everything was marked by success, peace, glory, and prosperity.  The coming of the Messiah was to mean the end of wars, the end of poverty, the end of disease, and the end of struggles.  Strangers would always be kind, the elderly would be vibrant and strong, and the children would all have straight teeth.  Jesus was expected to brush away all sin and evil with the wave of his hand and to keep it away by a rule of glorious power.  It is a wonderful thought, but anyone who was expecting it to take place was going to have their hopes dashed.
     The Savior comes: Remember why.  We also are susceptible to false expectations.  With Christmas coming, everything is supposed to be cheery.  Everyone is supposed to be kind and generous and happy.  The problems are supposed to go away because—well, “the meaning of Christmas” and all that.  That works well on the Hallmark Channel, but if you expect things to be that wonderful, you will be sorely disappointed.  The holiday season usually intensifies our pains, sorrows, and losses.  We have been led to believe that tragedies are not supposed to happen around the holidays, but they do.  The world is corrupt, and bad things happen.  All of it heightens our awareness that the world is evil, and that we are marked with sin and death.  Life is not properly pictured by Hallmark Christmas specials or Thomas Kinkade paintings.  Life is pock-marked with sorrow, toil, and trouble.  Add to that the sorrow and regret from our own sins and the consequences we have to live with—relationships still strained, grudges still held, reputations still tarnished.  This is what we long to be saved from, and not just for the holiday season.  Good news: You have a Savior.  Your Savior comes: Remember why.
     The crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9)  The Son of David comes in the name of the Lord.  He comes to do the Lord's work, which is to save and to comfort sinners.  He comes in answer to the prayer of the Palm Sunday pilgrims, “Hosanna!”  Just as “Alleluia” is more than a word we say (it means “Praise the Lord”), so it is with “Hosanna!”  It means “Save us, now!” or “Save us, we pray!”  And that is exactly what Jesus comes to do.  The Savior comes: Remember why.
     The crowds called Jesus the “Son of David.”  While that refers to his lineage, it is more.  It is a specific title that refers to the Lord's Anointed.  And it fulfills what David was anointed to do.  Immediately after David was anointed by Samuel, Israel was lined up for war against the Philistine nation.  Their champion, Goliath, mocked God's people and God himself.  He challenged Israel to put forth their best soldier to face him, one-on-one.  Although he was the unlikeliest of warriors, David went forth.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, David single-handedly faced Israel's enemy and slew him.  He cut off Goliath's head as a show of absolute victory.
     The Savior comes: Remember why!  Your enemy, the devil, continues to mock you and your God.  He accuses you of sin, and you have no defense.  You and I are guilty.  The devil mocks your desire to put off your sins and to live godly lives.  He tells you that it is not worth the fight.  Billy Joel was not the first one to say it is better to laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.  Our sinful flesh agrees, thinking that reveling in sin would be more fun.  Fighting against temptation is hard; giving in is easier.  Our enemy, the devil, seeks to devour us, and he mocks us as we strive for godliness.
     But the Savior comes!  Remember why!  He is anointed to go forth and face our enemy on our behalf.  He takes up the fight for us, and single-handedly faces the devil.  It seemed the unlikeliest of victories.   In order to defeat the devil, Jesus had to fall to Satan's greatest weapons—sin and death.  Jesus went forth, carrying our sins to the cross and gave his life into death for us.  He entered Jerusalem like a Lamb being led to the slaughter—and, indeed—he was!  The Savior comes: Remember why!  He comes to make the sacrifice—to BE the sacrifice—which atones for our sins. 
     It was the unlikeliest of victories.  For us to be found innocent, Jesus had to be guilty. To win forgiveness, Jesus had to be condemned.  To achieve glory, Jesus had to suffer great shame.  To bring healing, Jesus had to be stricken, smitten, and afflicted.  To gain life, Jesus had to die.  He took everything the devil had to dish out; for, he bore the sins of the whole world.
     God the Son died on behalf of all the sons of men.  Having died on behalf of sinners, Jesus proved that the payment has been made in full for you.  He rose from the dead.  He crushed the serpent's head to demonstrate full victory.  He descended into hell, the home territory of the devil, to preach to him: “I am the living one.  I have conquered death and now I hold the keys to death and Hades.  And those whom you had held captive by their sins, I have freed.  Those whom you have mocked now get to mock you; for your accusations are empty and your temptations are now exposed as lies.  I have redeemed these people.  My victory is their victory.  Their sins are taken away.  Their graves are mere resting places.  In the end, they will be empty.  Their eternal salvation is secure; for it is held by me, and I live and reign forever for them.”
     The Savior comes: Remember why!  The Son of David been anointed to slay the enemy of God's people, and he has.  The cries of “Hosanna!” have been heard and answered.  God's people are saved.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; for Jesus has done the Lord's work.  And he continues to come to you.  He continues to come in answer to your Hosanna's as he enters our midst in bread and wine to grant us the body and blood which have overcome death.  He comes to us so that we, too, will overcome death.
     The Savior comes: Remember why!  The crowds expected glory the moment Jesus entered Jerusalem.  Their hopes were not off, but the timing was.  The day will come when all things will be right, and it is when our Savior comes again.  Soon, he will come to deliver us from all sin and problems.  He will bring us out of death and sin to live in glory with him forevermore.  The cries of Hosanna will be answered for all eternity.  For now, we continue to sing “Hosanna” waiting for that day.  And we gather around his altar to prepare for it.  For the Savior comes, and we gather in the name of the Lord to remember why.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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