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It has always seemed just a bit strange to me that on the 1st Sunday in Advent the appointed gospel reading is always the Palm Sunday account. My initial reaction every year is always a quick double-take. ‘Hey, this is Advent isn’t it? Why are we reading the Palm Sunday account which marks the beginning Holy Week? I thought Advent was supposed to get us ready for Christmas, not Good Friday and Easter.’
But then I come to my senses and remember why Advent and Palm Sunday belong together. Advent prepares us for the celebration of Christmas when God became Man, “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.”
Palm Sunday prepares us for Good Friday when the same God/Man, did what He was born on Christmas to do – which is to “take away the sin of the world” by the ‘all availing sacrifice of His body and blood on the cross.’
On Christmas, God came into this world, not as a ‘vision’ or a ‘spirit,’ but in flesh and blood, incarnate, FULLY HUMAN, so that He may be nailed to a cross and die, because you can’t nail a ‘vision, or a ‘spirit’ to a cross.
Without Christmas there would be no Good Friday and without Good Friday, the whole world is still dead in their sins and without hope.
So, Advent and Palm Sunday go together. The purpose of the season of Advent is to prepare us for a PROPER CELEBRATION of Christmas, just as the purpose for the season of Lent is to prepare us for a PROPER CELEBRATION of Good Friday and Easter.
So, how do we PREPARE for a PROPER CELEBRATION of Christmas?
Certainly we all prepare by decorating our homes with special decorations and lights, shopping for gifts, putting up Christmas trees and making favorite cookies. All these things are a part of our PREPARATION for a PROPER CELEBRATION OF CHRISTMAS.
But now this morning, we are reminded that our PREPARATION for a PROPER CELEBRATION of Christmas begins with PALM SUNDAY. The baby born in Bethlehem is born to die.
So, we prepare for a PROPER CELEBRATION of Christmas with the CROSS OF CHRIST always right in front of us.
Christmas is a season of great joy and we sing can’t wait to sing, “Joy To The World.” But our CHRISTMAS JOY is a REPENTANT JOY, because we are aware of the terrible price that the baby born of Mary has come to pay for our ransom and release from sin, death and the devil.
And this is why the Christian Church is never so ‘counter-cultural’ as it is at this time of year. Even though we may have participated in the official beginning of the Christmas season on ‘Black Friday’ and gotten some great deals, we do so with another ‘Black Friday’ in mind that keeps those great deals in their proper perspective.
• The world sees Advent as a time for ‘FASTING,’ but the Church sees Advent as a time for ‘FASTING.’
• The world cries, ‘JOY,’ but the Church cries, ‘REPENT.’
• The world prepares for the coming of Santa Claus and the Church prepares for the coming of Jesus Christ.
So, it shouldn’t surprise us that the Christian Church always seems to be a bit backward and contrary to the rest of the world? And really, that’s a GOOD THING. We’re not trying to become like this world that has an expiration date stamped on it. We want to follow Jesus, the ETERNAL ONE, who is COMING AGAIN to bring us into a NEW WORLD – where we will celebrate Christmas and Good Friday with an UNBRIDLED JOY.
Advent reminds us that there is something greater, something more glorious that is still yet to come and that we should not become so attached to the things of this world because they are ‘fading away.’
Which means that the Christian is always going to feel at least a bit like a ‘stranger’ or ‘alien’ in this world. Our JOY is not in the things of this world but in the Creator and Redeemer of all things.
So, it shouldn’t surprise either that the Christian Church is sometimes called a real ‘KILL JOY.’ Which of course, is not at all true. It’s just that the JOY that we have is a lot like the “peace that surpasses all human understanding.” Apart from faith in Jesus Christ, you’re just not going to comprehend it.
In fact, the Christian knows a deep JOY that is a gift of the Holy Spirit. For us, the greatest JOY in all the world is the JOY that we feel in our heart when we hear those precious words of Absolution – “I forgive you all of your sins.”
