The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
A big part of this job is dealing with end of life issues. I’ve been at the bedside of many a dying person. I’ve done a lot of funerals over the years. And none of this even takes into account the reality of Judgment Day and the return of Christ at the end of time. All the Bible studies and sermons ultimately put the focus on this reality. I know you’ve already heard it more than a few times over the past couple of weeks: If you knew exactly when/how you would meet your Lord, either in death or in His return in judgment, would it change you? If you knew He was going to return by the end of the month, the end of the week, or the end of the day, would you stop doing certain things, and start doing other things? How many times have you seen people “get real religious” after they’ve received bad news from the doctor? It’s amazing how a terminal diagnosis can instantly change a person’s priorities. Things that used to be so important suddenly become not so important… or not important at all.
In all my years of doing this, I have NEVER heard a single person on their death bed lamenting how they wish they spent more time arguing with other idiots on Facebook. I have NEVER had a single person lament in their final days and hours that they wish they spent more time complaining about bylaws or budgets or petty personality differences. I’ve heard an awful lot of regrets though. I’ve heard an awful lot of confessions. I’ve had an awful lot of people who were preparing to enter into eternity want nothing more than for me to give them Holy Communion. They didn’t want small talk. They certainly had no desire to gossip or tattle or complain. No discussions about how they thought voters’ meetings or LWML should be run a certain way or “we should do what First Baptist is doing” or anything like that. Nope. They knew they were going to be meeting Almighty God face-to-face in a very short time. They just wanted the assurance of God’s forgiveness. They wanted nothing but Christ’s Body and Blood. They wanted to hear His Word of absolution. That’s it. They wanted the most important thing. So I’ll ask you again: If you knew that your clock was about to run out, would your sense of urgency shift to God and His means of grace? Would all those other things that are “SO IMPORTANT” to you right now suddenly not seem so important? Would your priorities change? If so, why? Shouldn’t the most important thing ALWAYS be the most important thing?
Folks: This is precisely why we set aside a little time (and it is just a little bit of time; a mere couple of weeks) before Christmas. This is what the season of Advent is all about. We set this time aside for reflection and repentance; for re-orienting ourselves to the truly most important thing; to the Truth and reality and source of our salvation. Our forgiveness came at great price and sacrifice. Just look at this cross! Look at what your salvation cost God! This is why we set aside this brief bit of time known as the season of Advent: so that we can get our priorities straight and our perspectives rightly focused on the only truly important thing.
Turn your attention to the Gospel lesson. “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Our Lord Christ draws near. This is what Advent is all about. The word “Advent” simply means “coming/drawing near.” Hosanna! Jesus is coming! This is why the very first Gospel lesson appointed for the very first Sunday in Advent doesn’t speak of Christ’s nativity, but of Christ’s Palm Sunday procession, which led ultimately to His bloody cross six days later. This is what Advent is all about. This is what Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost… this is what the entire Christian faith is all about (at least… what it’s supposed to be all about). This is the MOST important thing. In all reality, this is the ONLY TRULY important thing.
All the other things we get so worked up over… it’s so sad. Examine yourself in light of the First Commandment. All the other things that, if you’re honest, really do take first place in your life; they really are the most important thing to you... it’s so very sad. All the other false gods and idols… it’s so very sad. Jesus Christ—Almighty God Himself—took on flesh for the sole purpose of taking that flesh to the cross as an all-redeeming sacrifice for the sins of all mankind… for YOUR sin. When you see things through the lens of eternal salvation and eternal damnation, you begin to see very clearly that this is the ONLY important thing! Almighty God humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross for you. He willingly took your place, suffering your justly-deserved divine wrath, all so that you wouldn’t have to experience a single second of it for yourself. God in the flesh gave up all of heaven’s majesty in order to keep His promise of salvation, which He first made to our first parents in the Garden of Eden after they rebelled against Him and fell into sin, death, and damnation. Our forefathers knew what they were doing in appointing this lesson to be the first lesson of Advent. Right off the bat; immediately out of the gate, this Gospel [re]-orients us to this; to the most important thing; to the ONLY truly important thing; to what it’s really all about. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Look to this font. Look to this rail. Look to the altar, the pulpit, and the lectern. Here are the truly MOST IMPORTANT things, right here, in the present and in your midst. In the midst of all the dysfunction and despair that we so foolishly call “life”, here is Christ the Lord, really and truly coming to you, bringing to you His free and unmerited gifts of mercy, grace, and peace. Honestly: Is there ANYTHING more important than this? I wouldn’t be too quick to answer, because the fruits you bear sometimes contradict your confession. Is there anything more important than this?
