Christ the Passover Lamb – Sermon for December 1st/2nd, 2013 (Ad Te Levavi)

Christ, the Passover Lamb:

God’s Gift to a Fallen Creation

Matthew 21:1-9

1st Sunday in Advent (Ad Te Levavi)

December 1, 2013

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

             It’s finally here.  No, I don’t mean Advent, although today is the first Sunday of that particular liturgical season.  Rather, I’m talking about the Christmas Season in all its splendor.  I realize that liturgically Christmas hasn’t begun yet, but if you’re like me, you’ve been secretly enjoying bits Christmas for a few weeks now . . . setting up the Christmas tree and sitting in the soft glow of its lights each night behind closed doors so that no one knows your house was decorated in mid-November . . . listening to Christmas music at home, but not at work so that none of your co-workers give you a hard time . . . setting up Christmas lights in your front yard, but not turning them on yet so that you don’t feel like people are ridiculing you for starting Christmas too early.  Sure, the stores brazenly put the Christmas decorations out months ago.  In fact, my family and I stumbled across Christmas displays as we were out shopping way back at the end of August over Labor Day Weekend.  But the conversation changes when you’re talking about someone’s living room instead of Garden Ridge, so personally, I find great relief that the question about whether or not it’s too early to start listening to Christmas music is a moot point for another 11 months.  It will, of course, surface again next November, but for now, we can jump head first into the wonders of the Christmas season.

But for as much joy as I find in Christmas Music and movies, Christmas also presents that annual challenge of finding the right gifts for the people on your list.  A pair or hop-along boots or a pistol that shoots just doesn’t cut it anymore.  Barney and Ben want an iPad or an xBox.  Dolls that can talk or can go for a walk won’t satisfy the hopes of Janice and Jen anymore.  Not to mention the other people on your list.  Grandmas and Grandpas, aunts and uncles, moms and dads, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews . . . there are a lot of people to buy for each year.  Maybe you braved the crowds last Friday, maybe you stayed home.  Either way, you have to buy your gifts eventually.  And if you’re somehow done with all your Chrtistmas shopping already, you should probably keep that to yourself for a few weeks while the rest of us endure the chaos of the season.

Gifts.  Some gifts are easy to choose, some take a lot more thought, visits to a lot more sores, walking from the back of a crowded parking lot as you scour the county looking for that hard to find item for that special someone.  Of the 14 Christmases we’ve celebrated together, I think last year was one of the first times I knew exactly what I wanted to get for my wife before I left to go shopping.  But even though I knew what I wanted to get, I still went to a half dozen stores looking for the best price.  When I found the right price, I bought the gift.  But I bought the wrong size.  When we went to exchange the gift for the right size in January, the store had closed and gone out of business.  Choosing that perfect gift can be prove challenging.

Which brings us to the Gospel reading for this week.  Even though the world outside is already celebrating Christmas, in our Lord’s Church we take time to pause for Advent first, to prepare our hearts and minds to properly celebrate the arrival of Jesus, which is exactly why the reading for today tells of Palm Sunday.  I’d be willing to bet that at least a few people here today are wondering why we’re hearing about Palm Sunday during the first week of December.  Well, last week we heard the history of the crucifixion, ending our church year by being reminded why we have a church at all – because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.  Today we begin a new church year by hearing of the triumphal entry.  The season of Advent is a season in which we reflect on how Jesus comes to us, so Palm Sunday is a natural fit: the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.  The cross and resurrection of Jesus are the heart and soul of the church, so they are the heart and soul of the church year – they are quite literally its beginning, middle and end.

