This morning we have approached the destination of our dear Lord’s steadfast journey, from the womb of the Blessed Virgin and the Bethlehem manger, to Golgatha and the grave. For having taken upon Himself all your sickness, suffering, sin, and death, He prepares to hand Himself over to the Cross, to offer Himself as the Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the whole world.
It is to this end and for this sacred purpose that Christ the King has come. Not by might, not by power, but by His Spirt He comes to take up the Cross and die in your stead. And strange as it might seem by the standards of the world, and by the sinful standards of your own heart and mind, it is by His sacrificial death that He is crowned, and from His Cross that He reigns as your King.
Heretofore, you have had no true Lord nor real King, but you have been held captive in the devil’s power, a citizen of his hellish kingdom, condemned to die, and blinded by your own sinfulness.
But now draws near this King, who comes to you with righteousness and salvation, yet all meek and humble on the back of a donkey. He comes to raise the standard of His Cross over you in love, to claim you as His own, that you might live henceforth with Him in His Kingdom in righteousness and purity forever, even as He has conquered death and lives and reigns to all eternity.
So, if it seems strange that Advent now begins with Palm Sunday, with the entry of our Lord Jesus into Jerusalem on the brink of His Passion, the wisdom of the Church has for centuries done so, that she might remember the purpose for which the Christ-Child comes. He is born of the Woman, He is born under the Law, so that by His Cross He might redeem those who are under the Law.
St. Matthew likewise recalls the Nativity of our Lord in this Holy Gospel. For the people greet Jesus as the “Son of David,” just as the genealogy of Christ and the visit of the angel to St. Joseph have testified. The whole city is “shaken” today by the coming of King Jesus, just it was disturbed by the visit of the Magi at the time of His birth. And He is here described by the multitudes as the Prophet from Nazareth, thus recalling His earthly heritage and His childhood home.
Approaching the Nativity of Christ from the perspective of His much-later entry into Jerusalem helps to clarify that Advent is far more than simply a season of Christmas preparations. You might easily remember that it is certainly more than decorations and baking, parties and presents; and many will remind you, as you will remind others, to keep Christ in Christmas. But the point is that Advent is more than Christmas-preparation-tide, spiritual or otherwise.
“Advent,” as you may know, is Latin for the “coming.” But there is a three-fold coming of Christ Jesus to which the Church gives attention during Advent Tide. It is a three-fold coming of the Lord Jesus, which sets the stage for the entire Church Year, and really for your entire Christian life.
Although it typically receives the most attention, the coming of Christ on that first Christmas is the least significant focus of Advent. Not that Christmas is unimportant. It is quite right that you remember and give thanks for the Nativity of our Lord Jesus, not only during Advent and at Christmas, but all year long. Indeed, His coming in the flesh, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is necessary for everything else, for your salvation, and for all of the ways that He comes to you.
But neither Advent nor Christmas is simply a nostalgic recollection of history. These seasons are not a visit from the “Ghost of Christmas Past,” calling you to shame for your forgetfulness. They are a celebration of the present grace of God in Christ, and of His promise for the future. And all of this hinges on the coming of Christ Jesus in the flesh, not only once upon a time, but here and now in His Church, and again when He shall come to bring you from this mortal life into Paradise.
The first and most significant Advent, therefore, is the coming of Christ right here and now in this time and place. He does so in much the same way as He retrieves that donkey in this Holy Gospel. He sends some of His disciples as the Ministers of His Word to speak and act on His behalf. And so it is that His men now come to you in His Name to deal with you by His authority as your Lord.
He sends them to find those who are bound, to loose them from their sins, and to bring them to Himself. For this task He gives to them His Word of command and of promise, and so also the washing of the water with His Word, and the giving of His Body and His Blood in remembrance of Him. It is by this Ministry of His Gospel–Word and Sacraments that He comes to you today in preparation for His coming again. And these Gifts of Christ are the special focus of Advent.
As your true King thus comes to you in these several ways — at Christmas, by His Holy Ministry, and at your Last Day — He comes to reign over you by and from His Cross. As you remember His sacred Nativity, as you receive Him to yourself in His Gospel, and as you rejoice in the promise of His glorious coming, your hope and your confidence are found in His Cross and Passion.
It is to that Cross that He approaches, as He draws near to Jerusalem. And by His Word to you this morning, He draws near to reveal both how and why He comes to reign as your King from His Cross. He comes in humility and meekness. He comes to help you and to save you from your sin.
His humility and meekness are foretold by the Prophet Zechariah, stressed by St. Matthew, and demonstrated especially by the humble donkey and her colt. For Jesus comes, not on a warhorse, but on a beast of burden, which is what He Himself becomes in bearing the burden of your sin. All of this He does and bears, unto the perfection of His humility and meekness on the Cross.
