As Jesus Was Drawing Near

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“As [Jesus] 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!’” (Luke 19:37-38)
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
After the service last year on the first Sunday in Advent, a couple of you commented that the Gospel reading was more of what one might expect to hear on Palm Sunday rather than in Advent. Such a comment reveals three things about you and this congregation, all of which are reassuring and encouraging to me. First, you listen to what is being read during the Divine Service. Second, you have an understanding and expectation regarding the seasons of the Church Year. And third, we need to continue to preach and teach on how the life of Christ is revealed throughout all of Scriptures. That is really the purpose of observing a Church Year—it gives us access to the whole life of Christ so that we may gain a fuller understanding of the whole Bible in light of Christ’s person and work.
Toward that end, the Church has taken Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion—the two great scandals of Christianity—and raised them up to be the focus of the two great festivals of the Church—Christmas and Easter. The first half of the Church Year is built around these two festivals. That is why it is called the Festival Season.
Advent introduces the Festival Season. The word Advent means, “coming.” Advent prepares us for the coming of our Lord. The assigned readings for today are designed to remind us how God’s Son comes into this world, taking upon Himself our flesh and infirmities for our salvation. The prophet Jeremiah points to the “coming” day when the Davidic King would bring salvation to God’s people (Jeremiah 33:14-16). The psalmist urges us to lift up our souls so that our hearts might be ready to receive rightly our merciful Lord who makes His way into Jerusalem (Psalm 25:1). Likewise, in our Epistle, St. Paul urges us to prepare our hearts for our Lord, who will one day come again in glory (1 Thessalonians 3:13). And our Gospel reading reminds us that each of these other “advents” would mean nothing if it were not for one particular advent—Jesus’ coming into Jerusalem to die on the cross for the sins of the world. So, in a sense, you might say we have four “advents” on this First Sunday in Advent.
As He was drawing near to Jerusalem, Jesus set in motion an action that would result in a public demonstration in His behalf. He sent two disciples into Bethphage to bring Him a colt on which no one had ever ridden. He told them that if they were questioned about taking the colt to simply say: “The Lord has need of it.” The disciples brought the colt to Jesus and helped Him to mount it.
The significance of what Jesus has done is immediately apparent to the people who are following. Jesus is consciously fulfilling the words of 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” (9:9). And so they spread their cloaks on the road as a kind of royal carpet.
Sons and daughters of God: Behold the King! Though He appears as one among the many men who walk upon the face of this fallen earth, He is the One true God whose holy habitation is beyond the universe. Though there was nothing special about Him in terms of His appearance when He walked the dirt-laden paths in Bethphage and Bethany—He is, nonetheless, the Lord God Incarnate—He is Immanuel, that is, “God with Us.”
On this day of the Lord, the King of kings goes down from the Mount of Olives as the prophet had declared (Zechariah 4:4), and he draws near to Jerusalem for His coronation. Here, He will be crowned with thorns and enthroned on a cross. Here it is that Justice Himself will be executed. The Judge will take the punishment deserved by each one of the prisoners in sin’s lockup. Indeed, this sinless Son of God will suffer the divine penalty due to every fallen son and daughter of Adam.
See the common garments, ones woven by the weavers on the hand-crafted looms of this world, worn garments now cast upon the colt and spread upon the rocky road leading to the holy city. Look at the ordinary ones enlisted to bear the Son of God and the Son of Man. This is a common creature carrying the Christ… a beast of burden upon whose back no one has ever ridden. Such an ordinary looking man this humble Jesus is; and such coarse fabric consecrated by, to, and under the King of creation; and what a menial mode of transporting the Lord of lords to His Temple! Thus is the Lord God present with and among His people.
Dear baptized, this is the Savior whose advent in the days of the Caesars and Herods was for the purpose of accomplishing our redemption. This is the Word become flesh and tabernacling among us, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him” (John 1:10). “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). That is the way of His purpose from the moment of His conception by the Holy Spirit to His Sabbath Day of rest in the tomb—humble and hidden—the state of His humiliation.
This state of humiliation began with the angel’s annunciation to the modest maiden: the Lord was drawing near to sinful man in His Incarnation. He, who is the Word made flesh, the Alpha and Omega, without beginning or end, entered time and space in the Virgin Mary’s womb through a Word. Nine months later the Lord God Himself could be seen lying in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem.
Behold the King! See the swaddling clothes. These linen fabrics await the Advent of the newborn King that they might be wrapped about His tiny torso after He is received into the world. Years later, linens like these will be wound about His breathless body after He has taken your curse upon Himself and died in your place. Lower your eyes to that manger in Bethlehem; it will cradle the Redeemer. Lift up your eyes to a leafless tree upon which God is nailed and pierced outside Jerusalem’s gate. In these most unlikely places, your King draws near!
Look at the ordinary young lady enlisted to bear the Son of God and Son of Man. This handmaiden of the Lord is a carrying the Christ within her womb… indeed, a Jewish virgin who has not known a man. The Incarnation of God is both manifest and hidden in a temporal tabernacle as Mary bears the Savior “from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem” (Luke 2:4). In these most unlikely places, your King draws near!
Such an ordinary unborn child this seems to be. And what a menial mode will be used when transporting the Lord of lords to His Temple—the womb of Mary and the donkey colt. Thus does the Lord God draw near and come to His people. Indeed, in a similar ordinary way, He still come to you and me through His Word and Sacrament. In these most unlikely means, your King draws near!
Behold the King! He comes today hidden in the places He has promised. See the water united with God’s Word—a washing of regeneration that cleanses the soul with the forgiveness of sin and renewal that bestows salvation and eternal life. Hear the absolving Word of God spoken by a fellow sinner called and ordained by Christ to proclaim to you the Good News of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus. Cast your eyes upon the altar and see the bread and wine consecrated to and by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The King draws nears; He gives you His very Body and Blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith unto life everlasting.
In the baptismal flood, the Lord God, whom heaven and earth are not able to contain, takes up residence in the temple of your body. In Absolution, the same Lord who created all things in heaven and on earth with His Word declares you forgiven. In Holy Communion, the very Body and Blood of Jesus the Christ are graciously distributed to and received into the worthy communicant through this sacramental eating. Thus is the Lord God present with and among His people.
Finally, behold the two groups of people as Jesus draws near Jerusalem. One group is made up of those who are offended at Jesus and opposed to the confession of the truth by those who are His followers. “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples’” (Luke 19:39). These men of the Law are offended at this Jesus who is humble in such lowly ways and draws near by such common means. These people will seek to kill Jesus of Nazareth and thus rid themselves of this King. They will get what they want and receive what they desire. In this way, they are no different than Herod who sent his henchmen to kill the newborn King of the Jews in the little town of Bethlehem.
These Pharisees are joined on the side of history’s road by the Arians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny the divinity of Christ… by the Gnostics and Emergents, who emphasize the spiritual world and dismiss the physical… by Judaizers and Romanists, who insist on their system of works righteousness… by Manicheans and Mormons, who deny original sin and ascribe too much freedom to the human will… indeed, the Pharisees are joined by all the enemies of the cross as well as by those who oppose and deny the ways and means of God’s grace.
The other group of people gathered are those who are the multitude of Jesus’ disciples… those who preceded and those who accompanied and those who have followed after the first advent of the King. Included in this great congregation of the faithful are Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Job, Moses, Rahab, Ruth, David, Anna, and Simeon—all of whom waited for the King to draw near.
Then there was that Palm Sunday crowd of Jesus’ followers, those who saw the King drawing near in the holy city when the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Later in the history of this New Testament world, there stood in the one, holy catholic Church those faithful children of God… Timothy, Titus, and Philemon… Ignatius, Clement, and Polycarp… Luther, Chemnitz, and Gerhard… Walther, Loehe, and Stoeckhardt… Brockberg, Graphenteen, Severtson, Hachmann, and Hellwinckel—indeed all the faithful men, women, youth, children, and infants who have come out of the great tribulation and have been ushered into the eternal Paradise prepared by God from the foundation of the world.
Now, among those awaiting the crucified, risen, and ascended King to draw near in order to judge the living and dead are you—you are privileged to be in the presence of the Lord God Almighty on this first Sunday in Advent. You, dear Christian—you await that day when, with “the whole multitude of His disciples” you will see the King drawing near. You await the way when you will “rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works” that you have seen, “saying: ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Indeed, it is that very Day of the Lord for which you are preparing each and every time you gather with your brothers and sisters in Christ to receive God’s gracious gifts.
Behold your King comes! He is drawing near to take you and all of His children home to live in His presence forever. In the meantime, He comes to you in His Word and Sacraments to prepare you fully for eternal life. Through His means of grace, He forgives you for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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