But back to Palm Sunday.  We are well aware that the events of that first Easter took place over Passover weekend.  The richness of that symbolism could fill volumes of books.  The typology and foreshadowing present in the Old Testament Passover points clearly to what the Messiah would do when he came to earth.  Just as the Israelites were released from bondage to slavery in Egypt by the death of the Passover Lamb, so also we are released from slavery to sin, death and the devil by the death of Jesus.  Just as the blood of the Passover Lamb painted on their doorposts offered a protective covering to the Israelites in Egypt, so also the blood of Jesus covers us so that we are delivered safely in our hour of death.  Just as the events of Passover were to be for the Israelites a mark on their forehead and on their hands, changing the way they thought and the way they acted, so also the death of Jesus changes the way we think and the way we act.  We are delivered people.  We are not our own, we were bought with a price, therefore we honor God with our bodies.

But there is one more element to the Passover that is worth a moment’s reflection today.  Listen to God’s instruction to the Israelites in Egypt about how they should celebrate Passover:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. [. . .] and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Exodus 12:1-6

Much like we take the time to find the right gift for that special someone before Christmas Day actually rolls around, the Israelites were to choose their Passover Lamb before the celebration of Passover actually began.  They were to choose it on the 10th day of the month, set it aside, and then offer it as the sacrifice on the 14th day of the month.

What they did with the lamb for those days in between is open for speculation.  What’s not open for speculation is that any Israelite who was planning on celebrating Passover beginning Thursday at sundown, which is when Jesus and his disciples celebrated in the upper room, would need to choose their lamb on the 10th, which began Sunday at sundown.  We know from the Gospels as well as Jewish history that Jerusalem was especially crowded and festal during Passover.  But have you ever wondered why already on Sunday the streets of Jerusalem would be filled with pilgrims and travelers from all over Israel when Passover didn’t begin until sundown on Thursday.  They were there because on the Sunday evening before Passover they would begin making their way to the Temple to choose their Passover lamb to be sacrificed that year.  It is into this setting that Jesus rides on Palm Sunday.  A city crowded with people who will, in a matter of hours, begin looking for their own Passover lambs are there to witness the arrival of the true Passover sacrifice.  It’s almost as if God the Father is putting Jesus forward as his chosen lamb on Palm Sunday.

As we enter Advent, what could be more a more appropriate focus of our meditation than that?  There is so much to love about Christmas.  I love the music, I love that the cheesy movies all have happy endings, I love the nativities and Christmas Cards of quiet snowy nights.  But in the midst of it all, we must not forget that Christmas is not the end of the story.  Christmas is not the beginning of the story.  Christmas isn’t even the main chapter in the story.  It is certainly an important milestone in salvation history, but Christmas exists only in the shadow of the cross.  As we ponder the incarnation and birth of Jesus, we do so with the knowledge that the baby in Mary’s arms is destined to be crucified as the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.  That is the purpose of the incarnation.  That is the reason our Lord was born a human baby – so that he could grow into a human man who would suffer and die in our stead.

Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Raised from the dead, he will never die again.  Death has no more dominion over him.  Jesus, our Passover lamb, has changed everything.  He was truly the perfect gift for an imperfect world.

He was not necessarily the gift the world wanted, but absolutely the gift we needed.  Do not let yourself be distracted by the world’s misrepresentations of Jesus.  He is not merely a prophet as Islam claims.  He is not merely one son of God among many, as the Mormons believe.  He is not some distant impersonal force hovering out in the universe somewhere.  He is Jesus, the son of Mary, He is God in the flesh.

Do not invent for yourself a Jesus to suit your own desires this Christmas.  He is not an advocate for political philosophy. He is not an agent of social justice.  He did not come to establish a worldly political kingdom.  He did not come to give you 10 steps to a better you or to help you balance your finances.  He is the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  He may not be the gift the world expected, but he is the gift the world needed above all else.

He is the gift from the Father: the Child who lies in lowly state, where ox and lamb are feeding.  Good Christian, fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.  Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross he bore, for me, for you.  Hail, hail the word made flesh, the babe, the Son of Mary.

This Advent we are preparing to celebrate the birth of the Passover lamb.  “Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest!”  Amen.

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