Tis the Season
First Sunday in Advent
November 29, 2015
Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, Detroit, MI
Installation of Rev. John Carrier
“Tis the Season.” Tis the season for anticipation and excitement. Yes, the liturgical Christmas season may still be a few weeks away, but now that Thanksgiving 2015 is a memory, let the cultural celebration of Advent commence. Yes, I said Advent, for while the world around us may not consciously observe Advent by name, December in America is absolutely a season of anticipation. The holiday commercials have been playing for a good month already. 100.3 is a month into its Christmas playlist. The lights and decorations that haven’t been put up already will be out before you know it. And in my house filled with girls, the Christmas movies have already staked their claim to the throne of television supremecy. I guess it’s good that college football is basically done for a while. I find all of this excitement intriguing, because it demonstrates that even though our culture may not observe Advent on purpose or treat it as a season of repentance like we do in our Lord’s Church, much of November and December in our world is spent looking forward to the celebration of Christmas. Tis the season for anticipation indeed.
Tis definitely the season in our Lord’s church. Today marks the beginning of Advent, the season for anticipation and excitement, which is why the Gospel for today fits perfectly. It might strike us as odd at first glance, this Palm Sunday reading as we decorate for Christmas. We typically (and rightly) associate this reading with Easter and springtime, not with Christmas or Advent. And yet, the emotion of anticipation in this text is so thick that you could scoop it out with a spoon. Consider the ministry of Jesus up to this point. For three years Jesus has journeyed throughout the countryside healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, even raising the dead. After almost every healing he looked those people in the eye and said, “Tell no one what you have seen.” Jesus traveled the regions and in every one of them instructed people to remain silent about his miracles. He understood that the healing granted through these miraculous acts was short lived. Every person he healed got sick later with something else. Every dead person he restored to life later died again. Lazarus, the widow’s son, the centurion’s servant, the paralytic lowered through the roof and laid at the feet of Jesus, where are they today? Which of them has survived this past 2000 years?
No, Jesus did not want people to consider him according to his acts of earthly power. He had something more in mind. He had the cross in mind. He was always journeying to the cross. He was always a lamb being led to the slaughter, the lamb of God sent to take away the sin of the world. And so for three years, he tried to silence any attempt to paint his mission or ministry in another light. “Tell no one what you have seen.”
But not today. Not Palm Sunday. No, the triumphal entry is different. The Messiah is on his way to the Temple to reconcile God and humanity. Sure, he may not actually die for a few more days, but this is the home stretch. This is his final journey to Jerusalem. This is the season for anticipation. And so with each step toward the holy city, the anticipation snowballs, building like air in a balloon until it finally cannot hold any more, and with a loud pop the mass of people cries out in a loud voice, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And this time Jesus does not silence them. Not only does he let them cry out, but when the Pharisees try to silence the crowd Jesus informs them that even if the people were silent, the stones themselves would cry out. No longer is Jesus trying to contain the excitement of the masses. Tis the season for anticipation. The day of the Lord is here.
What anticipation is bubbling under the surface in your life this morning? There are probably some visions of sugar plums with the holidays on the horizon, but what else is part of that stew? Do the holidays fill you with stress as you dread what might happen when your whole family gets together this year? Who will fight with whom? Will so-and-so bring that girlfriend that nobody likes? Will cousin Eddie show up unannounced? Are you filled with dread at the thought of trying to celebrate without someone? Is this the first Christmas without mom or dad, without a brother or sister, without a husband or wife? Maybe it’s the 10th or 20th Christmas without that loved one, but they just get harder and harder each year. Are you fearful of what you can’t afford? The holidays are an expensive time, and there’s no shortage of opportunities to spend, spend, spend. But what if you’ve nothing to spend? What if you’re just trying to keep the lights and heat on for another month? What if your cancer isn’t getting any better? What if you are fearful of what the future might look like if something doesn’t change soon? Tis the season for anticipation. But as life so coldly reminds us, not all anticipation is good. Some anticipation fills us with far more dread than joy.
You know, if you were to continue reading beyond where today’s Gospel reading ends, you would find that after Jesus tells the Pharisees that the stones would cry out in praise, he looked out over the city of Jerusalem and broke down into tears. Did you know that Jesus cried on Palm Sunday? Jesus wept over Jerusalem, for he knew the destruction it would endure at the hands of the Romans in a few short years. He knew the suffering and heartache that this city would endure. He wept because he knew that the shouts of praise announcing his triumphal entry would turn to shouts crying for execution in less than a week. He knew the people of Jerusalem did not understand his mission, did not understand why he visited the city at all. And so he wept. He wept over the suffering that the people of Jerusalem would have to endure. He weeps for our suffering too. His eyes fill with tears of compassion for you. But he did not allow his tears to blur his vision – he remained focused on the cross. He marched faithfully to that cross for those very people who wanted him dead. He stayed on that cross for you, and for me. And on that cross, he did what he was sent to do: he reconciled God and man.
Tis the season for anticipation. Actually, each day of our lives is lived in anticipation, caught between the reality of what Jesus did for us on the cross on the one side, and on the other, our continued daily struggle in this life. The life of a Christian is one of waiting, one of trusting, one of hoping. As the writer of Hebrews so memorably put it, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. It is being sure of our hope for resurrection, and certain that we are reconciled with God, despite what struggles we might see in our daily lives that would tell us otherwise. As the Apostle Peter says, we are born to a living hope. But hope, like anticipation, has a shelf-life. It will expire one day. Faith, hope, and love are three great gifts from God, but faith and hope serve a limited purpose. They look forward to the promises of God, but once those promises are fulfilled, there is nothing left to hope in. Your anticipation for Christmas, whether that anticipation is joy or dread, will end once Christmas gets here. Faith, hope, and love are certainly three great gifts, but the greatest of these is Love. For love is never ending. It has no shelf life. And the promise we have been given is that one day we will live in the love of our Father, free from any need to have faith or hope in promises of the future, for those promises will be fulfilled. We will simply live for eternity in the love of the Father.
But not yet. No, for us, life is anticipation. And so our Lord has left us gifts to help us in our wait. The first and greatest of these gifts is his Word, where he gives us his promises and creates the faith in our hearts that would cling to these promises. Our Lord has given us food for our journey in the gift of his own body and blood for the strengthening of our souls. He has surrounded us with fellow hopers and believers so that in our moments of doubt and despair, we might find the encouragement of a brother or sister in Christ. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, we belong to Christ, we belong to the day, so we encourage one another and build one another up.
Tis the season of anticipation as Christians everywhere await the return of our King. Tis the season especially here at Mt. Calvary, for today you receive your new Pastor, the man appointed by God to keep Jesus’s words of hope and encouragement before you during the season of anticipation known as your life this side of heaven. He is the man who is called to bring God’s Word of hope into all circumstances of your life. When you dread who might or might not be at Christmas dinner this year, the voice of your pastor speaks God’s Word to you. When you worry about what disease might or might not do to your body, the voice of your pastor speaks God’s Word to you. When you are worried about what you can or can’t afford this Christmas, the voice of your pastor speaks God’s Word to you. We spend so much of our lives listening to the voices of the world around us, often without even realizing it. We listen to the radio, we listen to the television, we listen to the politicians, we listen to the celebrity activists, we listen to this voice and that voice. There are so many voices vying for our attention, so many who would try to shape us into something we are not.
In the midst of that deluge of voices stands your pastor speaking the Word of God, the word which is shaping you back in to the image of God in which our first parents were created. Here from this pulpit, the Word of God will whittle away Sunday after Sunday as you are shaped back into the image of God. In sickness or in health, in riches or poverty, in mourning or rejoicing, your pastor is here to speak God’s words of hope and promise. He is here to remind you of the truth of your sin. He is here to proclaim to you the truth of your salvation. And while he will certainly do more than that, he will not do less. For that is his primary responsibility – to preach the word in season and out. To see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human traditions or the elemental spirits of this world. For you are captive to Christ. You are his people. Already forgiven. Baptized into his family. Working to trust his promises as you struggle through the challenges of life this side of heaven. Anticipating the day of his return, awaiting the gift of life and the new creation.
Tis the season. The season for anticipation. The season for hope. But do not forget that your pastor needs to hear this message of hope too. As you are encouraging one another with the promises of God, encourage him too. Encourage his family. Whatever does or doesn’t happen in ministry here, whatever successes or failures you meet as you reach out to this community, whatever challenges or triumphs you have has a congregation, remember that you are first and foremost people of hope. You are the forgiven children of God awaiting his return. As your pastor reminds you of that, remind him too. Build one another up. Encourage one another with the promises of God. Embrace the joy of anticipation.