SMALL SIGNS AND GREAT EXPECTATIONS
And as He came closer…the whole multitude of disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a united voice for all the mighty works they had seen saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest." And some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Him: Teacher, rebuke your disciples. And He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if they were to remain silent the stones would cry out." Luke 19:37-40
Advent is a season of repentance, a time when we consider our sins, their deadly consequences and our great need for the Savior, but Advent is not only that. It is also a season of rejoicing, a time to praise God with united voice because Christ still dwells with us today in the church, and because He will come one more time to deliver full and final salvation to us.
We need to repent because we are like the Pharisees who rejected Jesus that day, and like the disciples who welcomed Him for all the wrong reasons. The Pharisees knew the Scriptures and should have seen Jesus as the Righteous Branch Jeremiah predicted. Anyone who was even slightly familiar with Him knew that He was executing justice and righteousness in the land, which is biblical code for restoring all that the sin destroyed. He pardoned sinners, healed the sick, and sent the Evil Foe packing. That is what they should have perceived, and maybe they did, but there was another problem. Jesus was interfering with their program, He was cutting into their profits. People were leaving the Pharisees behind and flocking to the Lord in record number. He had to be silenced or He had to go, but that could never happen because if people did not praise Him, the very stones on the ground would rise up to call Him blessed.
The enthusiastic disciples, meanwhile, were not doing much better. They were able to connect some of the dots as they joined the festal procession that day. They realized that in Jesus the Day of the Lord had arrived; that the scourge of sin would be a thing of the past and that from now on illness, poverty, oppression and even death would be terminated by this Blessed King sent from God. But St. Luke makes the point that their praise was in response to the Lord's miraculous deeds and that was as far as they could see. They loved the miracles. How could they not? We do, too, and God still does them for us even today although not the instantaneous type that Jesus did in His earthly ministry: but by so ordering events that all things, even the ones we think most contrary, eventually prove to be for our blessing.
We must keep in mind that the mighty works they loved so much are the fruits of salvation; and that before Justice and Righteousness could again fill the world, as before the Curse, Jesus would first have to do away with sin. There was only one way to do that. St. Paul writes in Galatians 3:13 that: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us; for it is written: cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. He was talking about the cross.
We need not repeat the errors of the past, Dear Christians. Instead let us learn to see Jesus as He wants to be seen and find Him where He wants to be found. He always uses humble means, the kind that baffle human expectations. He likes to do that! On Palm Sunday He entered Jerusalem on a donkey. Today He comes hidden in words, water, bread and wine, but don't judge the book by its cover. When we hear the Word of God -- and the church's entire liturgy is nothing but the word of God -- we are hearing Jesus. It is He Himself who is present among us speaking the absolution, leading us in prayer, increasing our love for one another and establishing our hearts in holiness before our God. The same is true of the Eucharist. We have long learned that the Holy Supper of our Lord forgives our sins, and so it does! In a less enlightened age, Lutherans were sometimes heard to say that if our sins are forgiven in baptism; if believing the Gospel justifies us; if absolution truly pardons us then why do we need the Eucharist? We might just as well ask: If the doctor surgically removes the tumor why bother with chemotherapy, radiation and the whole regiment of other medications? Don't object Fellow Sinners! If God wants to cleanse you, wash you and make you holy in a hundred different ways then let us, too, say, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest." However, the Eucharist is more than remission. It is also the single voice by which God's people, in union with Christ, praise and thank Him most perfectly. There is no better thanks, and no higher worship than to take the cup of salvation believing that it gives us all that Jesus promises. And it is more than thanksgiving. It is also the foretaste of the things to come. It points to the Lord's return when He will restore justice and righteousness throughout all of creation, when He will share His glory with us, when His Spirit will raise up our mortal bodies, and so arrange things that they will never suffer the ravages of sin again. We will not be disembodied spirits in heaven, but will enjoy the same kind of glorified body that Jesus had after His resurrection, and we will know and recognize one another even as we do now, only better. This unique gift does not only anticipate the Lord's return, but propels us towards our final destination. It puts the sin, death and the sorrow of this present world behind us, and the hope of heaven squarely in front of us. It points to a day when Jesus will wipe away every tear from our eyes, a day we will become like Him, because we will see Him as He is.
So let us happily receive Him as He comes to us today in the Word and Sacraments, and let us look forward with joyful anticipation to His final coming, when we will meet the Lord in the air, and so ever be with the Lord. Come quickly Lord Jesus. Amen
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras