“The King Who Comes in the Name of the Lord” (Luke 19:28-40)
Today is the first day in a brand-new church year. That’s because today is the First Sunday in Advent. The church year begins with the season of Advent, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, along with their weekdays.
Of course, for the world–that is, for the secularized pop culture around us–there is no Advent. For them, there is only Christmas, and their Christmas started way back around–oh, I think it now starts around the day after Halloween. And the world’s version of Christmas has very little to do anymore with the real Christmas. It’s an artificial Christmas, a pale imitation of the real thing. Their Christmas doesn’t need either the Christ or the Mass, which is what the real “Christ Mass” is all about. No, the world’s Christmas is about shopping for the latest electronic gadgets and listening to “Santa Baby” on the radio. Not much about the Jesus baby. Almost nothing about him coming in the flesh to be the Savior of the world. And nothing at all about going to church to celebrate his birth on the Feast of Christmas. But the world has this other Christmas out there, the artificial Christmas, which just dominates the airwaves and the pop culture around us. Now I have nothing against wanting a hippopotamus for Christmas–I have nothing against chipmunks–but don’t mistake that for the real Christmas. And don’t let that stuff get in the way of your Advent, either.
The world’s Christmas has so overshadowed Advent that hardly anyone even knows what Advent is, let alone observes it. But that is not the case in the church. We want to let Advent be Advent. This season has its own distinctive emphases, and if we just rushed by Advent and went straight into Christmas, we would be the poorer for it. Let Advent be Advent. And then, yes, by all means, do up Christmas big-time when it finally arrives on Christmas Eve and lasts for the twelve days of Christmas. But first, let’s have a proper Advent.
So that is what we’ll do. Now Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas, so there will be some hints around us here in church that Christmas is on the way. We may put up a tree and some of the decorations, but we’ll try to hold something back for Christmas itself–hold back on the lights, for instance. And speaking of lights, every year at this time we do the Advent wreath, lighting one candle per week for the four weeks till we come to Christmas, when we light the large white “Christ candle.” So these things tell us Christmas is on the way. But it’s not here yet.
We do a few things differently during Advent. You noticed this morning that we did not sing the Gloria in Excelsis, which we normally do. That’s because the Gloria in Excelsis is the song of the Christmas angels, sung at Jesus’ birth, and it’s not Christmas yet. You’ll also notice we have different color paraments on the altar. Some churches use blue, which is the color of hope. During Advent we look forward with hope to Christ’s coming at Christmas, as well as to his coming again at the last day. An even more traditional color for Advent is purple, also called violet. Purple indicates that Advent is a penitential season, kind of like a little Lent, a time for sincere repentance for our sins as we await the Lord’s coming. As we’ll see over the next couple of weeks, John the Baptist plays a prominent role in this Advent call to repentance, preparing the way of the Lord before him.
So this is Advent, a special season unto its own, worthy of our due attention. And today is the First Sunday in Advent. Now there’s something about this day that may puzzle you. The Holy Gospel for this day–it’s the reading about Jesus entering Jerusalem . . . on Palm Sunday?? What’s up with that? Why a Holy Week reading on the First Sunday in Advent?
Well, consider what the word “Advent” means. It means “coming.” Advent is the season in which we anticipate Christ’s coming and prepare for it. Advent is the season when we see Christ coming to us and among us, and we praise him for it–which is exactly what happens in the Palm Sunday reading, isn’t it? Jesus is coming to Jerusalem, as the King, as the Messiah sent from God, and the people praise him as he draws near: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And this is the same Jesus who comes to us and among us now, on this Sunday, in this Advent season, and really, throughout the entire church year. And finally, he will come for us on the last day. That is why this reading about the riding–Jesus riding into Jerusalem–works as the Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent and the first day in the whole church year. Because it presents Jesus to us as “The King Who Comes in the Name of the Lord.”
Why do we need a king who comes to us like this? Because he comes in the name of the Lord. God has sent this king to us. He comes from heaven to establish the kingdom of heaven here on earth. That is what Jesus’ ministry was all about, to bring the kingdom and the blessings of heaven among us, God’s gracious reign and rule. In his preaching, Jesus announces the arrival of this kingdom. “Repent,” he says, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus calls us to recognize our sinfulness, to see how we’ve blown it, how we have not lived according to God’s good design. In his teaching, Jesus describes the surpassing worth of the kingdom of heaven, how wonderful it is. He expounds the true meaning of God’s law, our Creator’s design for his human creatures to live. Jesus calls disciples to come and follow him, to learn from him in a personal relationship. We see the kingdom of heaven in Jesus’ mighty works, as he brings the blessings of God’s end-time kingdom in ahead of time: restoring creation, healing sick bodies and minds, repelling and casting out the works of Satan, the enemy who tempts and afflicts us. This is the kind of king Jesus is. This is what he comes to do. And this why we, like the crowds at Jerusalem, hail him as our king.
And so this is who is entering Jerusalem on that donkey’s colt. The king. “The King who comes in the name of the Lord.” In fact, this Jesus is God’s own Son, come from his Father in heaven. And he is riding into Jerusalem to do the biggest, most kingly job of them all. And in the most surprising way. This king rides into Jerusalem to suffer and die. But this is how the kingdom comes–the end-time-blessing kingdom, the kingdom of God and of heaven, the kingdom of grace now and future glory–this is how the kingdom comes, namely, through Jesus Christ coming into Jerusalem to suffer and die. For you. Yes, for you. “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation.”
We need this king, don’t we? We don’t have a righteousness of our own that will work before God. Our sins preclude and prevent that. As we prayed in the Collect, we need to be “rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by the Lord’s mighty deliverance.” And this is precisely the salvation that King Jesus brings when he rides into town.
Your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” Christ is the only one who lives the righteous life that God requires. And yet he dies the death of sinners, in our place. His righteousness gets applied to our account. God’s justice is satisfied by Christ’s death on the cross, for this is the very Son of God who sheds his blood for us. Only this king, Jesus Christ, can do the righteousness-and-justice job that is sufficient to save us.
And it does. Christ’s resurrection proves it. Your baptism into Christ connects you to him. And so you too will rise, with Christ. Trust in him for everlasting life.
“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Sounds a lot like what we sing in the Communion liturgy, doesn’t it? “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” And it’s no accident. We sing these words at that point in the service because Christ himself is about to come to us–with his salvation, for the forgiveness of our sins–as he gives us his very Body and Blood in the Sacrament. Yes, there is an Advent going on here today. Christ our King comes to us here in the Divine Service, righteous and having salvation.
And so how do we respond? Like the multitude at Jerusalem, we praise him. We praise our king who comes to us. “Blessed”–yes, blessed–“is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Worship is the natural response when you see this wonderful king coming in our midst. We praise him with our hymns. We praise him with our voices. The praise comes from our heart, where the Holy Spirit is working through the Word to stir us up to faith and praise. Heartfelt praise and worship is the rightful response for such a great king.
We praise our king for his coming at Christmas. We praise him for his coming into Jerusalem to suffer and die and rise again on our behalf. We praise him for his coming among us here, bestowing his blessings in Word and Sacrament. And we praise him, knowing that he will come again, at the end, to raise us up to eternal life.
It’s Advent. This is the season of Christ’s coming. We anticipate it with expectation and hope. We prepare for his coming with a repentance that will change how we live. We see Christ coming to us and among us with the eyes of faith. And therefore we praise him. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Dear friends, this is what is happening here this Advent: Preparation. Hope. Repentance. Praise. Let this Advent be a proper Advent for you. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of Christmas cause you to miss out on the special blessings of the Advent season. This year take some time to let Advent do its work in you.