It is still four weeks away when people will be saying, “Happy New Year,” eating hoppin' john, and getting used to writing 2010 when they date a check. But in the kalendar of Holy Mother Church, today is New Year's Day, when we flip back to page 90 in the Collects, Epistles and Gospels and start all over in the Church's Year of Grace.
Advent means Arrival and prepares our hearts and souls for the coming of our dear Lord at His birthday on December 25. But it accomplishes this not by a sentimental reminiscence of the first Christmas but through a sharp clear focus on His arrival at the end of time to take us to our eternal home. Advent reminds us that our faith leads us into the future when “He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead.” That was the promise which the angels made to the apostles as they watched Jesus ascend: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”
If we dismiss this glorious promise as an irrelevancy, then we need this season. Advent is like an alarm clock, to rouse a sluggish church and a sleepy Christian. Today's Epistle from Romans 8 (echoed in our processional hymn, Hymn 9) almost screams at us: “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”
When we read the entire Gospel story of Jesus' coming—God's arrival on earth—from Bethlehem to Calvary to the Empty Tomb to Bethany, we notice how sadly unprepared were the hearts of mankind. The Christian believer, on the other hand, must get busy, getting ready for Jesus to come again. “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”
This world does not know the future and can only contemplate it with carelessness or with fear or some insane mixture of the two. But Christians happen to know how the story will turn out; we have already read the final chapter. So we look to the future with confidence, hope, and even with joy. Jesus is coming! That is our confidence, hope and joy.
During this penitential season, keep focused on Advent. Stay close to the Lord and be frequently at His altar. Then you will be ready for Christmas. LKW
The Gospel appointed for today makes us think of Palm Sunday and the Holy Week which follows. But no, we are once again entering into the penitential season of Advent which prepares us for Christmas. So what does the triumphal entry of Jesus have to do with Advent?
The word advent means arrival. In these four Sundays we are celebrating the arrival of our King and Saviour. The Advent season prevents us from feeling that we have only a remote or absentee God. The Jerusalemites seemed surprised that Jesus had suddenly arrived at their city. What they did was altogether appropriate. Could they possibly ignore the presence of the Son of God? Although they did not know Him, it was only fitting that a “very great multitude” should go out to meet him and that the whole city should be “stirred up.”
Their shout of acclamation was exactly right: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” Those words greeted the promised King, “great David's greater son,” who fulfilled all the future expectations of the Old Testament. That moment on the first Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into the city (not on a war-horse, but on a meek gentle donkey—a sign of peace) was the culmination of all sacred history, from David, from Abraham, from Adam in the Garden of Eden.
And so that arrival points mystically to another arrival, the final Arrival when Jesus comes again at the Last Day. We best prepare for Christmas by meditating deeply on a great future event, when He will come in glory. After Jesus had been welcomed by the multitude, His very next act was to go into the temple and perform an act of judgment. This foreshadows “the dreadful day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed,” the Great Assizes, when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” As the Old Testament had its climax on Palm Sunday, so the New Testament likewise will have its own culmination when Jesus comes again.
That shout of acclamation, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord,” is repeated at every celebration of the Holy Eucharist. He who came at Bethlehem and Jerusalem, who will come gloriously at the Last Day, constantly arrives among us when bread and wine become His Body and Blood before our own eyes. The Eucharist He left to His Church points ahead to His great future Arrival. Hymn 202 sings:
“Alpha and Omega, to whom shall bow,
All nations at the doom, is with us now.”
That Eucharistic presence, the presence, here and now, of the Judge to come, should command our attention during Advent and all our earthly days. LKW