“25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (Jn 11:25–26). Jesus enters Jerusalem on His way to the cross so that in faith you may receive all these benefits. Yes, He comes as king, but a very different kind of king. He will not rule with violence, power, rage, or wrath. Rather His rule is one of grace, mercy, kindness, justice, and every good thing. He is just because He justifies. He saves because He is Saviour. St. John ends his account with the Pharisees bemoaning the popularity of Jesus: “Look, the world has gone after him” (Jn 12:19), they say. But the victory Jesus brings over sin, death, and devil isn’t enough for everyone to go after Him. Some still want more, they want a Saviour in their own image, to be their own god. Such it was then, is now, and will always be. But Christ our Lord comes now, humbly, submitting to the will of the Father, so that we might be raised to eternal life. “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
That day on the mountain with Jesus heaven and earth came together. But here’s the best part: every week in the Divine Service the same thing is happening. For whenever God’s people are gathered together to receive His very Body and Blood we are miraculously and mysteriously partakers of the same feast as those who even now are gathered around the throne in the never ending banquet feast of the Lamb. “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify your glorious name.” We pray those words every time we prepare to receive the Eucharist, and in those very words we confess that our place at the communion rail is joined with the innumerable numbers of the company of heaven who rejoice in the presence of the Lamb. So in this way the mysteries of the faith that are confirmed in the transfiguration are yours now in the Divine Service. The voice from the cloud that pronounces Jesus as the Chosen One points us to the “author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2 AV). Transfiguration also marks a turning point in the church year as we head into the season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday this week. Pay attention to our closing hymn today, for the last stanza is the last time we will sing “alleluia” until we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord in April. So as we head from the alleluias of Epiphany to ashes of Lent, may the Holy Spirit who brings you to the Son keep you in the one true faith. May you listen only to Him, the One who in His glory reveals His kingdom unto our eternal salvation.
“Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Lk 6:23). Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, for He has conquered death by His resurrection and now sits at the right of the Father for us, as our brother. In faith we feast at the Lord’s table and look to the never ending feast in heaven. In faith we repent of our sins now and look to the joy of eternal life. Blessed are you. How do you know? You can tell you’re blessed because Christ died for you. You can tell you’re blessed and that the blessing and gift of salvation is yours because you’ve been baptized. You can tell you’re blessed and your sins are forgiven because you’re given the body and blood of Christ to eat and drink.
So blessed are you who believe in Him, who confess that “Jesus is Lord.” Blessed are you who strengthen and increase in the good works that he has begun. Blessed are you who preserve to the end, abiding in God’s Word, praying diligently, and faithfully using the gifts you have received. Blessed are you in the name of the Lord.
In the Introit we pray “O God, be not far from me.” Jesus is not far, He is present indeed through His Word and His Sacraments. The miracles St. Luke describe in his Gospel demonstrate that Jesus is God in the flesh. Isaiah (Old Testament reading) and Peter both fall on their knees before God, convicted of their unworthiness to be in proximity to Holiness. Christ, the eternal Son of God who sets His face toward Jerusalem and the cross, brings us into God’s presence through His atoning sacrifice. Like Peter we let down our nets to receive a blessing, for in His grace we have nothing to fear (Collect).
God accomplishes great things. No surprise in that. What may be surprising is how he accomplishes great things —and what things are truly great. Great things God accomplishes through his word: the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, by his word casts out a demon, raises Simon’s mother-in-law from a fever, and heals many “who were sick with various diseases” (Gospel, Lk 4:40). Jesus’ teaching and healing show that “his word possessed authority” (4:32, 36) over death and the devil. The presence of Jesus as teacher and miracle worker means the presence of the Kingdom of God – the forgiveness of sin and eternal life.
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” the Father said to his Son at his Baptism in the Jordan (Gospel, Lk 3:22). “I have called you by name, you are mine,” the Father says to us through Isaiah by virtue of our Baptism (Old Testament Reading, Is 43:1). And because we are God’s sons and daughters, we have the certainty of his protection as did Christ. Thus the last verse of the Introit: “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Ps 2:12c). The Gradual also emphasizes God’s protection, “For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.”
“We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell.” Well, during this Advent season the glad tidings we have heard came to us from the prophets of the Old Testament, who clearly proclaim the grace and mercy of God in the coming of the Messiah. We heard Jeremiah announcing that the Promise would spring forth, “a righteous Branch to spring up for David,” who will “execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer 33:14–16). The prophet Malachi showed us that the Promise of God returns to His people, even though they would walk away from him. Zephaniah told us to exult and rejoice because the Promised King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst. And now Micah points us to the little town of Bethlehem, where the Promise is born. Jesus is the Promise we have heard of all along, and He will make you dwell secure. He will be your peace. So God has spoken by His prophets to us this Advent season. They have spoken the Good News of our coming King: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he” (Zec 9:9).
Today’s Old Testament Reading, Zeph 3:14–20, evokes the theme of Advent joy. The prophet calls Israel to rejoice and exult with all her heart because her King is in their midst to save them. The advent of the King of Israel, the judge of the nations, will be a day of salvation and restoration for those whom he will gather in among his people. In Jesus, the Lord is restoring the fortunes of His people (Zeph 3:20). The advent of Christ is good news for those who are not offended by him.
The season of Advent emphasizes preparation for the coming of God, or of the Messiah King. Such preparation does not take place in a neutral vacuum. Those who are to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths smooth are those who are in the midst of struggle and difficulty and are burdened by personal sin. Thus, preparation assumes two important aspects: repentance and steadfast trust in the promises of God.