The Christ is Coming
Romans 15:4; Luke 21:25-36
Advent II (Populus Zion)
December 8th/9th, 2013
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
The emotion of anticipation is one that we all experience. Many of us probably felt the anticipation of family members coming to visit for the Thanksgiving holiday. Now that Turkey Day is behind us, the anticipation switches to the Christmas Season, the Christmas parties, the Christmas cookies, the eggnog, The Holly and the Ivy, the lights and decorations. Maybe you are waiting to see if that one special gift is under your tree this year. Maybe instead of visions of sugar plumbs, your dreams are teeming with thoughts of this year’s desire, like little Ralphie and his Official Red Ryder 200 Shot Range Model Air Rifle. Maybe it’s not any particular physical element to the Christmas Season that has captured your interest, maybe it’s just the time with your family. After all, for students and teachers alike, thoughts of Christmas bring with them the promise of vacation. Sleeping in just a little later, staying in your pajamas just a little longer, and having the freedom to do something special like sledding on a Tuesday afternoon.
But not all anticipation is positive. Maybe you are looking at your schedule for the rest of December and realizing that you have almost no free time at all. Maybe thoughts of Christmas morning fill you with anxiety rather than joy, knowing that there will be fewer boxes and packages under the tree this year. Maybe the memory of a loved one who has passed away makes the holiday season especially difficult to handle. Maybe your son or daughter is planning on spending Christmas somewhere else for the first time, and the thought of Christmas without every member of your family under one roof fills you with sadness. Maybe the very mention of every member of your family under one roof fills you with dread and the anticipation of wondering who will fight and argue with whom this year. Or, maybe you’re just terrified that you’ll wake up one morning to find Cousin Eddie’s RV out in your driveway.
But one way or the other, whether it excites you or terrifies you, the fact that Christmas is only two short weeks away likely fills everyone with some sense of anticipation. It’s coming, one way or the other, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
That’s the message of Advent, the season of anticipation. The word Advent comes from a combination of two Latin words, Coming and To. Advent is the season of Jesus coming to, or coming toward, us. It is a season where we prepare for his coming, where we prepare to meet Jesus. But as with the holiday season, the question isn’t really is he coming, for he is. The question is: what kind of anticipation does that reality give you. Does the impending coming of the Christ fill you with excitement, or with terror?
Perhaps the best thing we as Christians can do in answering that question is to remember the words of the Apostle Paul read just a few moments ago: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” [Romans 15:4]. Paul is referring specifically to the Old Testament, but his words can be easily applied to the New Testament too. Look to the Scriptures to see what they say, says Paul, and you will find your faith strengthened. One of the chief purposes of Scripture is to instruct us, not with mere facts and data, but to instruct us in the way of our Lord, to show us clearly the pattern of his behavior.
Look to how God has acted in the Old Testament, and your will see a God who keeps his promises. In the book of Genesis alone, God kept his promise to Noah that he would survive the flood. God kept his promise to Abraham that Sarah would have a son. He kept his promise to Jacob that he would bring him safely home after he fled from Esau. On a larger scale, we see God keep his promises to Abraham when the Israelites grow to a great nation and take possession of the Promise Land. The Old Testament is filled with God making and keeping promises. This, Paul says, should give us comfort and hope that he will fulfill the promises he makes to us too. He has a track record of being faithful. He has a track record of being consistent. And so as we consider the arrival of Jesus, one thing we can do is look at the other comings of Jesus recorded for us in the Scriptures, for in them we will find encouragement and have hope.
It’s especially appropriate this time of year to remember his coming in the manger, as a child born in human flesh. We all know the story. Mary and Joseph travel back to Bethlehem in order to be counted for the census, thus fulfilling Micah’s prophecy that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. When they arrive, there is no room for them in any of the establishments, so they are forced to sleep out with the animals, and it is there, among the filth of a barn floor, that the creator is born into his creation. No grand palace. No regal pomp or circumstance. Only a baby, born without a home, without a place to lay his head.
