Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.
Welcome to a new church year. Thank the ladies of the Altar Guild for the beautiful job they did in presenting such a glorious sight for the feast of our eyes to see. We are blessed also with the fact we are surrounded not only by this that have been put forth for the season of Advent, which, as you remember, is the great preparation for the very thing about which we sang: God becoming man, the Deity clothing Itself with humanity…not a small thing, not merely a baby being born, but God being born. That is a paradox our mind has not grasped, and yet our faith says, “Yea and amen” to.
There are other things around our eyes can feast upon which are all symbols, symbols which have deep meanings, which are not to be lost on simply beautiful colors or shapely designs, but very deep meanings attached to scriptural truths of substance. Because we live in a world that is becoming more and more about symbolism than it is about substance, about the exterior and not what is at the heart, about evoking an emotion or a memory, but having no substantive content. It is only becoming worse.
It has also infected our other brothers and sisters in the church for they seek something from the church that the church has been giving, that the world has been heard and listened to far too long, and there is something else that has to be given other than just Christ, other than just God becoming man.
We begin this season of Advent noting a very important coming we are preparing for, the first coming of God becoming man, Christ being born into the world. We celebrate that on the 25th, of course. The second coming we have been hearing about in the last couple of Sunday sermons. The pastor has been proclaiming to us about the second coming of Christ, which we just confessed when He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.
Now the world looks at that in the same way it looks at Christmas and says it is something other than what is proclaimed to us and what our faith is clinging to. It is merely some abstract concept the church has spun up around which to rally its troops and to ford people forward rather than of something substantive of your and my faith, which is our hope and our freedom finally being brought to us.
There is also a third coming we are marking this morning in Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which is the gospel reading. He comes to bring Himself here and now, not a historical moment that happened 2,000 years ago when He was born in Bethlehem, and not an abstract concept in time we confess in the creed about when He is going to come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, but a moment here, now, in the hearing of your ears, in the seeing of your eyes, in the harkening unto the voice of the Shepherd who brings Himself to you in mere words…the Word read and preached.
Now the world says, “Show me something more.” Christians are even tempted to say, “Is there not more panache for me to have than just simply listening to an okay preacher, a reading that may or may not impact me emotionally at this time in my life?” You and I say, “Yes, this is God coming to me.” The world…”No.”
In the same way He entered into Jerusalem, not on a stallion with a sword brandish that says to the world in a very symbolic fashion, “I am here to kick you know what and take names and bring about a new kingdom,” but He comes lowly on a donkey, brandishing nothing but humility, opening Himself up to be scoffed at and ridiculed and murdered. For this is Palm Sunday yet but a few days before His death on Good Friday.
Now the world is saying, “If this religion of Christianity is to have any content or substance in this life, it better have something for this life.” Because that is what the world is concerned with…this span of time of which you and I are alive, this moment we have to influence and be influenced, to give and to show forth, to receive and to give thanks. That is what the world is concerned with, which is all symbolic.
Because our lives are like vapor, are they not? We are but flesh and blood. We rise up, and we die, and God is the One who is in control of all. We have lucid thought and memory and are capable of speaking in coherent sentences, and God can take that away, and we bumble and ramble with drool coming from our lips. Where is the substance? The substance is in the very thing Christ brings to the people here in Jerusalem, which is not seen or perceived by one’s mind but is received by faith.
When the Spirit spoke to you at your baptism, which looks to the world as if it is simple symbolism, and you and I say, “Nay, nay, it is not. It is of much more substance than such,” because our faith is geared not to what it looks like or appears, but what God presents in His Holy Word. The world says, “What is this but bread and wine?” It cannot be anything else because mind and reason says it cannot be anything else. When they crucified Christ Jesus and God died on that accursed tree, mind and reason says it could be nothing else but a man, and yet your and my faith says, “No, no, it is God in the flesh whose birth we are going to celebrate in but a few weeks, whose birth was born for me, for you.”
