The First Sunday in Advent + Romans 13:1-4 + Matthew 21:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
I once received an “Ask The Pastor” question that dealt with the choice of Scripture on this day. It went something like this, “Dear Pastor, why is the gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Advent Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which takes place at the beginning of holy week? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to begin Advent with the story of Zachariah and Elizabeth or something else that happened before Christ’s birth?” That’s a good question. If Advent were merely a “pre-Christmas” season then it would make sense to hear about the angel Gabriel appearing to Zachariah in the temple, the birth of his son John, or even Gabriel’s announcing to Mary that the she would conceive the Son of God in her womb by the power of the Holy Ghost. But Advent isn’t a pre-Christmas season. There’s no doubt that it prepares us to celebrate the Nativity of Christ on the twenty-fifth but the focus of this season is much broader than just preparing us for the yearly celebration of the birth of God in human flesh. Advent means “coming” or “arrival” and that’s precisely what the season is about. God coming to us, not we to Him. As He came once in the flesh according to Scripture, He will come again to judge the quick and dead according to Scripture.
That’s why the church from antiquity has placed this gospel lesson in front of us at the beginning of Advent and the beginning of the new church year. The season of Advent, and the entire church year along with it, is about the coming one. His first advent was in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be sure. The Word of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, became flesh and dwelt among us. The appointed gospel lesson takes all that into account and moves us further to the point and purpose of the incarnation of the Son of God. The purpose of the virgin birth, the purpose of the incarnation is the work the Son of God comes to do. His work was to live under the burden of Mosaic Law and do it perfectly and spotlessly, not for His own sake, but so that He could give His perfect righteousness to all who believe in Him. His work is the redemption of the human race, purchasing us not with gold or silver but with His holy, innocent blood. His work was the atonement for our mankind’s sins, accomplished not with the blood of bulls and goats, but His own blood shed on the altar of the cross. The appointed gospel lesson takes us to the beginning of Holy Week where Christ would accomplish our redemption and fully atone for our sins. This is the reason the only-begotten Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us. St. Matthew points us to Zechariah’s prophecy, “Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” That sums up His first advent among us. Lowly. Humble. Gentle. Riding into Jerusalem to die as the Lamb of God, so that all who believe in Him might receive the forgiveness of all their sins, His perfect righteousness, and everlasting life.
But this is not Christ’s only advent among us. We’ve been hearing for the last three weeks how He promised, during His first advent, to come again. His second advent won’t be in lowliness, gentleness, and humility. He said in Matthew 25:31, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.” From there He will judge the living and dead. Those who have done good because they were declared righteous and good by faith will go into everlasting life. Those who have done evil because they lacked faith in Christ will go to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. At His second advent He will come as a Bridegroom to claim His bride. The bride is His Church, the baptized faithful who endure until the end in true faith. But to those who rejected Him during their earthly lives, or who believed for a time and then fell away, He will say, “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matt. 25:12). His first advent was in meekness and lowliness. His second advent will be in the glory which He has as the only-begotten Son of God, true God and true man.
The season of Advent teaches us that as Christ came in the flesh, as the prophets had foretold, so He will come again as He Himself, and His apostles, foretold. Advent also teaches us how then we are to live and prepare for His coming. How are we to live? The Introit teaches us to live each day in expectant faith. “To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in You; Let me not be ashamed; Let not my enemies triumph over me. Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed” (Psalm 25:1-3a). St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” In this time between Christ’s first advent and second advent is the time He’s given all men to repent of their sins and trust His promised mercy. This is the day of salvation as long as it is called “today.” He may return tomorrow, “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). So we repent, not just once, but daily. We trust His promised mercy not just once, but every day that He gives us. We lift up our souls to the Lord, trusting that His mercies are new to us every morning and that He forgives our sins, not for our sake but the sake of His innocent, bitter sufferings and death.
We pray with the Psalmist, “Show me Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths” (Psalm 25:4) as well, so that we may live in daily repentance and faith and also bear the fruits of faith, which is the putting away of sin and striving after good works. This is what St. Paul teaches in the appointed Epistle lesson. He writes, “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:11-14). Cast off the works of darkness by repenting of them. Put on the armor of light by putting on the righteousness of the one who said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Paul’s point is since the day of the Lord is nearer than it was formerly, we should strive all the more against our sins. Since He’s forgiven us our sins and daily does so, we should fight our sins when we’re tempted to them again. Since Christ has come to earn our forgiveness, and since He will return to judge the living and the dead, walk properly as in the daytime, not in revelry, drunkenness, lewdness and lust. In this time in between Christ’s advents, let us put off our sins like a soiled garment in repentance and put on the Lord Jesus Christ by faith, then strive to live each day as He teaches in His word. Your sinful flesh wants to lead you into sin and away from Christ so that His return catches you aware. This is why St. Paul says make no provision for your flesh’s desires, but to daily, by the Spirit, tell them “no.”
All of this is what makes Advent much more than a pre-Christmas season which prepares us just for December 25. It certainly prepares us for our yearly celebration of Christ’s birth in the flesh, but it wants to prepare us for much more. It wants to prepare us for His second advent by directing us to the purpose of His first advent. It reminds us that December 25th isn’t about the sentimentality the world attaches to the day. It teaches us to prepare ourselves each day for the one who was, is, and is to come on the Last Day to claim His faithful people and fulfil their salvation. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.