God is with us in Word and Sacrament

The First Sunday in Advent

The First Sunday in Advent

Jeremiah 23:5–8; Matthew 21:1–9


“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will raise  up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jer 23:5–8).

“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord” (Jer 23:5). This will happen. It will take place. The Lord is faithful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

This promise was given by the prophet Jeremiah sometime before 586 BC, when Judah, the southern kingdom of the divided kingdom of Israel, fell to the Babylonians as Jerusalem lay in ruins, the Temple destroyed, and the people were led out of their land into the land of Babylon in captivity.

Jeremiah’s prophecy and the Lord’s promise in it was simply a reiteration, a continuation of the promise spoken to the serpent and given to Adam and Eve after they ate the fruit from the forbidden tree in the garden. “Behold, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15).

The promise began there. It was passed on through Seth to Noah, through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to Jacob’s sons; through Moses to Joshua; through the Judges up to David and to all the prophets. The promise is that the Lord will rescue His people. He will deliver them from their captors and their captivity. He will save them from their sin, from death, from this vale of tears. “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord” (Jer 23:5). “Behold, O daughter of Zion, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9). “Behold, O daughter of Zion, your salvation comes; . . . And they shall be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forgotten” (Is 62:11–12).

“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord” (Jer 23:5). This will happen. It will take place. The Lord is faithful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

And the years came and went. The decades, the centuries, the millennia passed. Over five thousand years came and went as the people waited for the Lord to fulfill His promise. Over five thousand years came and went as the people waited for those days long promised finally to come. The people waited. They watched, looked, and listened.

There is perhaps no other season of the church year that better embodies what we experience as Christians than the season of Advent. Observing Advent means learning to wait. It’s a time to wait and to watch, a time to look and to listen. Advent is the season of the now but not yet. It proclaims that the Lord is come, and yet coming still again. It tells us to look up for, for our redemption is drawing near but not yet fully here. It announces the release of the prisoners, but not yet for John the Baptist. In Advent, Christmas is nigh, but not yet here. Advent teaches us to wait.

Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. And so we are often shaped by what we are unwilling to wait for. We want to harvest before the crop has fully ripened; we want to pluck and taste before the fruit is ready. But we are soon disappointed when what looked to be sweet fruit and good for food is, in fact, sour because of our greed and haste. So we throw it away. We cast it aside. What was full of promise now rots on the ground, discarded by unthankful and impatient hands.

Our impatience, our unwillingness to wait is axiomatic in our lives. But sometimes we don’t cast out that which is sour. Oftentimes we live with it and become sour ourselves. Like our first parents, we reach not only for premature fruit but also fruit fully grown and yet forbidden by God. It’s not that Adam and Eve were in need, that they lacked anything. They were in paradise, surrounded by good fruit from good trees blessed by God for their eating.

Likewise, it isn’t always for lack of things that we can’t wait, but rather because we have so much. We are so confident, so comfortable, and have so much that we are discontent with what God has actually given, casting it aside for what He has not given. Why else can we not wait to put up our Christmas trees? Why else can we not wait until Christmas to open all the presents, but must have one, perhaps, before then? Why else is pre-marital and extra-marital sex, cohabitation, divorce so prominent, even in the church, even among Christians? In that act of rebellion, in our greed and impatience, it is not the fruit that is sour but us. We will not wait for the Lord to give His promises.

“Everything worth having is worth waiting for,” the saying goes. But for those who cannot wait, who will not wait, the blessing of waiting is lost on them because the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. God dwells in His promises. He abides with us in His Word. And we wait for Him to fulfill them. More than that, we wait with Him to fulfill them, for the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Advent pulls us out of this. It teaches us to wait and to wait for the right things, for our lives are shaped by what we wait for. We wait for the Lord to fulfill His promises. He promised to raise up a righteous Branch. He promised that our King is coming, righteous and having salvation. He promised that our salvation is coming. Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord.

They have come because Jesus rode into Jerusalem. He rode into Jerusalem on a beast of burden indicating that He has come to bear our burdens, to take upon Himself our sorrows, our worries, and our sins. Behold that day has come. We wait for that no more. He rode into Jerusalem. He suffered the cross. He rose again and ascended to the Father.

Yet, still we wait. We wait for Him to come again. We wait for Him to make all things new, to make a new heavens and a new earth, to takes us from this fallen world, this vale of tears and this valley of sorrows to live with Him in heaven. “‘Behold,’ declares the Lord, ‘I am coming soon” (Rev 3:11, 22:7, 12, 20).

Yes, we wait. Like the Israelites of old, we wait. We wait not for the first coming of the Messiah, but for the last and final coming. We wait for Christ to come again. And while we wait, the Lord comes to us even now. He comes in His Word and His Body and Blood. He dwells with us. He waits with us.

And that is why we observe Advent. It teaches us patient waiting. It teaches us endurance. Advent is a time where we rehearse in the church year what we experience in our daily lives: patient endurance as we wait for the Lord to come and fulfill His promises. This is what we wait for, watch for, and long for. And if we are truly shaped by what we wait for, then waiting for these things will form us and thus prepare us to receive them when they come. We will be molded into those who wait and watch for Christ: the one who came, who comes still, and who is coming again. And we will be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord, those Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.

Wait. Watch. Look and listen. For “‘Behold, the days are coiming,” declares the Lord.” The days are coming. Amen.


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