Now this morning’s text, which speaks of such coming, is interesting to note it was but a few days before a very profound conversation with a man named Pilate, who speaks to Christ about this whole kingship and…What is it? Who is it? What does it mean? How does it come? From the 18th chapter of the gospel of Saint John, “So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to Him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about Me?'”
Pilate is seeing this Jesus as the world sees Jesus…something for this world, something for this life, something that can have meaning or substance to the here and now, which makes sense and reason and logic…grasps and appreciates. That is not at all the kind of King of which Jesus is. “Pilate answered…,” and you can imagine with sarcasm, “Am I Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You over to me. What have You done?” Pilate asks Him.
The world asks the same thing, “What have You done for me? What have You done to fix the injustices of this world? What have You done to bring this peace on earth of which You have been proponing and being a proponent of? How has all of this come about?” That is how the world speaks, and you and I are tempted to live and to think the same because that is what we are fed outside of these walls. That is what is continually put into the processes of the mind, of our own, to think and to contemplate.
It is here in this place where God is wiping that fog away and saying, “Listen to Me. I am the King who does not come to you as the world is expecting. I am the King of what you cannot see, but yet I am the King.”
“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But My kingdom is not from the world.'”
Paul said it in another way to the Corinthians: “If we have faith for this world, we are to be pitied more than all.” It is not for this world we have faith. Our faith is bound up into something beyond this world. For everything about this world…everything…all earthly power, all earthly accomplishments…will all be destroyed and burned in judgment…judgment…which is a great thing for you and me because that means all of our past, all of the things of which we are ashamed, all of the things which continually wish to replant themselves in our memory will be expunged once and for all.
“Then Pilate said to Him, ‘So you are a King?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a King. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.'” You are His sheep. For the Shepherd has spoken to you at the font of which the world scoffs at, and you say, “This is my hope and my salvation. For the voice of the Shepherd spoke to me there. Open my ears.”
“Impregnated me with the faith,” you might even say. Your Shepherd has continually spoken to you here in this place, where He speaks words that are counter to the world and its culture, that are completely opposite of what this world is saying, and luring you and me in to. He even goes so far as to the voice of the very Shepherd who hung upon the tree, feed you that which hung upon the tree, His very flesh and blood, that which the world says is but wine and bread, grape juice and crackers.
You say, “It is my meat and my drink indeed. For it is my life and my salvation, and it is not what the world says. It is what my Shepherd says, and it is not what my ears hear outside this place,” but it is what your ears hear in this place. For your God has set us apart, made us different, called us by name, Christian, bearing the name of the One born for us, bearing the name of the One who lived for us, and dying in the same name resurrected for us, that we shall live, as well.
It is the Pilate’s of this world who drag us down. It is the flesh that bears inside of our hearts that drags us down, for Satan feeds it with the world. It is here that a voice of the Shepherd who speaks a different truth, the truth that you are in my heart follows, that says, “Yeah and amen,” the truth that we will close our eyes.
Regardless of our mental ability at our death, regardless of whether drool is coming out of our mouth or whether we are in our perfect senses, we shall die with that faith. It marks us. It is ours because God has given it to us, and He is not One who gives gifts with symbolic meaning but of substance, of profound meaning and depth that does overshadow this world’s love with symbolism.
Christ entered into Jerusalem to show Himself to be the One who comes to the people. He came at His birth. He will come again at His judgment, but He comes to you and me now. We encounter Him, embrace Him and are embraced, fed Him here. Our response is that He would preserve us in this faith He has planted in us and preserve us in our identity that we do not hark unto the voice of the sirens of this world but to the One who is counter to this world, Christ, who speaks a truth only His sheep hear.
Pilate’s response, as you remember, “What is truth?” That is what the world loves to argue about, and it enmeshed in such philosophical arguments, but that is not theology. We pray we would remain faithful and a part of the faithful remnant of which there will only be a few. Broad is the way to destruction, and narrow the way that leads to eternal life.
Lord, hosanna, which means save us. Hosanna, Lord, and keep us faithful. In the name of the One who has come, will come, and comes to us now, Jesus, amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds on Christ Jesus to life everlasting, amen.