First Sunday in Advent
November 29, 2015
“Blessed is the King Who Comes in the Name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:28-40)
As you can tell from the change in the color of the paraments and from the presence of the Advent wreath and from one candle being lit on the Advent wreath, today is the First Sunday in Advent. And the traditional Gospel reading for the First Sunday in Advent is the account of Jesus entering Jerusalem to the acclaim of the crowds, as you just heard. But now you may be wondering, “The triumphal entry into Jerusalem–isn’t that a reading for Palm Sunday? Why are we getting a Palm Sunday reading here in Advent?” And well you might wonder. For yes, this Gospel reading is about something that took place on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.
But there is a reason why the account of Jesus entering Jerusalem has historically been placed at the beginning of the Advent season. For Advent is all about the coming of our King. The word “Advent” even means “coming.” This season is about preparing for the coming of our Lord: his coming as prophesied of old; his coming in the flesh at Christmas; his coming as the humble King riding into Jerusalem; his coming among us now in Word and Sacrament; and Christ’s coming again on the Last Day as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Advent is the season of anticipating and welcoming the coming of our King, and this Palm Sunday reading does a fine job of helping us do just that. What the crowds in our text cry out serves as our theme for this morning: “Blessed is the King Who Comes in the Name of the Lord!”
Now consider also that the First Sunday in Advent is also the first Sunday in a brand-new church year. And the featured gospel for this new church year that starts today is the Gospel according to St. Luke. And this reading from Luke 19 makes for a fitting introduction to how we will hear Luke over the coming year. The Gospel of Luke opens and ends in Jerusalem. Indeed, you can see Luke as one long journey to Jerusalem. That is the focal point, what Christ will be doing there. Jesus will “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” That is where he will accomplish his mission. And our reading today shows Jesus entering Jerusalem to do that, through his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection for our salvation.
So both in terms of setting the tone for the season of Advent and as an entry into the Year of St. Luke, our reading today is most fitting. But more than that, this text helps us to anticipate and welcome the coming of our King, the King who comes in the name of the Lord.
“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Why were the crowds shouting precisely that statement of praise? Why would those words be on their mind? Well, a couple of reasons. One, these were Jewish pilgrims who were coming to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. It was a pilgrimage festival, and so great numbers of people were heading into town from all over the place. And one of the appointed psalms to be sung at Passover time was Psalm 118, where it says: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.” So these crowds of disciples are basically quoting from that psalm and applying it to Jesus. They see Jesus as fulfilling this passage, that he is the one being prophesied, that he is the King who is coming in the name of the Lord.
There is a word for this promised King, and that is the word “Messiah.” The Messiah, the Anointed One prophesied of old, who would be the great and mighty King, the strong deliverer who would come and rescue his people and save them from all their enemies. The Messiah, the Christ, would be the King promised to King David, that one of his descendants would sit on his throne and establish an everlasting kingdom of peace and blessing. So when the crowds are shouting, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” they are acknowledging Jesus to be that very Messiah.
Why? On what basis would they say that? Well, many of these Jewish pilgrims had come from Galilee, Jesus’ home turf, where they had witnessed the many mighty works of Jesus, works of blessing that befit the messianic signs: healing the sick; casting out demons; feeding the multitudes; even raising the dead. Who could do these things but the Messiah sent from heaven? They had heard with their own ears the marvelous wisdom coming from Christ’s lips: preaching repentance and the coming of the kingdom of heaven in their midst; teaching the true meaning of God’s Law, cutting through the encrustations that the scribes and the Pharisees had laid upon it. They had heard Jesus forgive sins and seen his compassion and mercy in action. His authority, his divine authority in word and deed, marked Jesus out as the Messiah long promised. And so now they were welcoming him as such.
“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Peace in heaven and glory in the highest. Wow, that sounds a lot like what the angels sang at Jesus’ birth! “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Yes, Christ’s coming, both at his birth and here on his way to the cross–Christ’s coming establishes peace between heaven and earth, and thus gives all glory to God in the highest.
How so? Well, that peace was broken by our sins. Mankind had rebelled against God and turned against him. Adam and Eve did it, and we do it too. We have broken the right relationship we originally had with God by our not listening to his word and by acting against it. You and I, each one of us, we want to be our own god, so that we can decide what is right and wrong. This is sin, the original sin that lurks inside each one of us and comes out in various acts of rebellion, sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant. This is sin, and it separates us from God, puts alienation and enmity between us–between us and God, first of all, and secondly, between us and other people, since God would have us love and forgive one another and live in peace. But our own sin and selfishness disrupts that peace.
So Christ had to come to reconnect us to God, to reconcile us back to God. Jesus would be the one to reestablish that peace. He did it by bearing our sins in his body on the cross. Our sins are atoned for. Our rebellion forgiven. Peace with God once more is made. Only Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, could do this. Only his blood, shed on the cross, could be enough to win our forgiveness. He does it! And the gift is yours! “Behold, your king is coming to you, righteous and having salvation.”
This is a righteousness that puts you right with God. This is a salvation that saves you from death itself! Righteousness, peace, salvation–these are the gifts your King is bringing you today. And he will come again to wrap it all up. Everlasting life. A renewed creation, freed from all the damage that sin brought. Resurrected bodies, whole and sound, no longer subject to decay or disease or death. Perfect fellowship with all the saints who have ever lived, and we will all be reunited. This is what is in store for each one of us, because of this King riding into Jerusalem. This is what we look forward to, when our King returns in glory.
So how do we welcome this King? With the crowds of old, we shout our praise and cannot keep silent. “As he was drawing near . . . the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’”
Friends, Christ is drawing near. Christmas is drawing near, and we rejoice knowing that the Son of God took on human flesh to be our brother. Christ is drawing near to us today–yes, even here in this service of Word and Sacrament. In just a few minutes, Christ will give us his very body and blood in the Sacrament, and that is why we will sing the words of the Sanctus that echo the words of those Palm Sunday pilgrims: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Yes, Jesus is drawing near today to forgive you of your sins and to give you his life and salvation.
And Jesus is drawing near to bring an end to the misery and despair of this old world. So much misery and turmoil surround us. Nations in crisis. Evil on the march. Sin and sickness and sadness on every side, and inside us as well. How long, O Lord, how long? “Stir up your power, O Lord, and come, that by your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by your mighty deliverance.”
Brothers and sisters, Christ is coming. We don’t know when that day will be, but we do know that it is coming. Christ has promised it. We have his word on it. And his word never fails to come to pass.
So for now we wait, and we anticipate his coming and prepare for it. There are sins to repent of. There are people to love. There is a message to proclaim to all the world. There are hymns to be sung and joys to be rejoiced over. Our King is coming, make no mistake. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”