The Gospel reading appointed for this Sunday, the First Sunday in Advent, is Matthew 21:1-9, which is also the Gospel reading appointed for Palm Sunday.
Jesus riding into Jerusalem. Strange, huh?
I think it’s perfect, primarily because the only other time in the Church Year that is as neurotically bi-polar as Advent is Palm Sunday. Like Advent, Palm Sunday is celebratory in that we shout hosannas and rejoice in the Lord’s arrival to the Holy City, but very soon thereafter, in the very same service, the tones of our voices change as we realize the dreadfully sad march to the cross. In the midst of all of it, we don’t know if we should laugh or cry.
This reading serves the season of Advent well because it combines hopefulness and final judgement. It looks backward in time to the Lord’s first coming while looking forward to His second coming—all at the same time. And in the end, by this reading, the lectionary’s designers knew not to begin the new Church Year without first dropping us at the doorstep of holy week, the shortest of all seasons of the Church Year, the one that truly pinpoints the heart of all of the promises of both the first and second comings of Jesus. Advent teaches that everything about where we’ve been and where we’re going lands at Golgotha, which is the singular event that launches its hopefully divine life rafts through the bloody mess of Christ’s death to all believers of all time both before and after the event itself. In other words, Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, all the way through to you and me, we’re all in reach of the Lord’s work on the cross. We saved by trust—looking forward or backward to the Messiah’s loving act—no matter who we are or where we are on the timeline.
So, as you can see, Advent is terribly bi-polar. It’s all over the place. But in so many wonderful ways. There’s a lot to preach on in this season.
With this, you should be prepared to strap on your spiritual seatbelt. This means going to church during Advent. Don’t wait until Christmas. If you do, you’ll miss a good portion of the best stuff that makes Christmas worth your while. Yes, you should make it a point to go to church during Advent. And you should listen carefully. You’re sure to be rewarded. You’ll learn of a love that begins and ends in the person and work of Jesus Christ born in Bethlehem, born to give Himself as your ransom on the cross. The preaching—if the pastor can manage the season’s neurosis well enough—will tell you of the Lord’s immeasurably loving desire to come in the flesh to save you through a most humiliating sacrifice. Simultaneously, the assurance is that you’ll be changed by that wonderful Gospel to know of Christ’s desire to keep His promises to you until the end of time. He promises that His victory train doesn’t end at the Ascension, but rather He will return again in glory to bring all things to completion. The end is no end. He comes to take all believers to Himself for all eternity, which is the time outside of time.
Advent is meant to be a time of blessings for you and your family. If your church isn’t celebrating Advent, go somewhere else. Go to a church that has her heart set on giving and clinging to those blessings. Insist that the outside-of-time wonder that Advent brings is a part of your family’s life right here at this moment on the timeline.