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2023-12-03 Advent 1

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

The Season of Advent is once again upon us, as hard to believe as it is. Where did 2023 go?! I don’t know! Only one month left! But the Beautiful Blue hue of our Sanctuary tells us clearly that Advent is truly here yet again, believe it or not. It is the start of a brand new church year! It’s kind of like going back to school in the fall with all your fresh notebooks and binders and sharp pencils! We start our journey of faith afresh again today too. Our Advent travelling companions are with us once again too. The wreath with the candles, the greenery, the tree, the Scripture readings chock full of our Advent themes of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. We also get to sing all of our favourite Advent songs and hymns that only roll around at this time of year too. All of these friends travel beside us as we make our journey to Bethlehem, helping us prepare and get ready for Christmas! Christmas is what it is all about, the blessed birth of Christ our King. That’s why we begin our Advent journey today with …Palm Sunday?!

At first glance, this seems pretty weird. It’s a little out of season, is it not? More of a shade of purple than a hue of blue. But Advent literally means the arrival or coming. It’s all about the arrival of our King into His Kingdom. And that’s why we begin with our Lord Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a Donkey and being cheered by the capacity crowds and kids. “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (MK 11:9).

Back in the 15th century there was a Jesuit Missionary named Matteo Ricci. He went to China with the goal of converting the Asians to Christianity. He brought with him traditional Christian artwork and tried to proclaim the gospel of Christ. It turns out the Chinese really loved the portraits, especially the ones of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child. They liked it for the same reasons we all love Christmas. But when Ricci showed them pictures of the crucifixion and tried to explain that Mary’s little baby grew up suffer and be executed, the crowds reacted in revulsion and horror. They much preferred the nice images of Jesus and His mother instead of the crucified Saviour.

Perhaps this describes us too. We like baby Jesus. We like the warm images of the nativity, round yon virgin, mother and child. For proof of this, just thumb your way through a stack of Christian Christmas cards. They are all warm, mellow, serene, domesticated and nice. They are completely void of any reminder that the journey to Bethlehem carries on to Calvary. But this is the true reason for the season. This is precisely why we have an Advent of the King at all! Something had to be done about the chief problem we all share: death and sin. Our Isaiah reading hammers it out: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (64:6). This is why the King must come. This is why the King is coming to you. He makes you clean from sin and washes you of iniquity. He transforms your unrighteous deeds into righteous ones. He grants abundant life that is eternally connected to the vine and will never fall off and blow away in the storms of life.

A man approached a little league game one warm summer afternoon. As he walked past the dug out, he asked one of the boys what the score was. The boy replied “18 to nothing … for other team.” “I’ll bet you losers don’t like that!” the spectator jeered. “Just you wait!” the little boy retorted, “We haven’t even gotten up to bat yet!” – Now that’s hope! In the toughest situations, the most overwhelming situations, Christ our King comes to give us hope.

This is what the hearts of the people were filled with at our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. They had big time hope that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for. Hope that He would be the one to restore the Kingdom of Israel. Hope that the pagan Romans would be done away with once and for all. Hope that all their wildest dreams would come true as God’s chosen people. They would be back on top. They, who were down and out, would be restored to past glories! But all their hopes were shattered when that valiant Messiah was arrested by the pagans, beaten and scourged and later mocked and crucified outside the city gates of Jerusalem.

But really, the first clue should have been the donkey. Military heroes don’t come riding into town on a donkey. Politicians don’t show up to the climate convention in a 1971 Ford Pinto. They show up in carbon spewing private jets and then tell you to ride an electric donkey! But that’s beside the point. Humility should have been the first clue that the crowd missed. The humble King rides into His city not with vast military or political goals. Rather, He rides to give His people hope. An eternal hope that our sins will be forgiven and our unrighteousness will become righteousness through faith and trust in the humble Messiah.

The crowd shouts Hosanna! “Save us now!” they cry, not really knowing what that means. But truly, this is why He has come into Jerusalem, to bear His people’s sins on the cross. It’s the same reason He was born in Bethlehem, to unite heaven and earth together in the incarnation. He has come to save His people. He is more than a great example or wise teacher. He brings with Him the very blessed “coming Kingdom of our father David!” (MK 11:10). All of this is true, but the salvation He brings, the Kingdom He establishes, is not what the enthusiastic crowds anticipated.

The crowds were looking for the Messiah of Psalm 24: “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!” (7-8). But the critical thing they missed is that the King of Glory will first come as the King of Humility. And our Lord continues to come to us in the same way. The simple water and word of our Baptism. The ordinary bread and wine of Holy Communion. These simple, everyday things, lowly and humble, these are the ways our Lord’s Advent comes to us. Yet hidden inside the humility lies all the amazing glory of His Kingdom. The power of the Almighty God to forgive, heal, comfort, strengthen, uplift and inspire. All of this and more fill us with a tremendous hope right now, and cause us to look forward with joy to His final Advent that is yet to come.

A Pastor was busy one afternoon in his study, preparing his Sunday sermon. At one point his little daughter came in and asked “Daddy, can we read a story?” “I’m awfully sorry sweetie,” the dad answered “I’m really busy right now. How about in an hour, does that sound good?” “Okay, when you’re all finished, Daddy, I am going to give you a great big hug.” She went to the office door and as she reached for the handle she did a 180 degree U-turn, ran on back and gave her dad the biggest chiropractic, bone-breaking hug ever! “Sweetie, you said you were going to give me a hug after I finished my work!” – “Daddy,” she answered, “I just wanted you to know what you have to look forward to!”

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

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