Lessons: Jeremiah 23:5-8, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 21:1-9
Hymns: LSB 331, 332, 334, 335, 350
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
A new Church Year has begun, and we are blessed yet again to gather in God’s House to receive the gifts of God in Christ Jesus. When a new year begins, it’s good to reflect on the year that has passed and look forward to the year that’s now beginning. As we do so, we need to continually examine ourselves, both as individuals and as a congregation, and ask ourselves if we are beholding our King and if He should really enter a new year yet again with us.
As a congregation, we may ask:
- Have we made visitors feel welcomed and loved?
- Have we provided thorough and excellent instruction of the Christian faith to our children?
- Have we improved in our efforts to reach the lost, teach the Baptized, and grow together in the doctrine of Christ?
- Are we singing more boldly than ever?
- Are we thankful for the pure Word and the right administration of the Sacraments?
- Are we prepared to contend for the truth?
- Are we prepared to exercise Church discipline on those who refuse to repent and amend their ways?
- Are we prepared to collectively forgive the penitent who have returned from prodigal living, never holding the forgiven sins against the penitent ever again?
As individuals, we may ask ourselves:
- How have I grown in Christ this past year?
- Did I spend more time in the Bible this past year than the previous year?
- Have I reconciled with those I sinned against?
- Have I treasured Holy Communion, seeking to come to the Lord’s altar with a repentant heart?
- Have I learned more biblical teachings than I have forgotten?
- How am I working to foster peace in my Church, fidelity to God’s Word, and faithfulness in the congregation?
- Have I volunteered at my church?
- Have I shown love toward my neighbors and friends by telling them about Jesus & inviting them to come with me to Church?
- Have I been a good steward, giving sacrificially back to Christ of my time, talents, and treasure?
There’s obviously much more we can ask ourselves as we consider our God-given places in our congregation. And there’s much we need to get on our knees before God in repentance. If God were to grade us as individuals and as a congregation on these matters, what grades would our perfect Father assign to us? What does anything less than perfection mean? God does, in fact, call on us to be perfect. Any less requires forgiveness. And it is clear that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That’s why God sent His Son to enter Jerusalem. So Jesus can serve as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. So He can set aright all that we have done amiss.
And so, we rejoice that God is merciful to begin this new church year with us and for us. Jesus has again made His entrance among us. He comes as our King and Savior. He comes to bless us. “Behold, your King is coming to you!” (Matt. 21:5)
As we enter this new Church Year with Christ, I want you to “behold your King” who comes to you.
There are so many distractions in this life that seek to prevent us from beholding our King. Parents often don’t want to bring their children to Church because children cannot sit still and parents come home having heard very little. The temptation is to give in and stop coming. But we must fight against our temptations and come to Church as a family, even if it seems like every passing minute is a struggle. For in God’s house, you receive the Absolution, hear the Word, go to the Lord’s altar, pray, and sing His praises.
Some fail to make it to God’s house and behold their King because they have busied themselves with work, volunteer activities, hobbies, outdoor activities, recreation, sleep, or a whole host of other distractions. While many of these things are blessings of God that we are certainly welcome to enjoy, they must not impede on the opportunity God gives for us to behold our King.
So why behold our King? Because He is our Savior. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey so that He could be offered up on the cross as a pure sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. He atoned for our sin. He cancels all our sin out so that we are no longer held accountable for our sin, but Jesus was in our place, and He suffered the wrath of God for it. He died that we might live. He rose to ensure that we, too, will rise and live.
And when we go to be with the Lord—especially as Jesus comes back to raise us from the dead and give us perfect bodies, we will certainly behold our King. With our own eyes we shall see God. We will be in His presence, and we will live.
If our desire is to behold our King when we are in Heaven, our desire when we are here in this fallen world is also to behold our King. After all, if we want to be in His nearer presence upon death, won’t we also want to be in His presence in this life? And so, we gather in His house to behold Him.
But we don’t see Him! Can’t we experience Jesus just as much anywhere else? No, my friends, it is not the same. You see, Jesus comes to us through His Word and Sacraments. He doesn’t visit us through nature, though we may be able to see God’s splendor or greatness in nature. That Jesus dwells in our hearts only occurs when faith is present in us. And the Holy Spirit works faith in us only through God’s Word and Sacraments. He does not work faith in us through our wishes or wants. Just as our human body cannot live without the nourishment of food and water, so also our souls cannot live in the Christian faith without the nourishment God’s Word.
When we hear the Word of Christ, the Holy Spirit is present to bless us with a growing faith, and Christ is also present among us. When someone is brought to the Baptismal font, he is united to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The very righteousness of Christ covers him. This means that you, dear baptized brothers and sisters in Christ, are covered with the very righteousness of Christ even now by faith. Behold your King!
And when you come forward to the Lord’s altar, you behold your King. You are not eating mere bread and drinking mere wine, as many protestants would have you believe. Instead, our risen and ascended Lord comes among us and unites His Body to the bread and His Blood to the wine in the Sacrament. Therefore, when you eat the bread, you are eating the true Body of Jesus. When you drink the wine, you are drinking the very Blood our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For He has come in our presence, and He blesses us in this Sacrament with His forgiveness. Behold, your King!
Because Jesus comes into our presence, we respond as the crowd did when Jesus made His entrance into Jerusalem on the donkey. The crowds gave Jesus that royal treatment, putting their cloaks and branches before Him—singing their praises with much rejoicing. Consider how joyful that day was for the crowd! There’s no reason to have any less joy when we are here in God’s House since that same Jesus is coming into our presence with His blessings.
The crowd sang, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9) With joy we sing these very words in the Sanctus as we prepare to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. And because Jesus continues to be in our presence throughout the entire service, we sing to God with great joy in our hymns and liturgy. We all open our mouths and use our God-given lips to sing.
The song the crowd sang was both a confession and a prayer. They confessed Jesus as their Lord—David’s great Son who will save them (that’s the meaning of the word Hosanna). Their song was also a prayer. They requested that Jesus, David’s Son, would save them.
When we sing, we also confess the truth of God’s Word, and we pray. Some hymns are entirely prayers. Other hymns are songs of thankfulness and praise. And many simply teach the Bible truths in memorable ways. They are a confession of the Christian faith. Because this is such a treasure, we sing.
One thing from this past year to look at is the rebuilding of our pipe organ. We had an instrument that has carried us along with the gift of music for 44 years as we sang the Lord’s praises. The instrumentation used in Church should not only give us a sense of joy, but it should also encourage us to sing. Our rebuilt pipe organ, with the much greater variety of sounds and happier tones, certainly helps with that. As you sing, notice how the organ is played differently for different stanzas. Those changes are not just to delight the ear, but they are intended to accent the hymn’s text. What we sing impacts what is played and how it is played. The point is to draw us into the text of the hymns as we behold our King through His Word. And so, my friends, sing boldly as you behold your King who comes to you to grant you the marvelous gift of salvation. Have a blessed Advent! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen