Preached November 28th, 2010
St. Matthew 21:1–13
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today we begin the new Church year with the season of Advent. The word Advent is a synthesis of two Latin words, ad and venio, meaning to and come, so when put together the implication is, Someone who is to come. It is clearly a season of preparation, but preparation for what?
If you look to the secular world, you will get some hints. The commercial world is all abuzz right now with shopping excitement, the big Christmass shopping season is upon us. This Friday just gone past was the so–called “Black Friday” sales event when stores try to earn enough to put themselves into the black for the year, even if they have been operating in the red all year up to this point. From all of this, if we think hard about it we just might conclude that Advent is a period of preparation for Christmass, for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ into the world as the babe in the manger in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. That would not be wrong, but it would be incomplete.
The other coming of Jesus Christ as King will not be suggested to us by anything we find in the secular world; that world is blithely unaware of it. I am speaking of Christ the King, coming in glory and judgement at the end of time to judge the world. That is an event still in the future, but now much closer than it was when our lessons were first written. We must prepare to receive Christ at His Second Coming with all seriousness and conviction. Whether it happens this year, this decade, or within our own lifetimes is immaterial; it will happen, and He will judge both the living and the dead.
Thus the whole theme of the Advent season is “prepare to meet thy God,” both in terms of the Incarnation when Christ came to us the first time, and as Judge of the world at his Second Coming. Advent carries both of these themes, with at least as much emphases on the Second Coming as on the first.
Our Epistle lesson is very much focused on how we should live in preparation for the Second Coming of our Lord. What St. Paul says is extremely good advice in all circumstances, even without concern for the Second Coming, when he says, Romans 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. Did you catch that? Owe no man any thing. Do not put yourself in debt to anyone, because when you are in debt, you are no longer truly free. Your creditor has a claim on you, and can limit your freedom to act according to your conscience. But rather, remain free so that the only debt you owe is the debt of love which you are to be constantly repaying. Note that in so doing, you are satisfying all of demands of God as well as those of man. Notice that one who loves does no damage of any sort to those that he loves, so there will be no murder, no theft of property or good name, no covetousness, no injury of any sort because he loves his neighbor as himself.
Most of the world simply does not acknowledge that the King is coming again, but there are some who have a hazy perception that something of that sort will happen some day. But they are confident that it is not today, so they can wait to deal with that on another day. This sort of ignorance, the lack of consciousness of the urgency of the situation, means that these folk are not really much better off than those that completely deny the coming of the Lord. If they fail to recognize that this is something that they must deal with right now, today, then we have missed the whole point. We should all definitely be in fear of judgment, and that fear should drive us to repentance which leads to hope for our salvation. At every moment, we can say with certainty that our salvation is closer than when we first believed, so let us hold fast and continue on in faith and confidence.
St. Paul describes this life as a night that opens through death into eternal day Romans 13:12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. We are to work diligently at the process of our own sanctification that we may cast off the works of darkness. We want to remove from our lives those last residual tendencies to sin that remain before we die, putting on the armor of light, that is holiness, in our lives to aid us as we continue the struggle to the end. If we do this, we will be prepared to welcome Christ when He comes.
Our Gospel lesson for today tells of the way the city of Jerusalem prepared for the coming of Christ as He arrived on Palm Sunday morning. It is both an example and a warning to us.
We consider first the preparations made by two of the disciples to bring Him an ass to ride upon as he made his entrance into the city. We tend to think of this as a rather low status mount, but this was not the way things were seen in the ancient Middle East. This was an appropriate mount for a king or a priest, so there is nothing incongruous here. This shows both his royal status and his simple humility since he comes unattended by soldiers and other dignitaries. The disciples did what Jesus told them to do, they did it in ignorance of His plans and the events that would follow, but they did as they were told. In the same way, today Christ’s ministers continue to prepare His way, in ignorance of the details of what is to follow but doing what they have been told to do by the Master Himself.
The multitude of the city too made their hasty preparations to receive the King, cutting off branches and strewing them in the way, while others put their cloaks on the ground for Him to ride over them. At least while they were caught up in the spirit of the moment, they were definitely receptive to Jesus’ message of salvation. As we know, it was a shallow, superficial receptiveness that a week later was turned completely against Jesus.
The great Temple in Jerusalem was completely unprepared. It was as much a market for trade in sacrificial animals as it was a place of worship, and it lay totally unaware that the King was approaching the city. After He arrived in the city, Jesus went straight to the Temple and drove out the merchants and the money changers because they were profaning the House of the Lord God. Jesus did this as a very clear message to all who would act in this manner for all time. His judgment on those business men was not that buying and selling are in and of themselves were evil, but rather that they have no place in the House of God. The House of the Lord is not for commerce, but rather it is for prayer and worship, and commerce must be conducted elsewhere and at another time. Do we ever see newspaper stands, bookstores, or even gift shops in our Churches and open on Sunday? I think you know the answer, and I think you can see from this scripture passage right here just exactly what our Lord Christ thinks about such. These things are abominations!
The Collect for the Advent 1 is to be repeated on every day throughout the season because it truly sets the tone for the entire season. In its opening words, it asks for grace to carry out the preparation described in the Epistle lesson, specifically
(1) To cast off the works of darkness,
(2) To put on the armor of light,
(3) To know the time of this mortal life.
We also seek grace to see clearly the connection between the first coming of Christ in great humility as described in the Gospel which was done to procure our salvation with His second coming when He will come in judgment.
May we offer the Collect for the Day once again:
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
May we live by faith in Christ who has come so as to be ready for Christ who is to come. We must be not idle, but constantly engaged in the battle if we expect to win the prize. Christ who came is coming again! Allelulia!
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.