There is a DEEP JOY that is ours in not having to pretend that we’re someone we’re really not.
• What a JOY it is to be free to confess before God and one another that we are sinful and unclean.
• What a JOY to know that “in His boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of His Son, Jesus Christ, God is gracious and merciful to us.”
There is a DEEP JOY in being free to admit that we are sad or lonely or depressed or mournful, knowing that we have One who enters into my sadness and loneliness and depression and mourning with His very body and blood.
This is the JOY that the season of Advent is really all about. It’s not the JOY that all my HOPES AND DREAMS HAVE BEEN FULFILLED. It’s the JOY that all of the PROMISES OF GOD FULFILLED in Jesus Christ.
This is the JOY that we find in our Gospel reading for this morning – the Palm Sunday gospel.
“And as He was drawing near [to Jerusalem] – already on the way down the Mount of Olives – the whole multitude of his disciples began TO REJOICE AND PRAISE GOD with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Have you ever wondered who this “whole multitude of his disciples..” that were filled with such JOY IN JESUS were? Well, it certainly includes the 12 apostles and the 72 disciples. But it certainly also includes more than them.
I wonder if Lazarus wasn’t in that multitude, fresh from the tomb – REJOICING AND PRAISING GOD.
• And probably Bartimaeus who was born blind but whose eyes were opened by Jesus?
• And Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector and all of his friends, still in awe that this Jesus came into his house and ate with him?
• And maybe that man with the paralyzed legs was there, singing his praise of Jesus while jumping up and down on those his new legs.
• And I wonder how many former lepers now cleansed
• and the sick now restored to health
• and demon possessed now set free from their prison.
All a part of that ‘multitude’ PROPERLY CELEBRATING what He had done for them with GREAT JOY?
That’s the JOY that the Pharisees in the crowd knew nothing about because they didn’t know Jesus, just like this world knows nothing about because it doesn’t know Jesus.
But we do, and so we should certainly be able to find ourselves in that “multitude” too. When we look back on our life, which of us cannot add our own JOY to theirs
• because the same Jesus Christ has cured us of our sickness;
• and healed us of our diseases;
• and mended our broken body;
• and befriended us in our loneliness;
• and raised us from the dead in our baptism;
• and comes to us and sits at table and eats with us in the Holy Supper.
And so this is our JOY IN JESUS too.
But we dare not stop there because we haven’t yet gotten to the DEEPER JOY of Advent. For while each person in that “multitude,” ourselves included, had been given a taste of the power of Jesus to overcome the hold that sin had on them, there was only One in that “multitude” who was there to SWALLOW UP ALL THE SIN, “once for all.” And of course, that is the One who is on the donkey.
Jesus was riding into Jerusalem, to break the grip that sin has, not just on THAT MULTITUDE, but that it has on the multitude of the whole human race, in every place, and in every time.
He is riding into Jerusalem to SET THE CAPTIVES FREE, with a FREEDOM THAT SURPASSES ALL HUMAN UNDERSTANDING.
The JOY of the “multitude” is an INDIVIDUAL JOY. Each one knows what Jesus did for them or for a loved one of theirs and they REJOICE AND PRAISE GOD. But Jesus knows a FULNESS OF JOY that they only knew in part.
If it sounds strange to say that Jesus had this DEEP JOY in Him even as He entered Jerusalem, knowing that the journey would end in terrible suffering and shame and crucifixion, then listen to the writer to the Hebrews, who, speaking of Jesus says, “Who for the JOY set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Heb. 12:2)
It is with GREAT JOY that Jesus rides into Jerusalem, because
• He knows that He will be hated and rejected by men so that you may be loved and accepted by the Father.
• He knows that He will be stripped of His clothes so that you may be clothed in His righteousness.
• He knows that He will be wounded but that by His wounds, you will be healed.
• He knows that He will enter into death so that you may enter into life.
• He knows that He will rise from the dead so that you may be raised to eternal life and “rejoice and praise God with a loud voice, ‘blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.’