First Sunday in Advent
November 29, 2009
“Starting Out on a Journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 19:28-40)
Today is the First Sunday in Advent, and that makes it the first Sunday in a brand-new church year. And as the start of a new church year, that means it’s also the first Sunday for our main Gospel-writer for the year, which this year is St. Luke.
Now on this day–the First Sunday in Advent, the first Sunday of the church year, the first Sunday in the year of St. Luke–our Gospel reading is the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. And you might ask: “Why is that? I thought this was Advent, a time when we’re getting ready for Christmas. A Palm Sunday reading? What’s up with that?” Well, allow me to explain. And to do that, we’ll look at this reading from three angles: how it fits for the start of Advent, the start of the church year, and the start of a year in the Gospel of Luke. But from all of these angles, we’ll be seeing how this text fits for you. For today you and I are “Starting Out on a Journey to Jerusalem,” and Jesus is leading the way.
First, how does this reading fit for the First Sunday in Advent? What’s the connection between this Palm Sunday account and the season of Advent? The connection is in the theme of our Lord’s coming. That’s what the word “Advent” means: “Coming.” Advent is the season in which we look forward to Christ’s coming–his coming at Christmas, to be sure, but also his coming again on the Last Day, and his coming to us now in Word and Sacrament. And so our Gospel reading for today, as well as the other readings, all call us to get ready for the coming of our King.
The Gradual for the Advent season captures this well: “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The Old Testament Reading prophesied the coming of Israel’s Messiah: “Behold, the days are coming,” it says. The Epistle points us from there to the Last Day, “at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Holy Gospel, then, is the centerpiece that pulls all these comings together. Christ coming into Jerusalem is the fulfillment of the Old Testament expectation and the basis for our New Testament hope for the future. Jesus comes as Israel’s Messiah: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” He comes establishing peace between God and man, opening up eternity for us and calling forth our praise: “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
And there is the Christmas connection, too. “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” That sounds an awful lot like what the angels sang at Christ’s birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.” Peace between heaven and earth, because of the coming of the Christ. He came at Christmas as a little child, so that one day he could ride into Jerusalem as the righteous king, having salvation.
And now he comes to us here today, right here in this service, righteous and having salvation. We sing with the pilgrims of Jerusalem, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,” because now in this service our Lord comes to us in his Word and Sacrament. He comes to us now, announcing the peace he won for us by going to Jerusalem. He comes to us now, giving us his body and blood, for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. It’s Advent, and here comes Jesus.
That’s how this Gospel reading fits for you today, on this First Sunday in Advent. But it’s also the first Sunday of the church year, and our text fits perfectly in that regard, too. For it sets us off on a journey to Jerusalem. That’s where we’re going in the church year–to Jerusalem. That’s where it all leads, and after that, that’s where it flows out from. The hinge, the focus, the pivot point of the whole church year, is Jesus going to Jerusalem as described in our text. Holy Week and Easter–that is the central focus for the whole year. Advent gets us ready for the coming of the Savior at Christmas–coming in the flesh so he can suffer and die on the cross. Epiphany is the manifestation of God’s Son to the world, his public ministry of healing and blessing, showing what his saving mission will produce. During Lent, the journey to Jerusalem intensifies, with growing opposition and predictions of his Passion. Then comes Holy Week, when Jesus rides into Jerusalem to suffer and die, for there is no other way for mankind to be saved, other than the Son of God dying for the sins of the world. And at Easter, the risen Christ shows himself to his disciples in Jerusalem, showing the victory over death that his death accomplished. So today we start off on that journey to Jerusalem, to Palm Sunday and Good Friday and Easter morning.
That week in Jerusalem is the pivot of the year, for from that point on the rest of the church year unfolds. Our Lord ascends into heaven, to sit at the right hand of God and to set the church out on her mission. The salvation Christ won for us in Holy Week forms the foundation, then, for the long green season of teaching in discipleship and our life as the church. The church year finally concludes with a look ahead to the end times and our Lord’s second coming. The hinge of it all is the Holy Week coming of Jesus into Jerusalem, and so our text today does a good job of giving us a focus for the year to come.
This is what I love about the Christian church year. It keeps us close to Jesus. It puts us on a journey with our Savior that mirrors the salvation he has won for us and will bring us into. The church year keeps central things central and gives us the right perspective to look at life–and points us to the power to live it. Today we start out on that journey to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way.
Jerusalem–I think that’s why this reading today is so appropriate also as we begin the year of St. Luke. For the city of Jerusalem plays such a prominent role in Luke’s telling of the gospel–perhaps more so than for any of the other evangelists, Matthew, Mark, or John. Luke always is oriented toward Jerusalem. His book even opens and closes in Jerusalem, at the temple. It opens with the priest Zechariah serving at the temple, where the angel tells him he will be the father of John the Baptist. And the Gospel of Luke closes in Jerusalem, after Jesus’ ascension, when the disciples return to the city with joy, and they worship at the temple. And in between those bookends, the focus of the narrative is on Jesus setting his face to go to Jerusalem. Luke the Gospel-writer is taking us on a journey to Jerusalem in the way he tells the story.
Why Jerusalem? What’s so special about that place? Jerusalem is the home of the temple, the dwelling place of God with his people. Jerusalem, the temple–that is the place of sacrifice, where God’s appointed sacrifices are made, sacrifices to cover sin. And that is why Jesus must go to Jerusalem–to offer up the perfect, once-and-for-all sacrifice for all sin, for your sins and mine. The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost, lost sinners like you and me.
You and I have sinned, haven’t we? We have not lived the life of love we ought to live, serving God our Creator in holiness, serving our neighbor in love. This we have not done, and that is sin. Your conscience tells you that is so. God’s word declares that it’s so, even if your conscience has grown dim and dull. Even old Jerusalem, which was supposed to be the Holy City–Jerusalem was most unholy when it rejected her Messiah and nailed him to a tree. God’s judgment fell on Jerusalem as a result.
And we would fare no better, save for the Lord sparing us and giving us faith in our Savior. How we give thanks to God for this saving faith, bestowed as a gift through the gospel! How we give thanks for the Savior the gospel reveals–Jesus Christ the Holy One and the Savior of the world! Yes, Jesus is the King who comes into our midst, freely giving you the salvation he won for you by his journey to Jerusalem.
And that now sets us on the way to the Jerusalem above. You see, there’s one more journey to Jerusalem that we’re all on, and that’s the path we’re walking on now to the new Jerusalem. When Jesus comes again, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and with it, a new Jerusalem. That will be the truly Holy City, the dwelling place of God with his people, completely without sin and with no more death and sorrow. We’re on the road to that blest place, you and I. The path that we’re walking on is the way of faith and discipleship, the way of holiness and love, the way of repentance and forgiveness. This is an Advent journey. It is a journey of hope, of looking forward to the future, even as we pay close attention to how we are living in the here and now. We’re on the way to the new Jerusalem, fellow pilgrims, and that puts great joy into our journey.
Today is a day full of firsts. It’s the First Sunday in Advent. It’s the first Sunday in the new church year. And it’s the first day in the year of St. Luke. But first and foremost, today is a new day in the Lord. Whatever our detours and dead-ends in the past, now by God’s grace we are starting out afresh. Today we are “Starting Out on a Journey to Jerusalem,” and Jesus is leading the way.