Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” (Mt 21:5)
Don’t let the stores and the sales and the lights and the trees and the bell ringers and the mall Santas fool you: it’s not Christmas. Yet. Christmas is celebrated on December 25th (actually, it begins on the evening of the 24th) and lasts twelve long, joyful, gladsome, celebratory days. Yes, like the song!
Right now it’s Advent.Which is just the churchly way of saying it is a time of preparation. Not necessarily preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming. It is that. But it’s also preparation for Jesus’ second coming, “to judge the living and the dead” (Apostle’s Creed). Advent is a time of penitential joy. Our Eastern Orthodox cousins call it “Nativity Lent.” It is a time of prayer and mediation on the Word of God. A time of preparing for Christ’s second Advent by remembering His first Advent and receiving Him as He comes now.
Our Lord Jesus comes in three ways. Given the season, the first ought to seem obvious. If not, listen to Linus, “And Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Lk 2:7). Our Lord’s first coming is His incarnation and birth. When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John
1:14). This coming of Jesus culminates in His crucifixion (John 3:16-17; John 12:33). This is the kind of King He is. Jesus was born die in order to save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21). The crowds that greeting the humble King on Palm Sunday sang out the words of Psalm 118: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” The rest of that verse says: “Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar” (Ps 118:25-27). Jesus is the Lamb of God who is sacrificed upon the altar of His Cross for the sins of the world! His first coming!
His second coming will be as the creeds confess, “to judge the living and the dead.” Following His resurrection and ascension into heaven, we are told, This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven (Acts 1:11). And elsewhere, The Lord [Jesus] Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God (2 Thess 4:16).
Until then, however, the Church waits in this in-between time. A time of preparation and waiting. A perpetual Advent. But in your waiting you are not left alone. Jesus has promised you, I will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5); and I am with you always, to the end of the age (Mt 28:20). Jesus has departed this earth, awaiting His second coming, but He has not left His Church or His Christians. There is the third way. He comes to you, even now, in and by the Word of His Cross, read and preached. Each and every Lord’s Day your Jesus is lifted up before you as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:15). This is not to say that Jesus is re-crucified each Sunday, but rather that the effect of His atoning death is declared to you in the public preaching of His Word. It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified (Gal 3:1).
Even more, in the Sacrament of the Altar, your humble King, your crucified, risen, and ascended Lord Jesus, comes to you in the lowly forms of bread and wine, His Body and Blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor 11:26; all three in one!) You prepare
for His coming by receiving Him who came by way of His manger and cross and now comes by way of His Word and Sacraments. Jesus is coming. Advent is here.