Monday, December 04, 2006

First Sunday in Advent, December 3, 2006, Luke 19:28-40

First Sunday in Advent, December 3, 2006,
St. John’s, Howard, SD

And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’ ” So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—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!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:28-40, ESV)
(from an outline by Rev. Harold Senkbeil, Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol 17, 2006)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Oops! Is that right?  That sounds like the reading for Palm Sunday not Advent.  That sounds like preparation for Good Friday not Christmas.  We seem to have skipped right over Christmas and dropped into Lent and Easter.  Are you sure pastor you’ve got the readings right?  Well, yes I do.  The new lectionary (series of readings that go with the new hymnal) has made this small change for the beginning of Advent.  It sets before Jesus going into Jerusalem to give his life on the cross for our forgiveness.  It makes sure we have all our ducks in the right row, so to speak, as we approach Christmas.  You see, the cross and the cradle are connected together.  Christmas isn’t just a story about the birth of a baby; it’s the story of the birth of a particular baby.  He is born for a certain specific task: to die for the sins of the world.  But you don’t have to take my word for it, just listen to what the angels tell the shepherds:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11, ESV) (Emphasis mine)

You see, the whole story of the birth of Jesus Christ is told for the purpose of telling us about what He did to be Savior of the whole world.  It links together the cross and the cradle.

The birth of Jesus tells us a very important thing about Jesus.  It tells us that he is completely human, completely flesh and blood.  He was born just as every human being is born.  He was a helpless infant just like every human being.  It tells us that God didn’t just make some far out way of salvation for us, but He came to us in human flesh.  That very same human flesh hung and bled and died on the cross.  But to do that God had to take on human flesh, being born of a virgin, in a stable, in diapers, so that the law would actually apply to him.  St. Paul says it like this:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7, ESV)

So we have the wood of the cradle on one end of the story, and the wood of the cross on the other.  So today with the cradle in mind we look ahead to the whole point of the story, Jesus purposely going to the cross to give us peace.

First be clear that what Jesus does is not an accident.  He knows where he is going.  It’s his plan from the very beginning.  That is just what he tells his disciples.  They don’t like it.  They don’t understand it.  But Jesus makes his plan clear.  And along the way the way he spends time with sinners in Jericho.  These were the folks other folks only want to avoid, like blind people that he gave their sight, and Zaccheaus the tax collector who Luke tells us received faith in Jesus.  You remember Zaccheaus hanging up in the tree to see Jesus, and Jesus telling him to get down because he was going to see him at his house.  Along the way to die Jesus spends time with those he came to “seek and to save.” (Luke 19:10, ESV) And in our reading today he sets the dramatic stage for it all.   He sends the disciples ahead to arrange things.  You remember a colt “on which no one has ever ridden” you know the one that Jesus said would be there.  The disciples go and find it just as Jesus said they would and they bring it and say exactly what they are told to day.  “The Lord has need of it.”

It is all very dramatic and on purpose.  Luke wants us to be clear about what Jesus is doing and who he claims to be.  The donkey was an important symbol.  By riding into town on it Jesus is claiming to be the new true king of Israel; the one King Herod was really afraid of; the one he tried to kill by killing every child under two years old in Bethlehem.  And not only that but Jesus is saying by this very action that he is God come to do what God has promised to do all along, save his people.  The prophet Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9, ESV)

And yet, riding a donkey is a very humble pose for God to enter a city.

And not only does Jesus know where he’s going, he knows exactly what he’s doing.  He didn’t get killed by accident.  The folks around him didn’t see it coming, but Jesus knows.  They couldn’t understand why he would have to die, why (from their perspective everything he had done would come to an end).  But Jesus knows it all.  He sets his whole being toward the cross.  He knew he had to suffer and die and be raised again according to God, the Father’s plan.  He knew he was the sacrifice for the sins of the world, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

The baby in the manger is headed for glory.  And yet, it goes a way that we don’t necessarily like or understand.  Did you hear on the news the other day about the Church that got in trouble for building a Christmas float with a crucified Jesus on it?  People what to see the baby, you and I want to see the baby, but we like to put the cross out of our minds.  Even if it is just for Christmas we think that we can put aside Christ’s sacrifice.  It’s just as St. Paul said the cross is a public offense.  But Jesus glory, his victory over sin, death and Satan only comes through the blood of the cross.  We can never hear about it enough.