Looking at the life he would lead, it is only fitting that he be born homeless, for as he would say later in his life, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He would live his life as an outcast, a nomad wandering from town to town proclaiming the day of the Lord’s Salvation. Some would listen. Some would not. It certainly was not the reception one might expect for the creator of the universe. He deserves recognition. He deserves honor. He deserves praise.
And so he had all of these things, for a moment, as he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey that Sunday afternoon, as we heard last week. For a brief, fleeting moment, the King of kings was surrounded by crowds of people shouting his name and praising him as the messiah: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” But when it came time for his people to fully acknowledge the royal presence among them, when the day of coronation arrived they did not give David’s Son a crown of gold as David would have worn. Instead they crowned him with thorns, beat him, mocked him, and sent him to his death.
Little did they know that this is exactly what he wanted them to do. For when the Christ came into the world the first time, it was to be a sacrifice for the sins of his entire creation. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! The baby born in a manger, the Son of Man who had no place to lay his head, the King of the Jews riding on a donkey, came into the flesh for the sole purpose of sacrificing himself to pay for your sin, and for mine. And so Jesus came into his own, in order to free his own. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” [John 3:17].
So also he comes to us today. He comes to us in flesh and blood, not to be crucified again, but to feed us and nourish us, to strengthen our souls in faith toward him and in fervent love toward one another. Jesus comes to us here, at this altar, and as he arrives we greet him with the same greeting that the Jerusalem crown gave him, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!” The Lord has fulfilled the promise he made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. The righteous branch has sprung up, and now we feast on the fruit of that branch, on the flesh and blood of our Savior himself. He comes to us to set us free.
And he will come again. Learn the lesson of the fig tree, Jesus says. Mark the time. Just like the presence of Christmas lights on your neighbor’s lawn and Christmas themed commercials lets you know that December has arrived, so also the signs of the time let you know that Jesus will come again soon. But this next time, there won’t be any mistaking his identity. There won’t be any confusion regarding who he is. For this next time he will not come hidden in bread and wine. He will not come as a humble baby born among the animals. He will not come as one with no place to lay his head. He will come on the clouds, with the trumpets of heaven announcing his arrival. The heavens will be pulled back, the seas will roar and foam, the mountains will crumble and the earth will shake, and there will stand Jesus, creator of the universe.
How do we look forward to that coming? With what sense of anticipation? Fear? Terror? No, for our Lord has come before. In his first coming he won for us forgiveness of sins. He lived a perfect life in our place. He died an innocent death in our place. He rose again to new life in our place. And through our baptism we are united to this very life, death and resurrection. His victory is ours. Because when he comes to us now in his body and blood, at his altar, he does so forgiving our sins and renewing us to a life of service to him, we need not fear his final coming. He has come before to save us. He comes now to save us. He will come again to save us. Whatever was written in former days was written for our encouragement and hope. In the Scriptures we see written time and time again a God who is active to save his people. That is your God, active to save you. Let that reality fill you with encouragement and hope.
The Holiday season brings with it an inherent sense of anticipation, and talk of the coming of Jesus carries its own sense of anticipation. So as we prepare for his coming, we do so as a child prepares for Christmas. A child knows that when Christmas comes, so do presents. So does eggnog. So do Christmas Carols and grandma’s house. For all these things have been part of Christmas for as long as that child can remember. As today’s closing hymn will so beautifully remind us, we too can look how God will act in the future by looking first at how he has already acted in the past. Once he came in blessing to save us from our sin, now he comes to feed us and gently lead us. And so we anticipate the next coming of Jesus on the basis of his previous comings, knowing that whenever Jesus has come before, be it at manger or altar, it was to save us. So also we know that when he returns it will be to claim us as his own, to take us to live with him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Until that day, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” [Romans 15:13]. In Jesus Name. Amen.