Proclaiming the Lord’s Death Until He Comes

First Sunday in Advent

Ad Te Levavi

December 2, 2018

Matthew 21:1–9

The years went by and the years turned into decades. The decades turned into centuries and even the centuries turned into millennia. God’s people were waiting for Him to fulfill His promise. When the promise was proclaimed, how did His people react? Did they give up hope? Did they doubt? Did they hold firm to the promise? Waiting day after day gives you a sense of what Advent is. It is not quite Christmas even while the malls and the lights on neighborhood homes are telling us it’s already Christmas. Here in the Church we’re waiting. We are taking time to prepare for our celebration of Christmas. And we recognize that we are waiting just as our ancestors in the faith were waiting. The promise was of the Savior to come. The promise for us is of Him to come again glory.

The apostle Paul captures our waiting and preparation when he speaks of participating in the Lord’s Supper in First Corinthians 11. He says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” He mentions the three major comings of our Lord in this one sentence. His first coming was in the flesh when He came to earth in order to die on the cross. The third is the one we are waiting for, when He returns in glory on the Last Day. The second is the one where He comes to us often, giving us His body to eat and His blood to drink in His Sacrament. 

When we eat this bread and drink the cup we participate in the body and blood of Christ. We are forgiven our sins and strengthened in body and soul to life everlasting. And there is another thing, there is something we do. We proclaim. We proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. The people of God waited for centuries and even millennia for Christ to come in the flesh, so are we waiting for Christ to come in glory. The days and centuries have turned into millennia. What we do in our waiting is proclaim His first coming, the one in the flesh where He went to the cross, until His coming again. We do this in our participating in His coming to us now in bread and wine, with His body and blood. 

That’s what he says in First Corinthians. In Romans Paul speaks about the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and its relevance for our daily lives as we wait for our Lord to fulfill His promise of coming again in glory. In the Epistle he says, “You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Waiting patiently is hard because you can easily become apathetic Each day we live we are nearer to our Lord returning. Paul says, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand.” 

What does this mean for us in daily life? It means living in your Baptism. Paul says it this way, “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Notice the language of casting off and putting on. We are wrapped in our sinful flesh, we must cast that off. We must put on the armor of light. We must not live in the darkness of our sinful nature but live in the light of being in Christ. Paul says, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

Paul has gone from putting on the armor of light to putting on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This is precisely what happens in Baptism, you are clothed with Christ, you are given His righteousness and holiness as your robe and your covering. Earlier in Romans, in chapter 6, he said that when you are Baptized into Christ you are crucified with Him in a death like His so that you might be raised with Him in a resurrection like His. Therefore, in both of these Sacraments our Lord has given us there is a clear declaration of the death of Christ. 

We’re not just waiting around. We are making use of the very things our Lord has given us which keep us focused on what we need to be focused on. Our waiting for our Lord to come in glory is in proclaiming the Lord’s death. Daily we are dying and rising. When we gather here on the Lord’s Day we are eating this bread and drinking the cup. 

If you are not connected in the Church then you are not focused on your Lord and His return; you are not living as you ought to live, making no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires. This goes against the grain. It goes against the very essence of our American culture, which is individualistic. Every person has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s no wonder so many don’t see the need for Church. We are encouraged to seek fulfillment in our individual ways and no one can tell us we’re wrong. 

But the exhortation of the apostle is that our identity as Christians is in Christ, not our own selves. In fact, we die to ourselves, our sinful flesh. We are born anew in Christ. Our identity as the Christian Church is not in any cultural customs or sentimental rituals, but in partaking of the very body and blood of Christ, of proclaiming as one body the Lord’s death until He comes. 

As you are waiting you easily get caught up in transitory things. Your life circumstances, politics, societal and environmental concerns. All of these are important, but there is no true hope in them. They are all transitory. They will not last. We are moving forward and as we do we are moving toward the decaying of this world and the bringing about of the new heavens and the new earth when our Lord comes again on the Last Day.

As you carry out your God-given callings to serve others, don’t put your hope in them but in your Lord. See how He is the one who comes to you as you wait for Him to come to you in glory and to take you home. There is perhaps no more odd Gospel reading paired with a day in the Church Year than the one for today on the First Sunday in Advent and the beginning of the Church Year. And perhaps there is no better one. After all, it goes without saying that you’ll have the account of the birth of Christ on Christmas and the transfiguration on Transfiguration, the resurrection on Easter, and we could think of other examples.

But it doesn’t exactly go without saying why the Palm Sunday account is chosen for this day that occurs either at the end of November or the beginning of December. In fact, much should be said. Perhaps what first ought to be said is how the account begins, with Jesus drawing near to Jerusalem. Once He was born and particularly once He began His ministry, Jesus was on a path to Jerusalem. He had been many times before, but this time was for the last. This time it was to go to the cross. So it is with us as we are waiting for our Lord to come again we continue to gather around His Supper where we proclaim His death until He comes. 

A second thing that can be said is how our Lord operates while He is on His way to Jerusalem and the cross. He sends and directs. He sends His disciples and tells them what to do. They are to get a donkey so that He may enter in on it. If they are questioned about this they are to say the Lord has need of it. Why does He do this? One reason is that He is at home in using the things of His creation for His good purposes of salvation. In the same way, He uses simple water in washing away our sins in Baptism and ordinary bread and wine to give to us to eat and drink of His body and blood. 

But also, it is to fulfill the Word of God of the Old Testament. And what is that Word? It is given in the Gospel reading: “See, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey.” He is our King. He is coming to us. He comes in humility and salvation. As He entered Jerusalem the crowd rejoiced, also in fulfillment of Scripture, “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is He comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.”

Now, here’s an ironic thing about this. They were proclaiming the Lord’s death as He was going to His death, but they didn’t know that they were. They didn’t fully understand who He was and why He was entering Jerusalem. But you and I do! We know who He is! We know why He came! We know what He has done for us in Baptism! We know that He has given us to eat this bread and drink the cup in which He gives us His body and blood and in which we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Amen.