Advent begins on an unexpected note. Look back on the readings assigned to the first Sunday in Advent and especially the Gospel lesson. At first they seem out of place.
We hear of our Lord and King who comes to Jerusalem, the city of Kings, humble and riding on a donkey (Luke 19:28–40). But wait, isn’t Advent about the baby in a manager in the little town of Bethlehem? Isn’t Advent a preparation for Christmas where we hear the songs of the angels proclaiming the long awaited birth of the Messiah?
As I was strolling through halls of the Medieval gallery at the art museum I noticed something. In almost every portrayal of the nativity of our Lord there was another depiction in the background. To some extent it was almost always present. In the background of the artist’s rendering of the nativity was the cross. Christ crucified was never an isolated event from the baby born in Bethlehem.
Advent is a season of repentance so, maybe it’s not all that strange to begin with a reading typically associated with the season of Lent. But, what does that word “repentance” mean? Why is Advent a season of repentance?
Norman Nagel defines repentance in this way, “Repentance is the stripping away of everything that closes Jesus in, of everything that is unwilling to risk His being more for you. Instead, you are open, receiving of Him who is always on ahead, more.”
Advent points our eyes and hearts to Jesus. In this season of repentance we hear of Jesus who comes to us in humility. He comes to us not as a mighty king in the ways of the world, but as a humble king. He comes not to administer His wrath for our sins but He comes full of grace and truth. He comes to be judged as guilty in our place that we might be declared righteous before God.
The Gospel proclaimed during the season of Advent is the same message proclaimed at Christmas, Easter, and every season of the church year. It is the same beautiful Gospel I saw displayed in the Nativity’s in the art museum. The message of Advent is that Christ has come to save us from our sins (1 Corinthians 2:2).
The angels, however, were not the first to herald the good news that ours is a God who desires to dwell with His people. Leviticus exhibits this Gospel.
The author of the book of Hebrews explains that the priests and tabernacle served as a copy and shadow of what is in heaven (Hebrews 8:5). The Gospel of Jesus’ work for us is on display and illustrated throughout the tabernacle. The daily sacrifices, the day of atonement, the candles, the bread of presence, the basins used for washing all point to the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Jesus, our Great High Priest, has come to offer a sacrifice once for all time. He has come to offer Himself for our sins. He has come to sanctify us, to make us holy
Jesus is, as John writes, the Word who became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14). The tabernacle was God’s dwelling place and, in Christ, we have the fulfillment of the Levitical tabernacle.The gift of Christ’s Advent is the God who comes to us to redeem us, to be with us, never to leave us or forsake us.
The same baby born in Bethlehem, the same Jesus crucified and risen for us, comes to dwell with us in the Divine Service with His gifts. He comes to us both humble and triumphant bringing the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. He comes not riding a donkey, but in, with, and under the bread and wine with His body and blood for us in the Lord’s Supper. He comes to dwell with us as He unites us to Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism.