Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Ad Te Levavi, November 29, 2009
On the Baptism of Sergei and Artyom Varvil
For an audio MP3 of this sermon, click here: Advent1-2009
TITLE: “The Way of the Lord”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the Gospel lesson just read, with focus on the words from Zechariah, Behold, your King is coming to you.
Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. So prays the Psalmist in our Introit, and so prays the church together every year as we begin this Advent season. This is a time of new beginnings for God’s church. Every year we begin with Jesus entering into Jerusalem, and it already seems as though we are out of step with the world around us.
For you see, this is the day our year begins as the Christian Church: The first Sunday in Advent. And so we pray that God would stir up His power to rescue us from sin, death and the power of the devil. How will He do it? How is God’s work of salvation done day in, day out, year after year? What will this year bring for God’s holy bride, His Church?
For us Christian pilgrims here on earth, the path to heaven is not always as clear as we would like it to be. We are beset by trials and temptations every step of the way. We continually pray that our Lord would show us the way and teach us His path. Both as a congregation and as individuals, we can easily find easier paths, less difficult ways, and simpler roads to take. Or at least it seems that way at the time. But Christ our Lord, gently and patiently, brings us back and sets us on the path of righteousness that we may only be on by His blood.
That’s why this Gospel text is appointed for us this Sunday. What are we doing with the Palm Sunday Gospel on the First Sunday of Advent? Shouldn’t we be talking about John the Baptist, Zecharias, Gabriel, Mary, and the upcoming Christmas story? That’s what our hearts would probably tell us. That certainly is what our culture would tell us. The world around us is blissfully unconscious of this season we call Advent. But for literally thousands of years the Christian Church has begun her journey of grace with this Gospel lesson, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, the animal of peace. Maybe it isn’t the path that you and I would pick, but it is the path that has been chosen for us for millennia.
The journey of the Christian life is a pilgrimage with our heavenly kingdom at the end of the journey. The path is set; Christ our Lord gives it to us, and anything or anyone who would lead us away from that path is of the Evil One. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.
But there is a temptation in our day and age to look at the Christian life and our journey of grace not as a pilgrimage with a set goal, but as a vacation. When you pick where you go on a vacation, you want someplace you will like, relaxing, maybe warm sounds good about now. But your purpose in the journey is entirely different. Variety is the spice of life when it comes to a vacation. Or perhaps at least well-trod places that you know what you’re getting. But in a vacation, basically you pick where you are going to go and what you’re going to do.
But that is not the way of the Christian faith. We don’t pick the destination; Christ does. We don’t pick the path or even the scenery; Christ does. In fact, Christ not only picks the path, but He takes the path before us, so that as we go on this pilgrimage, we can move ahead with confidence and faith, knowing that He has been there before us. This is all right there in that little word, Hosanna. It is the cry of Advent. Save us now! Save us from what? Save us from ourselves, from our own whims and petty desires. Christ comes to save us from the whimsy of our day and bring us into His eternal kingdom.
What I am talking about, dear friends, is the essence of our life together as a liturgical church. Everything in our life together here at Messiah Lutheran Church as a liturgical congregation flows out of this pilgrimage to heaven. The liturgy, the readings, the hymns, the choir music, the sermons, they all serve that one great purpose of clearing the path and leading us in the path of righteousness. When we pick our own path, we do so at our own peril, because we don’t know where we’re going. The whole point is that He does.
Allow me to use the baptism of Sergei and Artyom this morning as an example of how God chooses the journey. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Mark and LeAnn would have have dreamed when they got married that the path to having children would take them to Russia and back with twin boys named Sergei and Artyom. Their journey has not been an easy one. No journey involving children is ever an easy one, in my opinion. But I’m also going to guess that for them, looking back at it now as we stand upon the plateau of the boys’ baptisms, that it would be very difficult for them to see that journey going any other way. It was not a vacation. It is more of a pilgrimage, where Christ Himself has been their guide, even through the darkest moments. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the Christian faith to me.
Saint Paul says in our Epistle that we are to do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The Christian faith is not a game or a past time or a vacation. It is the greatest treasure, the highest gift, the most important thing in your life. Your salvation now is nearer than you first believed. Every time you come to this Altar and receive His body and blood, you have a taste of the great eternal banquet at the end of our pilgrimage. It is this Altar that sustains you and keeps you in the journey.
Jesus comes to you this day. He comes to you humble and gentle, and wanting only to forgive your sins and bring you along in this journey of the Christian faith. He is not satisfied to give you a better life here, or to satisfy your curiosity or cure your boredom with the same holiday stuff. No, He comes to redeem you, and to carry you out of this vale of tears to Himself in heaven. That is a journey that is worth traveling. That is the way of the Lord. It is His way. It is our way. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.