28 November 2016

Homily for Advent 1 - Ad Te Levavi

"Earth and Heaven Joined Together"
Matthew 21:1-9 

Listen here. 

“Savior of the nations, come, / Virgin’s Son, make here Your home! / Marvel now, O heav’n and earth, / That the Lord chose such a birth” (LSB 332:1). Why should heaven and earth marvel? Because their King is coming! Last week we heard the promise of Bridegroom Jesus returning on the Last Day in glory. This week, the First Sunday in Advent, we still live in that same hope. The blue on the altar symbolizes the Church’s expectant hope for her coming King. The candles on the Advent wreath count down the time till His coming. Just because we’ve done these things in years past, don’t fall into a sleepy security. No matter how many times we journey through Advent, it always means the same marvelous thing: King Jesus is coming to join earth and heaven together.

In Advent we share the same eager expectation that Jeremiah shows us: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer. 23:5). What promise was that? That God would send a “righteous Branch,” a little Sprout, to give new life to sinners.

In Advent we pray the same fervent prayer that David prays in today’s Psalm: “Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in” (24:9).

But if we’re honest with ourselves, we are not especially up to these Advent tasks. Our expectation is not so eager. Our prayer is not so fervent. We yawn with a familiarity that breeds contempt. “Yeah, been there, done that”—last year, and the year before that. You see, we are focused more on our own ways of the season than on God’s ways. If past years are any indication, we’ll be ready to beat the street to the malls and the stores. But the Lord’s paths of repentance and prayer-filled hope, of Gospel and Sacraments, will be the road less travelled. We’re more ready to fill our ears with shopping mall musak and advertising jingles than we are to feast them on forgiveness proclaimed and Advent hymns sung. We’re more eager to savor the seasonal delicacies than we are to feast on our Lord’s rich meal of forgiveness and life. Why be concerned with all this? Because it shows that even for us, God’s redeemed people, there’s still a rift between earth and heaven.

This is the very rift that Jesus came to heal. He was walking the Lord’s given path. This path led Him to journey down from heaven to walk among us here on earth. While on earth, Jesus had to journey to Jerusalem. As He journeyed, He taught and He healed. And today we join Jesus on the last leg of His journey. We begin Advent by getting a glimpse of the end of His journey.

As Jesus draws near to Jerusalem, He prepares for His grand entrance. He sends two disciples and gives specific instructions. “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me.” The sent disciples go out, and everything happens just as Jesus told them. Jesus knows what He’s doing all along. He’s coming to die, to loose sinners from their bondage to sin, to join earth and heaven back together.

This preparation also gets us ready for another preparation. Just four days later, the night before He would die, Jesus will again send some disciples, this time to prepare an upper room for the Passover feast. At that feast our Lord will give His Supper of Body and Blood. Talk about earth and heaven joined together! Jesus’ divine Body joined with physical bread; Jesus’ heavenly Blood joined with earthly wine. That’s the way of Advent preparation.

And here’s another detail of the preparation. How did the disciples find the donkey and her colt? Tied up. Bound. The sent disciples must loose them and bring them to Jesus. When we listen to God’s Word, we just might hear a connection between those sent disciples and the ones Jesus sends to His Church today. Jesus loves to release people bound by sin. He even uses His sent ministers to loose sinners bound by sin. Ah, the joys of Advent! Jesus releases earthly, human sinners so they can rejoice in the His heavenly forgiveness. Earth and heaven joined together!

And when those sent disciples loosed the donkey and her colt, the owners of the colt would ask, “Why are you untying them?” Jesus planned for that too. “You shall say, ‘The Lord needs them.’” The Lord needed the donkey indeed! Prophet Zechariah had foretold this need. “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” (Zech. 9:9). Jesus needed this donkey to show His royalty. But He also needed it to show His humility. You see, Jesus did not come to be a sovereign with the prestige or glory or fame that we might expect, or want. No, He came to be a king in humility, a king for us humble sinners. He comes as King to die. His throne is a cross. His crown is made of thorns. His subjects are those who humbly confess their sins and are taught by Him. This is how earth and heaven are joined together.

Then Jesus rides into Jerusalem to shouts of joyful praise. The crowd of followers lays down a carpet of their cloaks for the coming King. Then they sing the Psalm verse: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (118:26). Luke’s gospel adds another little detail. In Luke’s version, the crowd also sings: “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk. 19:38).

Now this song should strike a familiar chord with us. We often sing it in the Divine Service: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.” It’s the same song the angels sang when Jesus was born: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased” (Lk. 2:14). When Jesus is born, the heavenly angels sing of peace on earth. When He enters Jerusalem, the earthly crowd sings of peace in heaven. Heaven and earth are joined together in Jesus, true God and true Man. He is born to bring peace; He dies to bring peace. He comes down to earth to bring earth back to heaven. The Son of God becomes Man to bring all humankind back to God. That’s called “atonement.” King Jesus, humble and sitting on a donkey, makes us sinners at one, at peace, with God.

So, how can we not sing? How can we not wait in eager expectation? How can we not slow down and pray this season of Advent? How can we not rejoice in the Gospel proclaimed? How can we not find our peace in the waters of Baptism? How can we refuse the comfort of confessing our sins and being joined to God in words of forgiveness spoken into our ears? How can we not find our real feasting at the Table with the Lord’s Body and Blood? These are the ways of Advent preparation. These are the ways God keeps us joined with Him. These are the channels of God’s peace coming to us.

Here’s your comfort and Advent preparation. King Jesus comes to join earth with heaven, you with God, sinners with salvation. In our Advent preparations, we may find that we are not so good at expecting the coming Christ. But “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He instructs sinners in the way” (Ps. 25:8). That’s not just teaching about God’s way; that’s delivering God’s way.

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. His ways are higher than our ways. His ways bring us peace with God. Blessed is the King who comes in the message of forgiveness that you get to hear and eat and drink. We cannot prepare ourselves, so He comes to prepare us. We cannot reach up to heaven or climb to God, so He joins us on earth with God in heaven. Rejoice and be glad! “May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones” (1 Thess. 3:13, NKJV). Amen.