The First Sunday in Advent – Series C – Luke 19:28-40
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
It may seem a bit strange, a bit off, that we would begin this Advent season, by hearing today the same Gospel reading that we listen to on Palm Sunday.
It may seem a bit a strange, that as our children start rehearsing the upcoming Christmas program, as they get ready to reenact the story of Mary, with child, riding on a donkey into a Bethlehem; that we would instead hear today, the story of Jesus, riding on a donkey, into Jerusalem.
It may seem a bit strange, that as we prepare our hearts, homes, trees and bellies for the celebration of the Lord’s birth in the manger; that we would instead on this day, make way for the Lord’s death upon a cross.
And yet, before we throw our hands in the air in confusion, we should note, that we know from history, that even in the earliest lectionaries, or weekly scheduled readings of the Christian Church, dating all the way back to about the mid-fifth century, that the Church has always begun its Christian year with this triumphant entrance of Jesus in Luke chapter 19.
So perhaps as strange as it may seem to us, and odd as it may sound to us, perhaps there is something that we can learn here.
Perhaps like Mary, we can hear but not yet fully understand, we can listen and take something with us as we ponder it in our hearts, as we carry it with us for the journey ahead.
For today, we sing, “God the Father was his source, Back to God he ran his course,
Into hell his road went down, Back then to His throne and crown.”
Our journey this Advent season begins indeed, in Bethlehem…but it must continue to Jerusalem. Without that road, and without that course, as our hymn of the day tells us; Christmas as we know it, really has no lasting value and has no true meaning.
In this world, Christmas, for so many people, seems to be a holiday about nothing, or else only a holiday about the passing things of this world.
The month of December is marked by a mad rush of shopping, pulling decorations down from the attic, the anticipation and excitement of new toys and the cozy comfort of holiday nostalgia.
Whether it’s movie marathons or our favorite Christmas carols, our secular world knows that it’s supposed to be merry, but it’s clear that no one is really all that sure as to what they should be merry about.
A Christ-less Christmas really is empty and meaningless…it becomes nothing more than a passing month of anxiety, excitement and the final relief that family is heading home, the house is being put back together and the mess is being cleaned up. The only peace, is that the holiday is finally over.
In this, there is no journey, no road or course to be found. The anticipation of Christmas doesn’t really go anywhere, it’s just something to get over with.
For a Christ-less Christmas begins with the focus upon ourselves and ends in the same manner.
In this, and in our constantly changing feelings, thoughts and wants, there is no lasting peace, there is no true fulfillment.
And so it’s no wonder that for so many in our world, Christmas has a tendency to fall flat.
And if we’re being honest, Christmas sometimes falls flat for us Christians as well.
Perhaps we should blame the angels for raising our expectations. Perhaps it’s that glorious song from Luke chapter 2, “Glory in the highest, peace on earth, and good will towards men.”
In the present moment, it’s pretty hard to find peace on earth, much less good will to men.
We live in an age, where it seems that all we hear about are wars and rumors of wars.
If we flip on the news, we find only violence, hatred and disappointment…so much for peace on earth and good will to men.
Again, the angels proclaim to the shepherds and to us, “Don’t be afraid…” and yet, we live in, what seems to be an age of anxiety.
At every turn and around every corner, our fears come and walk with us.
We look at the world and we wonder how long it will last, we look at society and wonder when everything will finally come crashing down.
Peace on earth? It seems that despair not peace, is imminent.
And so at Christmas, when peace on earth seems unattainable on a global scale, we find ourselves often retreating and attempting to find just a little bit of peace, on a little bit smaller scale.
Perhaps here, at home with family and friends, we will find the reason for the season.
Many people, even Christian people, will often say that the real meaning of Christmas is all about friends and family.
If we can’t have a happy outside, perhaps we can have a happy inside, a happy family. Perhaps that is the best gift we can give.
And yet, families too, can quickly be turned into idols and false hopes.
They too, can be taken from the good gifts that God gives, and turned into distractions that keep us from the true peace that is coming in this Advent season.
Perhaps we may tempted to skip our church services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, all in favor of being with our loved ones… perhaps it may seem that our family is a bit more joyful in the house than in the church pew.
And yet, even when we are with our families, we don’t always find peace.
Whether it’s in December or throughout the year, there are always assaults from without, and tensions from within.
Christmas might be great, but that high stack of bills still needs to be paid, throw in the anxieties of work, your children’s struggles at school, ailing parents, chronic medical conditions, disputes with the in-laws, the loss of a loved one, a broken relationship…all of this seems to result in a lot of sadness and strife.
Some of this sadness is because we live in a fallen world, and some of this strife is really of our own making.
Maybe it’s the bad choices we’ve made, or the people we’ve hurt, the relationships we’ve damaged, or the words that were spoken without a second thought.
Life gets messy, and so much of this mess is the result of our own doing.
Where then is peace to be found?
Not in the things of this world. Not even in the good gifts of this world, such as the family, but only in the Christchild.
And not in the warm, cuddly, precious-moments kind of Christchild, but in the Child who was born and destined to die.
A real world savior, for a world with real problems. The baby born in Bethlehem who would set his sights on Jerusalem. He whose birth was lit by a star, who came to meet a death marked by darkness.
Because, in mercy, he saw our problem, and offered his life as its solution.
He who took our sin, our loneliness, our sorrow, guilt and strife, and placed it upon himself.
At Christmas we will celebrate, the God who came in flesh. And in that flesh, we find the peace that is lasting and true.
For at his birth the angels sing, “Peace on Earth, good will toward men.” Just as when Jesus comes riding on a donkey into Jerusalem, the crowds chant, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in Heaven, Glory in the Highest.”
Peace is found upon the earth, in the birth of this Emmanuel, God who is with us, who struggles beside us, who came to suffer and scream in this life of sorrow and sin. His good will is with us, he smiles even here in the manger, for he has come for you, to bring you peace.
But we don’t end here…it is only half the story.
For peace on earth is not enough, and good will to men doesn’t finish the job, it’s not the end of the road.
Peace must also be found in heaven, the journey must take us to Jerusalem, we must sing also of the Crucified One, the God who is not only with us, but for us.
For true Peace is found in heaven and upon the earth in the very flesh and blood of the Christchild, he who has come not so much as to be cuddled and embraced, but to be pierced and poured out.
The life of God is in his blood.
The Glory in the highest is found in his death.
The peace of heaven and earth is in his body.
Here he comes to bring you true peace.
The peace to know that God is with you, here in body and in blood, that he is for you, here in forgiveness, life and salvation.
God has become flesh and blood, that he might give you true peace.
That you might no longer wander in the dark, nor chase after a hope and peace that is fleeting and disappointing.
But rather that you might see in faith, the true manger of this altar, the very journey of the Crucified one, the king who enters while singing, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”
Here, given into your very mouths, is peace on earth, good will to men, peace in heaven, glory in the highest, Emmanuel, God with you, and Christ victorious, God for you.
So take and eat, be found in his peace.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.