The First Sunday in Advent

Download or listen to the First Sunday in Advent: “What Are You Waiting For?” (Mark 11:1-10)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I wonder, what were those people waiting for? The people in Jerusalem, who laid down their coats and the branches they had cut from the fields on the road before a Man riding on a donkey. For what were they waiting? For whom were they waiting? For the Messiah, no doubt. The Anointed One of God. But what kind of Messiah? A military Messiah to come and overthrow the rule of Rome and restore Jerusalem and Judea to the people of Israel? I don’t know. I don’t know what they were thinking or what they saw when they looked at Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. I don’t know whether they were the same people who, just a few days later, would shout, “Crucify Him!” But I know what they said. They said, “Hosanna! Save us now! Blessed is the One who comes in the Name of Yahweh, the Lord. Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our father, David. Hosanna in the highest places! Salvation from the heavens.” They were waiting for the same thing Isaiah was waiting for: God to tear open the heavens and come down. To come down as He did when He delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. To come down as He did on Sinai, and make the mountains smoke. As Isaiah had, they said, “We have been in our sins a long time, and will we be saved?” Whatever they thought or saw, their words declared that salvation had come. Salvation had come from the heavens and been made man in the womb of a Virgin, and was now entering Jerusalem to save His people from their sins. That’s what they were waiting for, what everyone had been waiting for, since the promise had been given thousands of years before.

For what are you waiting? For whom are you waiting? At this time of year, people probably have many different answers. But usually they boil down to one thing: we’re waiting for Christmas. Why are we waiting for Christmas? Family, friends, food, festivities, the giving and receiving of gifts. I don’t know what people are waiting for. But, often, how we wait shows what we’re waiting for. If we’re simply waiting for Christmas, and that revolves around stuff and things, then our waiting proves it. How do people wait for Christmas? Often by not waiting. By making Christmas come the day after Halloween. Or, after giving thanks on Black Friday Eve, they wait in long lines on Black Friday itself; they rush, they push and shove, they pepper spray, they hold up with guns those who have shopped. All for an X-Box or a $2 waffle maker. This is how people wait who are waiting for a Christmas full of stuff and things. Even if Christmas is about people, about family and friends, how often do we wait with anticipation, only to have expectations unmet or destroyed? People and things will always, at some point, fail you. They break or get stolen; they divorce you or die. What happens to the “Christmas spirit” then?

And for what are we in the Church waiting? For whom? Because the what and the whom determine how we wait. Are we waiting for Christmas? In a sense. We are waiting, we are counting down—actually we’re counting up; that’s what the Advent wreath is for—to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. We celebrate the fact that the eternal Son of God was born into this world; we celebrate the fact that He entered this world to suffer and die; we hear again of the mystery of God becoming man and that Jesus is both God and Man for eternity. And in the face of that we can only celebrate; we can only worship. But that has already happened. Jesus was born a long time ago; we are not waiting for that. In fact, if the Church is simply waiting for Christmas, then the Gospel readings for the first three Sundays don’t make a lot of sense. Why would we hear about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey on the first Sunday in Advent? We can only make sense of this if we are waiting for Christ. Advent not only asks the question for what or whom are you waiting, it also tells us the answer: we are waiting for Christ! We, like those pilgrims in Jerusalem, are crying out, “We have been in our sins a long time, and shall we be saved? Save us now! We need salvation from the heavens. Tear open the heavens, O Lord, and come down. Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come. Rescue us from the threatening perils of our sins, which, like waves, are threatening to drown us. Do not let us be put to shame! Give us right expectations so that they will not be unmet, like so many of our Christmas expectations.”

We need Advent to give us the promise again, that no one who waits for Jesus will be put to shame; that no other god is like our God, who acts for those who wait for Him. We need Advent to teach us both for whom we are waiting and how to wait.  He has acted, and He will act again.  We are waiting for the Christ who was born as a baby, but who did not stay a baby. We are waiting for the Christ who drew near to Jerusalem and told His disciples to get a donkey because the Lord had need of it. He had need of it, because He was riding it to His coronation, to reign from the cross as King of all creation. We are waiting for the Christ who will one day tear open the heavens and raise the dead; who will make a new heavens and a new earth, who will come and make Advent obsolete, who can give you real joy even when everything has gone wrong. But only Christ can tie together the Church Year, from His birth to His death to His Second Coming. Anything less, and you not only do not have the Christ in Christmas, you don’t have the Christ at all. Without Advent, Christmas is nothing but a memory. And without Christmas, Advent is nothing but false desire.

But if you are waiting for this Christ, you know how to wait also. You know, because you join those Jerusalem crowds in their song: Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. Blessed is the Man, the Crucified One, who has not left us alone, but comes to speak to us and feed us. Blessed is He. Save us now. Bring us salvation from the heavens. So, “you are not lacking any spiritual gift.” You have Jesus Himself, with all His mercy, in His very flesh and blood and words. You lack no spiritual gift, “as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:7-9). He, the one for whom you wait, will sustain you as you wait, guiltless on that Day, covered in His blood.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/26/11

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