Repetition is the mother of learning, the adage goes. God’s people have known that since the Creation. Adam and Eve told their children the mighty acts of God when He created the world out of nothing, simply by speaking. Noah told his children and grandchildren how God kept them alive out of His mercy when the rest of the world was evil and destroyed by the Flood. The people of Israel told their children what God had done when He led them out of slavery in Egypt and gave them the land once promised to their father, Abraham. The Exodus, was the chief event of the Old Testament. Jeremiah tells us that when he says that God is not known by His name, but by His action: “The Lord who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt.” We, living after Christ’s saving work, know that the Exodus, as great as it was, was merely a foreshadowing of the greater freeing that was to come. Christ has freed His people from sin, death, and the devil. That’s also why Jeremiah’s prophecy was so radical when he said that a day is coming when God will not be referred to as the God of the Exodus, but the God who gives righteousness. The Exodus would be seen as nothing, as something insignificant compared to what it foreshadowed. But until that Promised One would come, the children of Israel kept telling their children what God had done for them.
And we do the same today. We hear those words of St. Paul and they inspire us to action: “The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed!” This is what God’s people have waited for for thousands of years, since Adam and Eve plunged all of creation into a deathward drift. We have waited for the Christ to come, who by His mighty power would make whole all our ills of flesh and soul. Until He comes we remember what depths of divine love have been revealed in Jesus Christ. We teach our children and our children’s children what Christ has done for all the world. We come together to recount what mighty deeds He has done for us as we await His next great deed: our deliverance from this evil world and into the glories of heaven. That’s why the Church has always had a repetitive cycle. It’s not to be boring or to follow what many would call a man-made scheme. The Church follows the same cycle of seasons and Readings year in and year out to proclaim to each generation what God has done to save His people. It also reminds us what St. Paul reminds us of: our salvation draws near. Christ will return soon. Each Advent is a reminder that Christ’s Second Advent is coming, just as each sunrise is a reminder that one day the eternal sun will dawn as Christ comes to bring this world to its close and to bring His people to Himself. That salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
But that coming is nothing to fear. Yes, there will be judgment for those who rejected the Gospel. There will be those cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. But for everyone else, for those who still have ears to hear, this coming is not something to fear. For you, for those who rejoice in the Lord’s coming, this Second Advent will be just like today’s Gospel. Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, not as a mighty warrior coming to settle a score, but as the lowly Messiah, the One who rides on in lowly pomp to die. The One who bore the burden of the world’s sin rides a beast of burden, coming in the Name of the Lord to save you.
So in this Season of Advent, as we look forward to Christmas and Our Lord’s approaching return, we ask what our first hymn today put on our lips: “O Lord, how shall I meet You, how welcome You aright?” That question was answered in the Collect of the Day: “Stir up, we beseech You, 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.” The best preparation for Our Lord’s coming is to implore His aid. We can’t prepare ourselves or welcome Him rightly. Only when His Holy Spirit works in us can we be fully prepared and ready for Him to come to us. That’s why throughout Advent so many Collects, hymns, and other parts of the Liturgy beg God to come to us, prepare us, and ultimately to lead us home. Especially in Advent the Church confesses that only by the working of the Holy Spirit can we be ready for Christ’s coming in Bethlehem, His coming at the Last Day, and His coming in the Divine Service in His Word and in His Body and Blood.
When we implore the Holy Spirit’s help, we ask Him to give us grace to be able to do what St. Paul tells us to do. He tells us that part of our Advent preparation and part of our Christian life is to cast off works of darkness, to do the things God commands, not the lusts our flesh desires. To do these things is to be led off into the slavery of sin and death. It is to be unprepared for Christ’s coming, to live for today instead of keeping our eyes focused on the promised reward of heaven. So let us all walk properly, as in the day, striving to do all that pleases our God.
But even when we sin, there is forgiveness found in our God. He promised Israel to lead them back from their earthly captivity, but also from their spiritual captivity to sin, death, and the devil. This promise extends to us as well. That is because Jesus has come to us in love. Love caused His Incarnation, love is what fueled His thirst to set you free from your sin. He loves you so much, desires your salvation so greatly that He took on flesh. He didn’t just wave His finger and declare you sinless. From the time He wrote the Law, God knew what He would do to ensure that it was fulfilled. He loved His creation, His children so much, that He was willing to come to this world, go through the helplessness of being an infant, the awkwardness of being a teenager, the heartbreak of being the promised Messiah but hated by the very people He came to save. He rode on a donkey to joyous shouts of “Hosanna,” only to next hear shouts of “Crucify Him!” All this He did out of love for you, love so strong that it was willing to die to save you. This is what Advent celebrates, what is the foundation for all the rest of the Church Year. God, in Jesus Christ, came to die for you, to save you from your sin.
And because He loves you and comes to you in Word and Sacrament with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, He also gives you His Holy Spirit who stirs up in you a fervent faith that desires to do what God commands. He is at work in you to give you a clean heart and a willing spirit. He keeps in your mind the promises Jesus has made to guide you safely home, to the heaven He has prepared for you.
So this Advent, keep watch. Remember that each day brings Jesus’ return closer. That coming is nothing to fear, but a coming in love to give you forgiveness. Until that final Coming, He comes to you now in His Body and Blood to make you ready, to be the Lord who is your Righteousness, so your prayer joins with that of the Christians of all the ages: “Stir up, we beseech You, Your power, O Lord, and come…and [save] us by Your mighty deliverance.”
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.