December 2, 2018 A+D
St. Matthew 21:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Lord comes from the Father to the virgin in order to make Himself a Sacrifice for the sins of the world. This condescension is nearly inconceivable, its cost nearly inestimable, its effect nearly incalculable. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, very God of very God, descended from the highest heavens to abide with us in this miserable prison of our own making and then to lay down His life that we would be spared and rescued. He made Himself subject to the petty crimes, insults, and abuse of men. He endured hardships and temptation. He suffered under Satan and was betrayed by those whom He loved. This world, broken by our sin, was unworthy of Him. It gave Him no place to lay His head until it came to rest upon the cross. And yet He came, driven by His immense mercy, His multifaceted compassion, and His abundant charity.
It is not actually inconceivable for He has made it known. We can and we do conceive of it. So also we know what it cost: His life. And we know the effect: our salvation and reconciliation and eternal happiness. So it is not quite inconceivable, inestimable, or incalculable, but it is, for the heart that receives it in faith, absolutely staggering.
That staggering joy is the theme and message of Holy Christmas. It is the reason for all the festivities, ceremonies, and decorations. The Lord has come from the Father to the virgin in order to make Himself a Sacrifice for us and our sins.
But we’re not quite there yet. This reality is so great that the Church would not have us rush up to it like pigs to a trough. The Church would have us prepare for this mystery and the Church always prepares in the same way: repentance. Before the joy of Christmas feasting there is the Advent fast, before we get to Jesus sweetly reposed in His mother’s arms, we get John the Baptist in his austerity calling us to repent and behold the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
Repentance is never just sorrow over sin or self-indulgent regret. It is mourning over sin but that mourning takes responsibility and wants to do better. It looks not only to the past but also to the future. It is regret but it is not despair. True repentance has hope. It turns away from sin and turns toward God. So it is that when Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “repent,” He willed that the whole life of the believer be one of repentance, which is to say, one of hope. Repentance is not a singular moment in time. It is a way of life and a way of dying. It is a life of daily contrition and repentance, a drowning death and killing the old man so that a new man can arise. True repentance is confident that Christ is good and forgiving. John doesn’t stand of the Jordan’s banks merely to scold us for being bad. He also directs our attention to the Lamb. True repentance looks to Christ for mercy and salvation. It seeks power against temptation not in a setting of the will or self-mutilation but in God’s gifts.
And that which drives our preparation, our repentance, this morning is the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem six days before He was murdered in a miscarriage of justice with the ironically true charge “King of the Jews” hanging over His head and mysteriously in perfect accordance with His Father’s will. Justice was done even though the perpetrators meant it for evil. Before we contemplate Christmas and the Incarnation, before we hear angels on high and feast on sweets and material goods, the Church would have us contemplate the purpose of Our Lord’s ride into Jerusalem and His gracious answer to the plea “Hosanna, Son of David” in His Body given to the cross.
This reality is staggering, but it is not difficult. It does not require deep study or great learning. A child can conceive of it. The end and purpose of Our Lord’s ride into Jerusalem was proclaimed by prophets and wisemen, foretold by John and by Jesus Himself. It was necessary for the Son of Man to be betrayed, to be tortured and crucified, and on the third day to rise again. This is how the government was placed upon His shoulders, how He sought the one sheep of a hundred that had strayed, how He made atonement for His Bride and sent angels to say, “Do not be afraid.” The purpose of that ride, even as the purpose of His birth, was our salvation.
O wonderful condescension of God! O wonderful dignity of man who is thus sought, for whom God comes and rides to Jerusalem to die! Lift up your heads and rejoice, O men! The Lord comes seeking you. He desires someone to eat with and He eats with sinners. He desires someone to lavish His love upon, someone to call His own, and He does that for those who have no other hope or place to turn. You must give up your name to receive His. He elevates humanity for Himself. And if He should wish to bestow upon you this incredible dignity, this priceless gift, do not think Him a fool or that you have deserved it. He does do this either because there is some need or lack in Him or because we deserved it. He does this because He is love. He desires to be reconciled, to give away His Kingdom, to bear your burdens. He desires to restore the sons of Adam beyond the glory of first Adam by means of the Second Adam. He has paid the price in Jerusalem that it would be so.
All that is left for you is to repent and rejoice, to believe and receive, to take and to eat. All the riches and glory of the world pale in comparison to what God offers you in the Sacrament. Sugar plums and Lamborghinis and Debrand’s chocolates all fade away. For all that is good in creation and needed for life and happiness is here. He has come for this, for you, to make you His, to keep you His, to purify and cleanse you with His risen Body and Blood, born of Mary, carried to Jerusalem on the foal of an ass, nailed to a cross, and risen from the grave. Here is a present of presence that Santa Claus can’t give.
Indeed, it seems odd to us, that He should come to us, and not we to Him. We are inferior in every way, and, in any case, we are the ones in need, not Him. The rich do not go to the poor and seek them out for charity. It is the other way around. The poor seek the rich. Judges don’t go looking for criminals in their hovels just to pronounce them innocent. But rather criminals come begging for mercy.
But we could not go to Him. Our eyes were blinded by our sin. We could not behold Him as He is or even recognize our need. We were dead in our trespasses. What case could we bring to a judge? On what basis would we ask for mercy or pardon? What benefit could He receive by charity to us? We could not raise ourselves to greet Him or ask Him for anything. We were in all ways hostile to Him, enemies of God, traitors to our Creator. We could not by our reason or strength come to Him or believe in Him.
So He came to us. He was born for us. He rode to Jerusalem for us. He was crucified and is risen for us. And now, today, He calls us again by the Gospel. He answers the cry “Hosanna to the Son of the David.”
Our Good Shepherd and Savior, the Physician of our souls, Yahweh who spoke from the bush, descended down to us from His lofty throne. He tempered His brightness to the weakness of our sight denying Himself in part His Divine rights and powers as a Man. He was born under the Law and so we esteemed Him not. He came as the Babe of Peace in Bethlehem in order to be the Man of Sorrows who rode to His death. Neither our ignorance or malice would dissuade Him. There, outside the city gates, with our sins upon Him, He was lifted up from the earth and out of the grave. And that is how He comes to us. He rides on bread and wine. He is present for us in the Holy Communion.
He is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. That is the reason for His coming then. That is the reason for His coming now. And that is the reason for His coming on the Last Day.
Let us thus prepare to celebrate His coming to the virgin. Let it be the same preparation we make to come to the Sacrament every Sunday and also to face our own deaths and the deaths of our loved ones. It is Advent, brothers. Let us take it up a notch. Let us prepare for the staggering joy of Christmas by adding to our daily prayers and Bible reading and coming not only every Sunday but coming also in the week in order to be cleansed and strengthened by the Sacrament. Thus let us contemplate with humility and joy Our Lord’s going to the cross and His resurrection from the dead. May this staggering joy flow over and through us and into the world that not only we but also all the elect might enjoy its benefits. Hosanna to the Son of David!
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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Bits of this sermon and its tone come from a few precious paragraphs provided by Saint Bernard, “On the Advent of Our Lord and Its Six Circumstances,” in Sermons of St. Bernard on Advent & Christmas: Including the Famous Treatise on the Incarnation Called “Missus Est” (London; Manchester; Glasgow; New York; Cincinnati; Chicago: R. & T. Washbourne; Benziger Bros., 1909), 10–11.