SCRIPTURES – Ps. 118; Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matt. 21:1-11
Well, we’ve had our time to relax and enjoy family and friends, good food and drink, and to give thanks to God for our blessings. Thanksgiving is behind us. Now begins the mad dash to Christmas! Start running!
God slows us down on this first Sunday in Advent by setting before us a mountain; a mountain that will bring us great blessing as we take the time to climb it. He says through Isaiah: “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” (Is. 2) What is He talking about? As with all of the Bible, He’s telling us about Christ. Jesus is the coming One who is lifted up above all others as the highest and to whom people throughout the world come.
Christianity, of course, is not the only religion that has a holy book, and encourages regular worship with rituals and ceremonies, and has rules to govern and guide behavior, and focuses upon a holy leader. What is unique about Christianity, however, and sets it above every other religion as the highest of mountains is the proclamation that God comes down to us instead of expecting us to go up to Him.
When God speaks of a mountain to which people come I think of a holy man sitting on top of a mountain and giving out sage advice to help people attain holiness and ascend to God. This is how many people view religion. It’s about improvement, and the onus is on you. You have to ascend to God. You have to climb up to His presence by your own good deeds and heartfelt worship. The problem is, we can never get there.
Ø Like Sisyphus in Greek mythology, the king of Corinth whose punishment after he died was having to repeatedly roll a large stone up a hill, only to have it slip as he reached the top and roll down again, we constantly fail.
Our deeds and worship are never pure, unstained by selfish motives and sinful thoughts. We are never good enough to gain the blessing of a God who is utterly holy and good, and expects the same of us. We climb and climb, but can never get there.
“Behold, your king is coming to you!” This is the wonderful news of Advent. This is the saving message of Christianity, a message that sets it apart from every other religion. In Jesus God has come down to you! Jesus, the true God, comes in our flesh; and not with rules or sage advice to follow, nor with words of disappointment and condemnation. He comes “righteous and having salvation.” He comes as a King to rule for you and bring God’s righteousness and life to you! He comes to give you what you must have to ascend into heaven but cannot gain on your own.
What blessed news this is! It has transformed the world. “All the nations shall flow to it,” Isaiah says; and do we not see this? Even here in just our small group of Christians we have people from many different backgrounds and heritages: Europeans and Africans and S. Americans and N. Americans and Asians. The message of Jesus has gone forth from the tiny and, in Jesus’ day, conquered nation of Israel to fill the world! Now, it is true that many in our day seem to want to hide the news of Christ – more and more the names of Advent and Christmas are avoided or removed, along with Christian customs and symbols and songs – but, still, throughout the world Christ’s coming is celebrated! Will you join in the celebration with your words and deeds and hold up Jesus as the highest of mountains, and faith in Him as God and Savior as the greatest of blessings? He is not to be hidden.
I drove past a church the other day and saw out front a sign that said, “You are safe here.” I’m sure that sign is there because of Trump’s election. “If you are LGBTQ, or undocumented, or a minority, or afraid for some other reason, you’ll be safe with us!”
Jesus did not establish His Church to be a place where you can be safe and not have to obey the law, whether it be man’s or God’s. It is not a place where you can hide your sins and be free to remain in them. His Church is where you meet God; and He is not safe! He is a mighty King who will not be passive but will rule! And so, Isaiah says, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” The apostle Paul urges, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Rom. 13:14) And in the Collect of the Day we prayed, “Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance.” God saves us from the threatening perils of our sins not only by laying them on Jesus and by His cross punishing Him for them and forgiving us; He also saves us by teaching us what is good and right and turning us away from our sinful desires. Jesus does not want you to remain in your sin or perhaps unknowingly get caught up in sin. He therefore warns you of sins’ consequences and teaches you what is good. He is not about safety but is about change: your change, not society’s.
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” It is indeed a blessing to be able to sing this out with the people who greeted Jesus as He entered Jerusalem and know that He comes to you in great gentleness. He comes to you here in His house and brings to you God’s great love and the forgiveness of your every sin. This is the greatest change, that you are delivered from the threatening peril of your sins – hell! – and are given heaven and eternal life. What a blessing to know this and receive Him!
May your life now exalt Him as the highest of mountains. Yes, Jesus comes to us in gentleness; but He still comes as our King. Your life is not your own, but is His. To think that your life is your own is the essence of sin. Turn from this, lest your sins turn you from your God and King! “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” This is what faith says.
And so: you have a Bible. How blessed you are! Read it. Learn what God calls good and right and follow it, and not what you feel is good and right. Run to Jesus, your humble King who comes to you in God’s Word and Sacraments. Make them your focus, and God will raise up Jesus in your life as the highest of mountains, your refuge forever. “Blessèd is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Ps. 118:26) Amen.