Advent: Time To Slow Down

Text: Matthew 21:1-9

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

In case you haven’t noticed, here at Zion, we can be a stick in the mud. Indeed, I’ve been told that we Lutherans can come across as dull and unadventurous. If we aren’t dull and unadventurous, we can be characterized as being too old-fashioned and too serious. While this critique may not be true in all cases and may be unfairly applied, I do believe that when it comes to this time of the year that it just may be true. 

What am I talking about, though?  I am talking about today being the first Sunday of Advent.  Yes, Advent, not Christmas.  Instead of decking the halls and spreading holiday cheer, here at Zion will be entering into the Season of Advent.  In other words, while everyone else around us will start singing Christmas carols and celebrating the ever increasing joys of the Christmas Season, we will follow in the footsteps of the ancient church and observe the Season of Advent.  To be sure, instead of increasing in ecstatic Christmas cheer, we will take another path and follow in the footsteps of the Saints that came before us and walk through the Season of Advent, as they did. 

Considering this, please keep in mind that we are not observing the Season of Advent to be a Christmas Scrooge and we are certainly not trying to be the Grinch who Stole Christmas, and we are not trying to be counter-cultural.  No, it is none of these things! The real reason for us entering into the Season of Advent is that we want to slow things down. That is to say; as the culture around us goes into holiday frenzy and as marketers and businesses ramp up advertising to create a holiday buzz in the air – a buzz that will try to scoop everyone up in euphoric emotions – we, though, are doing the exact opposite.  We are putting the brakes on everything saying, “Not so fast!”  Instead of jumping on the hectic Christmas bandwagon four weeks too soon with the rest of the world, we will instead slow down and go through the Season of Advent first, with patience and pause.  We will go through the Season of Advent so that we can have time to think about the things that tend to be uncomfortable – things that we do not want to think about.  Things like our own sin and pride, and our own meanness and unbelief.  Things like our own dying and our hell-bent stubbornness.  Indeed, we are planning on slowing down – starting today – to contemplate our lives, our sin, reality, and God’s Word. We will take pause so that we might be gifted repentance and be prepared for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that await us at the end of Advent.  We slow down, so that we do not get swooped away and rushed through the essence of what Christmas is.    

Considering all of this, we may secretly protest Advent in our hearts saying to ourselves,

“But why should we be driven to gloom and despair when everyone around us is plunging right into the joy of the angels, the marvel of the shepherds, as well as, Frosty, Santa, and Candy Canes?” 

Dear friends, we must keep in mind that the world sees no need for Advent because the world sees no need for repentance. That is right; the world sees no need for repentance, and it sees no reason to prepare for Christmas because it does not understand Christmas.  Tragically, the world only cares about Christmas parties, bright tinsel, the glimmer of decorations, and getting as many treasures under the tree as possible. The world does not understand the real meaning of Christmas for it is blinded in unbelief; therefore, Advent is of no use to the world. 

You though are not of the world, but of Christ, for you are baptized into His death and life.  And as one of God’s baptized you know that repentance must come before faith, that confession must come before absolution, that John the Baptist must come before Christ, that Mt. Sinai must come before Mt. Calvary, that Law must come before Gospel, and that Advent must come before Christmas.  In other words, since Advent means ‘coming’ you know that we are in a season where we are being prepared for something that is coming – that being the message of Christmas which is yet to come.  We know that Advent is a time for the Holy Spirit through the Word to work past the bright blinking lights, the holiday buzz, and the shopping thrills, in order to stir up hunger and thirst in our hearts, so that we can anticipate, hope, and long for the Lord Jesus Christ who comes from heaven to earth to save us from our sins.

So today, for our First Sunday of Advent, we consider the story of Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Now, it seems odd to hear this Palm Sunday lesson on the first day of Advent, but as we consider this story a bit more closely, it all begins to make sense. 

Consider this a moment, why was Jesus riding on a donkey?  Where was He traveling to?  The obvious answer is that he was riding into Jerusalem.  But why was He going to Jerusalem?  The answer, He was going towards Calvary’s Cross.  Yes, Jesus was riding on a donkey ‘towards’ His death on the cross; He was riding on a donkey towards an encounter with the sin of the world.  He was traveling towards the cross to battle and conquer nothing less than sin, death, and hell itself.  He was riding to be the sacrifice for all time and all people.  Therefore, as we contemplate this Gospel lesson on this First Sunday of Advent, we realize that the whole intent and purpose of Jesus riding into Jerusalem and coming to humanity in that manger, some 2,000 years ago, was to draw near a cross to forgive sinners. In other words, our Gospel reading shows us that the Lord of the universe was not content to leave us helpless and alone in our sins, but rather set out to pursue us. 

Do you see what is going on here? 

As Advent slows us down to contemplate the reality of our sin, we simultaneously hear, in our Gospel reading, the reality that Jesus traveled towards the cross to conquer that very sin. 

What this means is this, as we slow down and are driven to repentance of our sins in thought, word, and deed, we are actually prepared to receive the goodness of the Savior who came at Christmas.  Otherwise stated, through the Season of Advent and our Gospel reading from today, we are granted a greater clarity and soberness to understand, appreciate, and relish in the reason why Jesus was born some two thousand years ago… He was born to set you and me free!  He was born to come and deal with the very sin that is brought to light during this Advent Season! He was born to die for sinners such as me and you. 

Dear friends, “The Christmas Gospel is a message for sinners. And only those who acknowledge their sins can understand the true meaning of Christmas.” Only hearts that are gifted repentance can receive the fullness of the joy that comes in the message of Christmas - a joy far brighter than tinsel and considerably more satisfying than endless rounds of parties and assuredly sweeter than the sweetest of candy canes. 

Truly, Advent causes us to be aware of our sin and to wait and anticipate the Gospel – to long for the Lord who comes with forgiveness, life, and salvation. This waiting though does not happen by us pacing back and forth or twiddling our thumbs in boredom. This waiting does not happen when we are by ourselves, secluded in our houses.  No, you and I anticipate, wait, and hope for the Lord by coming to this church to pray together, sing together, and receive from the Lord.  We come here and journey towards Christmas together to hear once again about the one who came to sinful mankind, to rescue and deliver us from our choices for death.  We come to this church and wait for the Lord to come to us in His Word and Sacraments.  We come to this church together to wait for that great last day when the Lord will return to take us home forever and ever.

The world’s Christmas has already begun.  The sales are on.  The decorations are up. The parties have started. The Black Friday fights at Walmart have already occurred.  The Christmas race has begun.  And yet in the Church, we wisely slow down.  We take each day of Advent with patience; peacefully waiting for the Day of Christmas to draw upon us, where we will hear the grand news that the Son of God came to live, die, and rise for our justification. 

We go slowly through Advent, Baptized Saints, beholding and knowing that Jesus came to us in that manger, came to us at the cross, and will come to us again at the end of time.  We journey through Advent considering that the same King who was born in the manger and went to the cross is the same King who comes to us in our baptisms and the same King who comes to us in, with, and under the bread and wine. 

Advent it not some stick in the mud and it is not some old-fashioned unadventurous tradition, but a beautiful gift that prepares us for Christmas. It prepares us to confess the words, “Hosanna!”  That is, “Save us now, Jesus! Save us from our bondage to the sinful nature! Save us and be our Righteousness.  To You alone with the Father and the Holy Spirit be all the glory, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages!”

May the Lord bless our Advent Season here at Zion, as we travel patiently and slowly towards the Season of Christmas – together – in repentance and faith.

In the name of Jesus: Amen. 

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