Mark 11:1-10 (Advent 1B)
St. John, Galveston 12/3/23
Rev. Alan Taylor

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Dawn and I went over to the Austin area to visit one of our daughters and her family. We had our Thanksgiving dinner with them and then on Friday we drove down to San Antonio to visit with my parents. There was nothing really unusual about our Thanksgiving plans. In fact, it’s quite common for people to get together during the holidays, isn’t it? No doubt, many of you visited family as well. Visiting with people that we know and love is kind of what do as people. We are social beings after all, relational, if you will. God created us that way. And so, after He created Adam, He said, “it’s not good for man to be alone.”

As I waited at the airport in Chicago the other day to board my connecting flight to Houston, I heard someone at the gate say, I had Thanksgiving dinner with my sister this year. As unremarkable as that statement sounded, the person went on to say, that was first time I had seen my sister in 40 years. In our sinfulness and brokenness, we sometimes avoid community all together. We choose instead, isolation and separateness. There are those we would never join with in a meal, most of whom are little known to us, strangers really. But some are much closer to us, or should be.

Consider this though, it’s one thing for us to visit one another, to put away their sins toward us and to hope that they put away our sins toward them, but it’s a whole other thing for God to visit us. More than that, it is a whole other thing for God to become one of us. In that sense, our sin permeates even the most Wonderful Time of the year.

It’s the season of Advent, and so, we reflect on God coming to us, to those whom He created. By my estimation, the classic New Testament story of God visiting the home of someone is that of Mary and Martha. Jesus came to their house one day. Martha, you may remember, was busy trying to make sure everything was just right for His visit. Mary, on the other hand, sat at Jesus’ feet to hear Him talk. Martha wanted Jesus to make Mary help her with things around the house, you know, wash the dishes, mop the floors, set the table. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”  

With what Jesus said to Martha, I suspect that we are inclined to leave this story of the two sisters with a general notion that we ought to be more like Mary than Martha, that we ought to take more time to read and study God’s Word. And, that’s not a bad thing to take away from the story. I mean, who would deny that simple principle of the Christian faith? After all, Jesus Himself bids us to “Abide in His Word.” Still, it’s seems there’s something more to the story of Mary and Martha than a call to read the Bible more. Shall we not also read this story with a certain measure of awe and wonder, as God, in human flesh, “God, of an infinite majesty, His adorable, true, and only Son,” comes to the home of Mary and Martha to visit them?

In a Christmas sermon in 1533, Luther wrote, “the story was told in the papacy that at one time the devil came to Mass in a church. And when in the Patrem, that is, when the words were said, “Et homo factus est, “And He was made man,” and the people didn’t kneel down but stood, the devil struck one of them on the mouth and rebuked him and said: ‘You gross knave, are you not ashamed to stand here like a stick and not to fall on your knees in joy? If God’s Son had become our Brother as He has become yours (said the Devil), we should not know where to stay for joy.”

Luther went on to say, “I hold that story is not true; the devil is too hostile toward us and the Lord Christ. But this is surely true; Whoever invented the story had a lofty spirit and well understood the great honor that was bestowed on us by God’s Son becoming man, not as did Eve or Adam, who was made of the dust of the earth, but to be still more closely related to us, being born of the flesh and blood of the Virgin Mary, born, therefore, as other men are born.”

The season of Advent, of course, isn’t just about preparing us for the birth of Jesus. It’s also about Jesus coming to us in several different ways. It’s about His coming at the end of time. His 2nd coming, as we call it. It’s also about His coming to you and me on a regular basis, as we kneel at His altar to receive His body and blood, which Luther so rightly reminds you, were “given and shed for you.” In many ways, Advent is about the multifaceted miracle of God’s presence in your life, the miracle of God choosing to visit you, to come to you, to save you.

It is customary, on the First Sunday in Advent, for us to hear the Palm Sunday narrative, Jesus procession into Jerusalem at the beginning Holy Week. This morning we have the account from Marks Gospel. It may seem an odd position of Scripture for the season of Advent, but it really isn’t. Again, Advent puts emphasis on God coming to us in many different ways. In this case it’s Palm Sunday, but the message of Jesus entering Jerusalem to be crucified for the sins of the world, has a universal meaning and application.

It seems counterintuitive to us that God would descend from His heavenly throne, that He would be conceived and be born, that He would be crucified, that would die and be buried for you and me. I mentioned that our brokenness sometimes keeps us isolated from others. It’s that same brokenness that makes it so difficult for us realize that life is never about us finding God. It’s never about a human quest for God, or the hope that we could somehow climb our way into the presence of God. Rather, life, or shall I say, the Gospel, is about God finding us. It’s about Him coming to us, to you.

And so, on Palm, God, the King, rode into Jerusalem for His coronation. It was a festive day. Children were out playing. Crowds were gathering to celebrate the King’s coming. They had waited so long, and it was finally happening. The day had come. When you wait for something that long, basically two millennia, it’s hard to contain your excitement. “Hosanna, (all the people said). Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” They threw their garments on the road in front of Him and they waved palm branches in air.

Almost immediately though, some people were shocked. Jesus appeared so humble, so lowly, so un-royal and un-kingly like. And, this side of Jesus’ second coming, that’s how He has chosen to come to you. Even though His body and blood are received in power, the very power to forgive your sins and to strengthen you for the days ahead, they are received ever so meekly, such that, many people still refuse to believe that Jesus is, in fact, in, with and under the bread and wine.

Beyond Jesus coming to us in ordinary things, in such an extraordinary way, His coming at Bethlehem will soon be celebrated. “Et homo factus est,” “And He was made man.” Perhaps there are no more profound words in the Nicene Creed than those five. “And He was made man.” God has come to you because He loves you.  

“Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” is among my favorite hymns of Christendom. We’ll be singing it as our opening hymn on Wednesday evening, but perhaps a verse from that hymn would be appropriate here.

“This is He who seers of old time
Chanted of with one accord, 
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word.
Now He shines, the long expected;
Let creation praise its Lord
Evermore and evermore.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +