First Sunday in Advent (B)
November 29, 2020
Text: Mark 11:1-10
When Lucy Pevensie enters Narnia in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, it is always winter, but never Christmas. The whole land is under the spell of the demonic white witch. All is cold and drear. There really is very little hope. Except among the faithful few, loyal subjects of the true and rightful King. They feel the tyranny of the witch and their subjugation to her. They suffer under her oppression. But quietly, secretly, they whisper to one another, a word of hope, and even joy: “Aslan is on the move!” They don’t know what, exactly, it means, or what it could possibly entail. But they know that when he arrives, Aslan, the Lion, the King, he will defeat the terrible witch and set all that she has put wrong, right again. He will save them from her cruel grasp. They confess this to one another, and it is like blowing on smoldering embers. Hope’s flame begins to glow.
Aslan is on the move! Or as we say in the real world, Christ is coming! And so we have Advent. Advent, which means coming. Is there anything more important to believe and confess in these gray and latter days? Christ is on the move! He is coming into the cold and dreary darkness of our land, and this is wondrous good news to a world where it is always winter, never Christmas, a world under the spell of Satan and his hoard. There really is very little hope in this world. Except among the faithful few, loyal subjects of the true and rightful King, who are sustained in this hope by the Promise, even as they live under the tyranny of the evil one. They speak it. They confess it to one another, and to any who will listen. Christ is coming! He is on the move! The demon’s days are numbered. We may not know exactly what this means, what it will all look like on that Day, what it will entail. That is why the Book of Revelation is so mysterious to us. But we know that when He comes, when He arrives, He will defeat the serpent once and for all, and set all that the wily foe has put wrong, right again. He will save us with absolute finality from the dragon’s cruel grasp, from our sins, from death, from hell itself. We confess it to one another. We send the news in Christmas cards this time of year, and hopefully we bear it in our speech and on our faces as we go about our daily business. Like oxygen to embers, the Spirit borne on the Word fans hope into glowing flame.
“Once He came in blessing, All our sins redressing” (LSB 333:1). The Season of Advent prepares us to rejoice at His coming into our flesh in the womb of the Virgin, into our “likeness lowly, Son of God most holy.” Advent prepares us for Christmas. Christ is born for you. That is the great event that breaks winter’s hold. Morning dawns. The Light pierces the darkness. “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5; ESV). It warms the cold. It melts stony hearts into beating hearts of re-created flesh. This Baby was born, and shepherds know what the rest of the world does not. There is no room for Him in the inn, but the beasts receive Him in their feeding trough. I’m not so sure about the line, “no crying He makes.” He is a Baby, after all. But His tears, and soon enough, His Blood, flow for our redemption and rescue. This Baby was born to die for the sins of the world, for Mary and Joseph, for shepherds and wise men, for me and for you. For our forgiveness and life. For our salvation. God’s own Son. Mary’s Child. He rides into Jerusalem for His appointment with the cross. Suffered under Pontius Pilate. Crucified, dead and buried. Like Aslan on the stone table, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah gives Himself willingly into the hands of His foes, to suffer death in our place, as our Substitute. But He does not stay dead. Christ the Lord is risen. Bodily. Alive. For you. To be your life and to raise you from the dead on that great Day. Christ is on the move!
And now we wait for His reappearing. This is also the burden of Advent. To prepare us for that Day when Christ comes again. For He has ascended into heaven, and we know that He lives and He reigns, seated as He is at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. But He is hidden from our sight. We cannot see Him with our eyes. We know He will come again in glory, at the sound of the trumpet and the voice of the archangel. We know that He will raise all the dead, and the books will be opened, and He will judge; that He will give eternal life to you and me and all believers in Christ, but dismiss all unbelievers into eternal death and condemnation. That is the great setting of all things right. But that is yet to come. We can live already with that Day in view, and we should. Nothing in this fallen creation can prevent the fulfillment of His coming and our final salvation. And we already possess this life in a hidden way as those baptized into Christ. But we so easily forget what we cannot see. That is why Advent is a season of preaching. It is John the Baptist preparing the way. It is the angel’s announcement foretelling the Child. That is why we have the extra services and devotions. It is the whisper of hope to the faithful, and the bold confession of it even unto death. It is cold and it is dark. But Christ is on the move! Behold, He is coming soon. “Soon will come that hour – When with mighty power Christ will come in splendor” (LSB 333:3). Then the winter of death will give way to the spring of eternal life. It will ever be Christmas. Ever Easter. And so the embers glow, and the flames arise in the minds and hearts of God’s faithful.
And though He is hidden from us now, He is not gone. Even now, in this time between His comings. He is with us. Always. Even unto the end of the age. “Now He gently leads us; With Himself He feeds us” (LSB 333:2). Poor Mr. Tumnus had nearly been frozen to faithlessness by Narnia’s endless winter, even to the betrayal of Lucy into the hands of the witch. But out of the fire, the Lion roared, bringing the fawn back to his senses, to the rescue of Lucy and Tumnus’ faithfulness unto death (a death, incidentally, from which Aslan would awaken him). It reminds us of Peter around another fire, denying his Lord, but called back when Jesus looked upon him. It reminds us of us, afraid to speak, nodding our heads to the serpent’s propaganda, the devil’s icy fingers wrapping around our hearts. But the Lion roars. The preaching calls us back to repentance and faith, to the rescue of our neighbor to whom we confess Christ, and our faithfulness, if necessary, even unto death (a death, incidentally, from which Christ will awaken us). Aslan was never really gone from Narnia, and Christ is never really gone from you. He is not just an apparition in the flames or in your heart. He is with you in the flesh, in Words and water and bread and wine. He is in your ear and on your tongue, forgiving your sins, and giving you life. His Word is a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (Ps. 119:105). Baptism now saves you (1 Peter 3:21). Whoever feeds on My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day (John 6:54). The Lord Jesus came, and is coming again soon, but so also He comes here and now, in the Means of Grace, Word and Sacrament, breathing the Spirit of life into you, to raise you spiritually now, and bodily on that Day. As Aslan breathed life into the creatures the witch had turned to stone, so Jesus does in reality to you. Already now. In all life’s fulness then. Advent, as a season of preparation, is all about that.
Our Lord came. And He is coming. And He even now comes. So with the Palm Sunday crowds we shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9). And we sing! “Come, then, O Lord Jesus, From our sins release us. Keep our hearts believing, That we, grace receiving, Ever may confess You Till in heav’n we bless you” (LSB 333:4). Beloved in the Lord, He is coming soon. Christ is on the move! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.