He humbles Himself unto death, even the death of His Cross, and there He meekly bears the righteous wrath and judgment of God against all of your sins, in order to rescue and redeem you from the damnation that would otherwise await you and all people on the final Judgment Day. For in your pompous pride and sinful arrogance, thinking of yourself more highly than you should, you have rejected the Lord your God and followed your own willful pursuits.
If you examine yourself honestly according to the Ten Commandments, as the Lord has taught you to do, then you shall sadly find that there is nothing else in you but sin and death, from which you could never by any means set yourself free. That was and is your predicament apart from Christ Jesus, as St. Paul has made clear in his Epistle to the Romans.
Thus, for example, when St. Paul writes that Love is the fulfillment of the Law, you should rightly hear and understand that God commands you to love your neighbor as yourself, and that you are not permitted to do any harm of any kind to anyone — not in your thoughts, not with your words, and not by your behavior. To love and not to hurt is not a matter of personal opinion or free choice. It is the Law of God, which condemns your lack of love and threatens to punish your sins.
The truth is that you have not loved your neighbor as yourself. You have lusted after the flesh. You have gotten angry and kindled hatred in your heart. You have wasted the gifts of God and withheld them from your neighbor in his need, loving money and stuff more than other people. You have gossiped and complained against even your brothers and sisters in Christ. You have burned with envy and jealousy for the blessings that God has chosen to give to others. In all of these ways and many more, you live in the darkness of sin and are deserving of death and hell.
But the words of St. Paul become the Words of sweetest comfort when they are heard in the light of the Holy Gospel. For all that Jesus did and suffered took place in accordance with the Word of the Prophets. His Love for you and for all people is the fulfillment of His Law. For God is Love, and He has loved you with an everlasting Love and given Himself for you in the flesh of Christ.
He has been faithful to His adulterous Bride. He has given life to His murderous children. He has given all things to those who have greedily wasted His gifts of creation. He has defended you, spoken well of you, and registered His own good works to your credit and account. He has not desired to deprive you of any good thing, but has coveted your sin and death and taken these upon Himself, that He might give you His forgiveness in their place, His righteousness and eternal life.
It is divine Love, incarnate in Christ Jesus, that has fulfilled the Law of God, both for you and on your behalf. He does you no harm, but draws near to bring you His salvation. And so He does by giving you nothing less than Himself. He has dressed you with Himself and His righteousness in your Holy Baptism, so that you are now able to clothe yourself in Christ by recalling the daily and lifelong significance of your Baptism. He feeds you with Himself, with His own Body and Blood, so that your mortal flesh and blood might be made brand new and perfected in His divine image.
As your dear King comes to you and reigns over you with His Cross, so does He draw near to your neighbor in you. By your words and deeds of charity, He loves your neighbor as He loves you.
So does your King come to reign from His Cross. He comes to rescue and deliver you from the threatening perils of your sin, from death and the devil, and to save you by His mighty deliverance. But His “mighty deliverance” is accomplished for you in the humblest of ways and means.
Born for you in a stable on the outskirts of a tiny little no-place town. Living homeless on earth with no place to lay His head. Ridiculed, tormented, and convicted to die by His own citizens, the very people He has come to save. Crucified, dead, and buried. Even following His Resurrection, in the ongoing life of His Church on earth, He sends the most humble of men to be His apostolic ministers, the pastors of His lambs and sheep; and He equips them with such humble, ordinary means — with human words, with water, bread, and wine — nothing much to see on the surface.
Even so, in all these ways, by all these means, He is your King who comes to reign from His Cross. To be your Savior from sin by the forgiveness of His Blood. To slay death forever, to conquer hell, to trample Satan underfoot and crush his serpent-head. All of this He has done for you by His Cross. And now He shares His “mighty deliverance” with you by uniting you with Himself in His Cross and Resurrection, by cleansing you in the waters of His Baptism, by speaking to you His Spirit-filled Word of Absolution, and by feeding you with His own sacrificial Body and Blood.
Words and water, bread and wine. Holy Absolution, Body and Blood. These are the ways and means that He has given to His Church and to His Christian people. It is by these good gifts of His Gospel that your King comes to reign over you with all the treasures of His Cross, in order to save you from sin, to deliver you from death and the devil, and to help you in every trouble.
The means of grace are no more impressive than a manger, than a donkey, than a Cross. But being the means of Christ, they are no less real, no less divine, and no less powerful to give you His Life.
Therefore, do not neglect His grace and mercy toward you. And do not be ashamed to receive this Crucified One as your King, who comes to reign among you from His Cross. His humility and His meekness are the very power and wisdom of God. They are your righteousness and salvation.
Rejoice, therefore, O daughter of Zion! Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you here and now! Greet Him with your glad “hosannas” of faith, and with the palms of piety and holy living. And together with the Church of His disciples — those who have gone before, and those who shall follow after — receive Him as the Christ, your Lord and Savior, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the crucified and living King of all creation, of the heavens and the earth and of all that is in them, both now and forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.