by The Rev. Brandon Simoneaux
1st Sunday in Advent
Grace mercy and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Today in addition to being the first Sunday in Advent it is also the first Sunday in the church year. So Happy New year to all of you. But if this is our beginning of the church year you might wonder why we begin with the Gospel reading that we hear on Palm Sunday the week before Jesus was crucified instead of something else like the birth of Christ being foretold or anything else leading up to the birth of our Savior.
Why does the anticipation of Christmas joy begin with the start of events that led to our Lord’s terrible death? Advent begins with Palm Sunday because Jesus is coming. The Palm Sunday reading reminds us of the way in which Jesus comes to us: First, as the fulfillment of the Scriptures. He comes in the flesh as Savior. He comes now in His means of grace. He will come again with glory as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. “Behold your king comes to you.” It was said to Jerusalem. Now it’s said to you here today. Behold! Your King comes to you! And He comes to die. He is not just stopping in for a chat or to visit with you. It’s not a family reunion or a side trip Jesus takes on His vacation. Instead Jesus comes to earth in the flesh for a purpose and that purpose is to die for sinners. The King comes to die for His rebellious people. The Son of God comes to take the place of sinners who don’t want to be children of God. He comes to take the place of all who, as Isiaiah says, have been in their sins for a long time, who are unclean, whose righteous deeds are like filthy rags. Our King comes for us. And so Advent begins with Palm Sunday so that we look forward to Christmas for the right reason: Not just a celebration of the birth of Christ, but the birth of the One who was born to die for us. Advent begins with Palm Sunday to teach us faith in the King who came for that reason. It gets us ready to celebrate Christmas as we should, that is, celebrating at Christmas time the birth of the Child who takes away our sins.
So how do we get ready? How do we welcome our King as He comes? Well first of all we recognize Him as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Jeremiah says a righteous branch will grow up from David’s line. He is the one the people proclaim in the Gospel for today. And Jeremiah also says His Name will be called “The Lord our Righteousness.” Look at the man riding into Jerusalem on a donkey! That is your righteousness. You are not righteous but He is. You are not perfect but He is. You are full of sin. He is sinless. You are a creature. He is the Creator. You are dying flesh. He is the Son of God in pure flesh. You are a transgressor. He is the Lamb who comes to be the sacrifice for your transgressions. To be ready as He comes is to see that this Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the Lord’s promises throughout the Scriptures. Every promise God ever made to His sinful creation has come together and is fulfilled and made good in the Son of God in the flesh. So it is fitting for the people to proclaim as Psalm 118 states Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Here God has come in the flesh for the salvation of all.
In the Gospel we heard the crowds shouted and cheered and threw down their cloaks or their outer garments. They waved palm branches and threw those all over the road too. But what about us today? How shall we greet our King as he comes to us? First we recognize why he has come. He has not come to hear us cheer him on our cheers are not his driving force. And unlike the people in the text we won’t welcome Him by tossing our coats onto the road. So, because He comes as our Savior, instead of spreading your cloaks before him spread your sins before Him! Cover Him with your transgressions and iniquities! Throw down for Him your idolatry, your adultery, your stealing and murdering. Throw down before Him your having other gods and despising other people. Throw down before Him your selfishness and self-righteousness. Our King has come for these! Our Lord doesn’t come for us to make a show for Him but instead he has come to take our sins and get rid of them even to trample them beneath his feet. See Jesus riding into Jerusalem not so He can have a parade but so that we can recognize Him as the King who is on His way to the cross for us. In this holy season of Advent, dear Christians, throw your sins to Jesus. Stand before Him so that He might throw upon you the white robe of His righteousness! He does so in Holy Baptism. He covers you with a better covering than you had. He welcomes you at the font as His own dear redeemed child of God! And so we sing, Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!
And you don’t have to wish that you were there on the side of the road in Jerusalem to see Jesus that day. Our Lord is coming to us now! In a few minutes we will sing: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! We sing that because our Lord comes to us for real. Not on a donkey this time but under the bread and wine with His body and blood. With His own Words, our Lord puts Himself upon this altar and into our mouths to bring us righteousness and salvation. We are gathered here, brothers and sisters in Christ, because our Lord is coming! We are not here just remembering some stuff that happened a long time ago! We are here today because, by His Word and Sacraments, Christ is truly and really present among us! He comes to us through the ministry of the Gospel and Sacraments: as He reminds us of our washing, as He absolves us from our sins, as He comes down from heaven and comes among us on His altar. And He comes among us to forgive us, to strengthen us, to keep us in the faith, to take away our sins, to be our true and saving King! This is why we sing in the liturgy: Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord.
And our Lord will come again! That Day is coming when our Lord will return. And have no doubts we are closer to that Last Hour than they were. So with Advent we are getting ready for our Lord’s coming on the Last Day. Fill your days with the preparation for his coming. And with all that there is to do, to prepare, to learn His Word, to live in our Baptism, to come often to His Supper-with all that, there is no time for wasting on fighting and arguing and despising our neighbor. No time to waste on holding grudges and shirking away from the responsibilities of our individual callings in life. No time for husbands and wives to be mad at each other. No time for kids to do everything except what their parents tell them. There is no time, with our Lord on the way, to be thinking only of ourselves and racking up debts of sin against other people! No, now is the time to learn to love one another. Now is the time to remember that our Lord came to love us so that we might learn to love, care for and serve others. Now is the time of waiting and expecting and anticipating. Now is the time of confessing our sins and now is the time for living in our Lord’s forgiveness. And since Jesus has come in the flesh for our forgiveness, now is the time to look toward heaven, eagerly expecting our Lord’s return, and longing for the day when we shall see Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven when we with all believers willsing: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!
So why does Advent begin with Palm Sunday? Why does this whole time of Christmas begin with Holy Week? Why do we prepare for the joy of Christmas with repentance? Why do we welcome our Lord to earth by first welcoming Him to His death? It is because His coming birth is all about His death for us. His arrival is all about His coming to save us. The Lord has spoken this through out all Human history, from the time of Adam until now. Jesus’ coming, His advent was foretold in the prophets. His advent came to be when He came in the flesh and went to the cross. His advent is now in the holy Word and Sacraments by which we meet him even today to receive His Forgiveness. And Our Lord’s advent is yet to come, on the day of His return in glory and majesty: we long for that day and pray that it comes quickly! And just as the crowds sang and as we sing in the liturgy and will sing on that day, our new Church Year begins with those words that direct our faith and hope to Jesus, the Son of David, the Son of God, our Savior: And so every time He comes and until the time he comes again in clouds we will always sing: Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna! Blessed is Jesus who is our forgiveness for times past, for times present and our hope and salvation for times yet to come.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.