The message of Advent, but especially that of Christianity, is backwards to the way it seems things should be. In this season, we celebrate that we have a God who comes to us. It seems like it should be the other way around. We know our condition. We said it together not that long ago: we are poor, miserable sinners. Think about it. The rich aren’t lining up to give handouts to the poor. The poor come in search of charity. Doctors aren’t going door to door seeking out those who need medical attention. The miserable have to seek out their own medical care. So, it would only seem natural that sinners should have to seek out their own forgiveness. But Advent tells us that we have a gracious God who came to us in time, as the Baby born in Bethlehem; who comes to us today in Word and Sacrament; and who will come again as the judge who will usher in the Last Day, where He will take us to be with Himself. We are not the ones who need to seek out His grace and favor. He comes giving it freely, seeking out those who need what He has come to give.
This is how God wants to be seen. Today’s Gospel is the picture of Himself that God wants. Advent is all about Christ’s three comings—first as Jesus of Nazareth, born in time and space; second, as the Lord who transcends time and space to be present everywhere His Word is read and preached, everywhere people are Baptized, and everywhere His Supper is distributed; third, as the One who will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the One whose kingdom has no end. None of those are more or less important than the other. Each coming of Christ is vital to who we are as Christians, who we are a Christ’s Church, who Christ is as our Savior. We shouldn’t focus on the baby in the manger at the detriment of the cross, the sacraments, and the Last Day. We shouldn’t focus on the judgment day and forget His coming in grace. The Triumphal Entry is so important that it’s the one Gospel we hear twice a year. It’s because on Palm Sunday Christ is seen in the way He wants to be seen, not just in Advent, but in our entire Christian life.
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.
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.