03 December 2007

Homily - Advent 1 - Ad Te Levavi

Come, Lord Jesus!
Matthew 21:1-9; Romans 13:8-14; Jeremiah 23:5-8

Did you pay attention to the Collect of the Day that we prayed before the Scripture readings? Instead of addressing God our Father, we actually addressed our Lord Jesus. Advent is one of the very few times in the Church Year when we do this. We dare to address our King directly and beg Him to come. And come He does – just as He came long ago in the humble attire of our flesh and blood, just as He will come on the Last Day in power and great glory. Here’s what we pray this morning: 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….

Did you pay closer attention this time? Not only do we call upon our King directly, but we actually ask Him to stir up His power: Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come…. Now that can be a frightful thing! “Stir up Your power”?! Remember, we are addressing the God who descended upon Mt. Sinai in thunders and lightnings, in a thick cloud and with a loud trumpet blast, with an awesome display of fire and smoke. The people told Moses: “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Ex. 20:19). We are addressing the God whom Moses asked to see, the God who told Moses: “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). Are you sure you want this King to come?

Perhaps our Gospel Reading makes you more at ease to bid your King to come. And that’s a good thing. After all, here you see your King coming “humble, and mounted on a donkey.” You can join the crowd from that first Palm Sunday and sing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” That sounds much better, doesn’t it? A King we can welcome with open arms; a King more like us; a King so humble and lowly that we can relate to Him and He to us.

But remember, we pray today not just that this King will come, but also that He will stir up His power. So, what kind of power is this, parading into town on a goofy looking beast of burden? What kind of power is this, that He doesn’t even have an army to back Him up and defend His honor? Where’s the power? The power actually comes a few days later as this King is crowned with a crown of thorns, as He is given a purple robe in mocking homage, as He is enthroned on a bloody cross instead of a royal, golden chair. Your King’s power shows itself in His humble suffering and death.

You see, your King does come and He does stir up His power. His power is made perfect in weakness as He defeats sin by suffering, as He conquers death by dying. That leads to the second thing we pray today. We cry out to our King: that by [His] protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins…. Yes, our King must protect us from our sins. He must rescue us from our sins. And notice how we describe our sins in our prayer: “the threatening perils of our sins.” That’s almost as frightful as asking our King to stir up His power.

We have grown accustomed to that saying, “To err is human.” We have come to view our sins as, well, just normal life, just the way we are. But our sins – yours and mine – bring threatening perils. Remember our Second Reading. St. Paul reminds us of God’s commandments, the very commandments He gave when He descended upon Mt. Sinai in His awesome, frightful appearace of thunders, lightnings, dark cloud, fire, and smoke. “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet.” And St. Paul does not stop there. He adds, “and any other commandment.” Let’s also remember the first three commandments: “You shall have no other gods”; “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God”; and, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” When we do not live the way that God commands, we are in great peril. It’s not “human to sin.” No way! It’s quite devilish. In fact, our disease of sin and our actual, sinful thoughts, words, and deeds are very sub-human. Our disease of sin and our actual sins truly cut us off from the God who loves us. They also isolate us from each other.

So St. Paul elaborates on the threatening perils of our sins, and he exhorts us to avoid them: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” Now there’s a fitting exhortation for this “holiday season,” rather this Advent season! Are you gearing up for the fun, festivities, and frivolity of the coming weeks? Are you preparing yourself for all of the over-eating, over-drinking, and over-spending, knowing you shouldn’t, but planning to do it anyway? Are you just waiting for the sentimentality of the season to wash over you like an uncontrollable flood, eager to lose yourself in the good feelings, or at least do everything in your power to make it all feel just right, no matter what others around you feel, think, or need? That’s the drunkenness and sensuality that St. Paul warns against. That’s the threatening peril of your sins. Will you let the overcrowded malls and schedules wear you out so that you snap and snarl at family, friends, and fellow Christians? Will you fret over finding just the right gift for your loved one, or sigh with exasperation that you must buy one more thing for someone you left off your list? Will the stress of these weeks lead you to lose your patience with people around you? Will you covet the gift the other person received while being dissatisfied with one that you received? Will you speak the usual unkind words about someone who, again, tests your patience? That’s the quarreling and jealousy that St. Paul warns against. That’s the threatening peril of your sins.

But today we pray that our Lord will come, stir up His saving power, and rescue us from these threatening, perilous sins of ours. Yes, they are perilous; they are deadly; they show that in our sin we are sub-human.

That’s why we also pray today that our coming King will save us by His mighty deliverance. We need the power of His humble, donkey-riding advent. We need the power of His suffering and death. We need His humble, cross-borne power to liberate us from the threatening perils of the sins in which we wallow. And when King Jesus comes – once on His cross and continually in His Supper – He does rescue you from your sins. You see, He has to humble Himself, He has to lower Himself, because that’s where He finds us, down in the strata of our sinful sub-humanity. And when He comes to us in His humility – born of the Virgin, nailed to the tree, and under the bread and wine on the Altar – He comes to lift us up and out of toxic waste of our sub-human sins. He comes to elevate us and restore us to being truly human. He comes to reunite us with our loving, merciful God and Father, and with each other.

This is what Jeremiah proclaims in our First Reading. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch.” That Branch is humble yet powerful King Jesus. “He shall reign as king and deal wisely.” He “shall execute justice and righteousness” by conquering your sins for you and in you, so that you won’t be enslaved by them. “And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” Yes, your Lord Jesus makes you right with God so that you can resist gratifying those perilous desires of the flesh. And in His Body and Blood, He not only rescues you from your sins, but He also strengthens you to resist all those selfish impulses that lie ahead in the coming weeks.

So, we boldly pray our King to come – and come He does – right here, on the Altar, under the bread and wine, in His humble yet powerful Body and Blood. Yes, let’s make the throne of His Altar the real focal point of our Advent preparations. As we come forward to meet our King, let’s sing, “Hosanna, praise, and glory! Our King, we bow before Thee” (LSB 335). Amen.

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