The disciples didn’t understand it either.  Even though Jesus told them what was going to happen, they thought that march into Jerusalem was the beginning of Jesus sitting on the throne right there in their capitol city.  Just like the crowds, listen again to what they were shouting:

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38, ESV)

It must have been a surprise to all of them (and a let down) when he when straight to the temple instead of the palace.  Jesus told his disciples that his kingdom was coming in full only on his return.  That’s what we sang about that in the new hymn we learned today.  Jesus’ road to glory passes through the cross.  As his followers our road passes that way too.  We enter the glory that Jesus has set aside for us only through much trouble and pain and death.  St. Paul preached that very thing to the young churches he started “saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22, ESV)  By the end of the week the king who rode into the city with cheers has other voices mocking him as he dies on the cross.  Jesus is the sacrifice for their sin.

Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn king;Peace on earth and mercy mild,God and sinners reconciled."

“Peace on earth.” We sing.  Jesus does all this to bring peace on earth.  He breaks the bonds of sin to reconcile sinners to God.  Just ask Zaccheaus!  Jesus came down from heaven as a human being, born in a lowly stable.  He did that to bring peace by joining God to man.  He brought peace “on earth” by shedding his blood on the cross.  He returns to heave to join man to God.  He sits at the right hand of God declaring that human beings are now at peace with God again.  In his Word he proclaims to you and me that we are released from the slavery of our sin.

Well, that’s all well and good, Pastor.  Peace on earth that’s what everyone wants.  But how can I have peace?  What about me?  When do I get peace?  Life isn’t easy you know, Pastor.  It seems to be for everyone else but not me.  I don’t have what I need to live.  Everything I do turns sour and worthless. The holiday stress only puts my family at each other’s throats.  I doesn’t seem like I get to slow down and enjoy the good things in life?  When does the ‘holiday spirit’ return for me since my father / mother / sister / brother / child died?  The empty space at the table seems to suck up all the joy that should be here.  What about some peace to wipe away the memories of the shameful things I’ve done that plague me at three in the morning?  At least the baby in the manger story is a happy one.  What you are telling me today, though Pastor isn’t a happy story.  It’s the story of blood and pain.  It’s a story of suffering and death.  I get enough of that in my life without smearing the good feelings of Christmas with it.

When you look on the baby in the cradle and see also there the cross that is the best picture I can paint for you of God’s peace.  It is God coming because you lie awake in sweaty guilt; exactly because you suffer the loss of love in death and struggle with living every day; because sin makes life a burden.  That’s the problems that Jesus comes among us to resolve.  

He brings peace from God and he brings it right here where you can so easily find it.  We hear Jesus speaking words of peace right here.  We call it the Gospel.  The word means “Good News.”  It’s not just good news because it tells us a sweet story, it tells us the good thing about Jesus, who came to our Savior; Jesus who was born into human flesh.  That very same Jesus enters our hearts and minds through his Word and the water of Baptism and the bread and wine.  He comes to you and me through faith and He comes to hold them us up when life is difficult.  From the words he speaks into your heart He reminds you that even though things are hard, he makes sure it all works out for your good.  He reminds us that God is in control of everything he even counts the hairs on your head.  And that nothing can separate you from his love, even down feelings that seem to pop up this time of year.  And He whispers in your heart the truth about love and death.  That it isn’t the end it is only a temporary separation for those who live in faith.  When we approach this altar and feast with Jesus we join in a heavenly feast that our missing loved ones are celebrating already; with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  And when Satan reminds you that you’ve failed, usually while you lay sleepless in your bed, Jesus is here (in your heart) to calm your fears and remind you that he suffered and died to put away your guilt forever.  That’s the peace that Jesus brings.  That’s the peace that comes by his cross and cradle.  That’s the peace that comes in the name of the Lord.  

That’s the peace that we have through God’s Word working in us, and it’s a peace we joyously proclaim.  And it’s not just lip service either.  We do it by taking time during our busy holiday schedule to serve, and there’s lots to do this time of year isn’t there.  We got trees to decorate with mittens, Christmas baking to deliver, and toys for tots to purchase.  Not to mention just giving a helping hand and a cheerful word to our neighbors.  But Jesus in us isn’t just for this season either.  Actually, we serve all year round.  We do it every day as we work the work that has been given us to do, like planting crops, baking bread, making pizza, delivering housing materials, teaching children, or whatever it is that you do for work.  That too is the peace that Jesus brings through his cross and cradle.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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