Folks: Here is Christ! And—yes—just like that first Palm Sunday, it’s not exactly a big, glorious event filled with all kinds of royal pomp and circumstance, is it? Think of that first Palm Sunday. No royal procession. No chariots. No warhorses. The welcoming committee isn’t a delegation of the best and brightest. There were no heads of state present. No one “important” was there to meet Him or welcome Him in. Rather, the whole Palm Sunday welcoming committee consists of the lowliest of the low throwing down their cloaks or waving palm branches.
Again, look to this rail. Look to the font. Look to the altar, the pulpit, the lectern. There’s no royal fanfare here. The heavens don’t rend. The earth doesn’t quake. The lights don’t even flicker. Not very impressive, is it? It just doesn’t seem all that important. As far as a welcoming committee, let’s face it: These veiled means of Christ Himself aren’t even enough to get people out of bed or to look up from their phones or whatever else it is that we do that we deem “more important.” I’ll say it again: Here is Christ. Here is the King of kings, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. Here is our salvation, in our very midst, making us holy and righteous in His sight. By faith, we know this, but we also know that this isn’t the end of the story.
And here’s the other very important part of Advent that is so often ignored. Remember: “Advent” simply means “coming/drawing near.” We know that Christ will come again. He will return again in all glory and might. When will that be? That we don’t know. Nobody but the Father knows. This is why St. Paul urges the Christians in Rome (and all who hear these words) to basically “wake up.” Paul speaks with a tremendous sense of urgency. “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The day is at hand.” I’ll ask again: If you knew exactly when/how you would meet your Lord, either in death or in His return in judgment, would it change you? If you knew that your clock was about to run out; that Christ the Lord was about to Advent with you again in all glory and judgment, would your sense of urgency shift to God and His means of grace? Would all those other things that are “SO IMPORTANT” to you right now suddenly not seem so important? Would your priorities change? If so, why? Shouldn’t the most important thing ALWAYS be the most important thing? (See why Advent is a time of repentance?)
Now, before we bring this to a close, let me remind you that even here in this penitential time in the midst of this fallen and sinful world, we do still have joy. We still have reason to rejoice. Look around: We still have every reason to celebrate and give thanks today. Again, just consider all the ways your God and Lord still processes into your very midst today in very lowly, humble, and common ways in order to give you His grace, mercy, and peace—Word, water, bread, and wine. He doesn’t rend the heavens and come to us on a blazing war horse with trumpets blaring (or Christmas carols blasting). Nope. He comes to us, as He will do in just few minutes, in, with, and under lowly elements. BUT… He comes to us! “Take and eat. Take and drink. This is My Body. This is My Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin.” In light of all this, the only real question is: How can your faith not rejoice in this Christological Truth?! In spite of all that is happening in this fallen and sinful world, how can you not cry out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes to us in the name of the Lord”?
May this truly Christ-centered joy and peace ALWAYS be your joy and peace, and may this joy and peace truly and always be your most important thing. May this cruciform reality be at the center of all you say and do. No matter what happens, it is finished, in Christ and because of Christ. Not even the gates of hell can prevail against this. I’d say that makes this the most important thing. I pray that it is your most important thing, now and into all eternity.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.
Send Pastor Jason Zirbel an email.