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.
On Wednesday in my adult Confirmation class, we were discussing the Lord’s Supper. One of the things we talked about was what we think about while receiving the Lord’s Supper. I said that I couldn’t speak to specific thoughts, but rather the general attitude. When we use Settings One and Two of the Divine Service we get to pray the Eucharistic Prayer during the Communion liturgy. I think they summarized our Lord’s Supper attitude perfectly in this one sentence: “With repentant joy we receive the salvation accomplished for us by the all-availing sacrifice of His Body and His Blood on the cross.” While it’s an oxymoron, it’s the paradox that is the Christian heart during the reception of the Sacrament.
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.
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.