For one last reflection on the readings from the 1st Sunday of Advent, enjoy this sermon by Rev. James Krikava, Regional Director for Eurasia. Rev. Krikava preached at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Prague, Czech Republic, where the LCMS sponsors an English-language Lutheran congregation for expatriates.
Sermon on the Gospel for Advent I, 2016
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The word of God on which we would like to meditate on this first Sunday in Advent, is the holy Gospel, our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem to cheers of “Hosanna (Come save us now!) Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! (Come save us now from on high!)”
In the name of Jesus, our Advent King and Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
At first blush the Gospel for the first Sunday of the new church year may seem strange. It is the familiar triumphal entry of Jesus into the holy city, Jerusalem, on Palm Sunday, leading up to our Lord’s crucifixion and death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday.
But we are all gearing up for Christmas. So, what does this Gospel have to do with the season? On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with it, but if we look a little deeper, we will find that they have a lot to do with each other.
When we study the Bible, we always try to understand it in its literal and historical sense. In the gospel before us, it is not difficult to grasp this. It is a straightforward historical account of what happened at the beginning of that fateful week before the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Many in that crowd had come to the conclusion that Jesus was the promised Messiah. The words they called out are proof of that. Both the word “Hosanna,” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” come from Ps. 118 (25-26). This was the main Psalm sung by Israel during the Passover. It still is. The sacrifice of a Passover lamb and the meal they made of it reminded them of God’s great deliverance of Israel out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt under a ruthless and wicked Pharaoh. But more than that it pointed forward to the true Lamb of God, the Messiah, who would redeem them from their sins.
When the Palm Sunday crowd sang this Psalm to Jesus on His triumphal ride into the holy city, it could only mean one thing: they believed that He was the Anointed One, the Messiah who should come.
That is the literal and plain sense of our Gospel. But the Word of God is not like other words that relate to us simple histories of the goings-on of man through the ages. The Word of God is thicker than that. In, with, and under the literal sense of God’s Word there is also a spiritual sense, which gives depth of meaning to the literal. That is, there is an application of the literal sense to your spirit; a sense that transports the historical sense into your life. It is that spiritual sense of this Gospel that we want to focus on today as we begin the holy season of Advent. Where do you fit into this picture?
What is Our Hosanna Now Through Advent?
As we have heard, the Word “Hosanna” means “Come save us now.” And the word “Advent” means “coming.” As you visualize the Lord Jesus riding into Jerusalem, think broadly of what that means. The donkey He rode on was a beast of burden, not the mighty steed of a worldly king. It represents both the humility of Christ’s Advent and the purpose of His coming, namely, to be a servant to mankind and to bear our burden. Jerusalem represents the world and the Church in the world. The Messiah would enter the world in the most humble of appearances; so humble that indeed many would not recognize Him as King of kings and Lord of lords.
He would be born of the royal blood of David, to be sure. But by the time of his birth, the Davidic line had been reduced to insignificance by one conquering nation after another. Only Mary is left, a queen by blood, but in reality a poor maiden with no royal status or recognition among her people. She was no more than a pauper, betrothed to a carpenter. Yet miraculously, through the Holy Spirit, this pure virgin becomes a mother, as the LORD Himself had given the sign through the prophet Isaiah 700 years before: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel (which translated means God with us)” (Is. 7:14).
This Advent of Christ, “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” (Ap. Cr.), is the first layer under the surface of our Gospel. The Christ-Child does not enter the world with great pomp and circumstance, but humbly, riding on a donkey, born in poverty in the little town of Bethlehem, David’s hometown to be sure, but stripped of its former glory for a long time, and even smaller and more humble than our own little town, Brewster.
Yet under the humility of the donkey, shrouded in mystery, a ray of light shows through; a light which shines over the whole Jerusalem of this world. Out there in the country, where the shepherds were busy “keeping watch over their flock by night, behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.” (Lk 2:8). But like the resurrection of Christ, after His humble ride into Jerusalem, after his passion and death on the cross, when He burst forth from the grave, this ray of glory on the Bethlehem plain caused the shepherds to fear and tremble before the mighty hand of God.
It was too wonderful to bear. Like Isaiah before them, when they saw the Angel of the Lord, they could only say with him, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Is 6:5). And so the Angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Lk 2:10), and He sends them out of the light to find the Savior, who is Christ the Lord, an Infant, wrapped in diapers, lying in a manger, where cattle feed, where the donkey is tied; a scene with no fear in it, but humble, approachable, the most innocent and beloved scene known to human experience. Yet under the flesh of this Child lies God Himself – gentle, tender, and loving.
Man wants to meet God in His divine majesty, but when he does, even if only a glimpse, he is sent crashing down into fear by his own sin and guilt which cannot stand before the Justice of Divine Glory. Yet out of great love for man, fallen though he be, God hides Himself under this gentle form where fear melts away and love and trust in Him replace it.
This layer of our Gospel, however, is not the only one. This Word of God is thicker still. In fact, you might say that this layer only sets the stage for the next one; the stage you are on in the Jerusalem of the Holy Christian Church. After the resurrection, the sight of the risen Savior also brought fear into the hearts of His disciples, much as the rays of His glory caused the Bethlehem shepherds to be afraid. When the risen Lord passed through the locked doors of the room where the disciples were hiding, they thought He was a ghost, a heavenly specter, I suppose, but still something otherworldly. And that brought on fear. They were afraid.
So, where does Jesus send them? Not to Bethlehem; that was act one. It came and went. Not back to the Mt. of Olives where He began His humble ride into Jerusalem either. That was act one, scene two. It also came and went. No, here He begins act two. This time the poverty of the manger and the humility of the donkey ride into Jerusalem takes on a new form for His disciples and for us.
The new form is the ministry of the New Testament. Like the manger and the donkey, it is a humble form. It consists of words: Words that do not bite, words like honey that draw you to its sweetness. The risen Lord Jesus gave this command to His disciples, “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Lk 24:47). The word of repentance makes for a bitter taste in our mouths. As St. Paul says, “the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:22). Even the hammer of the law serves the loving purpose of making the Gospel of forgiveness ever sweeter, like that Infant in the manger or the humble king riding on a beast of burden in order to carry your load.
This New Testament ministry also consists in sacraments of the same kind. Water poured on in the name of the Triune God is such a soothing bath that who could be afraid of it? Even though in, with, and under this water, the devil is cast out and the old Adam is drowned with all sins and evil desires by the Lord of glory, and the new man of faith is implanted within by the Holy Spirit with power, yet its humble form draws you to this gracious water of life and washing of regeneration without fear. It’s like approaching the baby Jesus or singing “Hosanna” to the humble King carrying your burdens to his cross.
This baptism is a well that never runs dry. Even when you stumble and fall, and become thirsty again for that water which saved you, it is still there for you, even as every morning when you get up and every evening when you lie down you make the sign of the cross in the name of the Father and of the Son ✠ and of the Holy Spirit as a constant reminder of your baptism.
In addition to this, you are renewed again and again by the word of absolution, which says to you, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.” Mere words, simple words, dear words, behind which speak our Savior, God of God, Light of light, very God of very God.
And if that were not enough you are refreshed again and again by the humble elements of bread and wine, which are called by the command of Christ’s own Word to be His very body and blood, given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. And yet, what is more basic, humble and common than bread and wine; certainly nothing to fear. For our God shows His love, grace and mercy to us with the same “Fear not!” spoken to the shepherds and the same humble picture of a King riding on a donkey, which creates boldness in the heart to cry out in confidence, “Hosanna!” Come save us now!
So, you see, this Gospel has everything to do with the Advent season we have begun today. It hearkens back to our Lord’s coming in the world through the incarnation, and to His coming into Jerusalem to save His people from their sins. It also shows His present coming to you through the simple word of the Gospel and the humble sacraments of baptism, absolution, and His Holy Supper.
And like another layer of meaning, it looks forward to act three, the final act in the Divine Drama. This is what our Epistle speaks of today. “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.”
This time the donkey will be transformed into a mighty steed, Jerusalem will be made anew, and the Son of Man will return in a blaze of glory. The old Adam will be put away forever and the children of light will see Him as He is, without fear. The veil of the manger, the king on the cross, the humble forms of word and sacrament will no longer be needed. They will give way the bare presence of the God-Man who is victorious over sin, death, and the power of the devil. The humble water of baptism will give way to springs welling up to eternal life. The word of forgiveness will give way to the life of the forgiven, and the humble supper will give way to the great banquet and feast of the Lamb which will have no end. For the answer to a life time of “Hosannas!” Lord, come save us now, will be complete.
This is Advent. He came. He comes. He will come again. When he came, the believers cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” When He comes into our midst through word and sacrament, we still sing “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” And when He comes again, He will find you with Hosanna on your lips: Lord, come save us now. He did. He does. And He will. Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
- To see the liturgy and hymns sung by the congregation of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Prague, Czech Republic on the first Sunday of Advent, you can open the worship folder. advent-i-2016-st-michael-prague
- To learn more about Rev. James Krikava, Regional Director for Eurasia, please visit his online giving page.