Happy New Church Year! The Advent greeting sounds once again for a blessed new church year: Behold, your King comes to you. Jesus Christ, once visible in Jerusalem, now unseen, will certainly come to us again this new church year through His Holy Gifts of preaching, Baptism, the Supper, and Absolution. Through these Gifts, as through means, we receive God’s grace, His undeserved favor. We Christians cannot live without His grace. Though many things change in a new year, one thing remains constant: God’s grace will be with us in the new church year.
Saint Matthew reminds us what the prophet Zechariah said about Jesus’ coming: Behold, your King comes to you. If we first came to Christ, we would never be partakers of Him. Jerusalem is not able to come to Christ. Christ must come to her. Christ must come to us. Jesus Himself says so in John chapter six: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, “And they will all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
We also know this from the Small Catechism, where Martin Luther teaches us to confess as Holy Scripture teaches. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason and strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him”. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, brings Jesus to us as He once came to Jerusalem. Jesus was the One Who sought Jerusalem. Jesus says in Matthew chapter 23: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
Jesus still comes to us today. We see this coming before our eyes here in the Divine Service as well as in our homes when we take up Holy Scripture and read it, meditate upon it, and learn from it our only hope for salvation: Jesus Christ. We see this coming as we confess our sins and receive Absolution not doubting, but firmly believing, that our sins are absolved, taken away, and covered in Christ’s atoning blood. We see this coming of the Christ as we open our mouths and receive His True Body and True Blood in the Lord’s Supper. He is here. He offers Himself to you. You don’t need to travel a long distance to a far away place. You don’t need to ascend into heaven or descend into hell. The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. Cling to this evermore in the new Church Year, dearly beloved. Cling to Christ’s certain Word of forgiveness and life.
Christ also comes to us not as a judge, but as a Savior. He is humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden. If Christ would come to us in order to deal with us according to God’s righteousness, we could not wait for grace, much less be certain of it. It would amount to the same thing as if Christ would bring a conditional grace that would stand on our actions and our behavior. You are saved from everlasting death and hell only if you’re good enough or if you have sinned 50 percent less this week than last week. His coming then would bring only a judgment on the basis of our works. This judgment denies us grace. Grace never measures. Grace only works on those dead enough to receive it.
You are dead in trespasses and sins. God’s Law reveals this to you. You do not live up to His expected standard. You miss the mark God demands. God’s Word shows no true deed is found among us. Yet Christ now comes not in order to judge, but in order to save. Listen again to the description of how Jesus enters Jerusalem. Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden. The key word here is humble. He came to Jerusalem at that particular time in order to suffer and die and thus redeem us in our place. Jesus comes now in the humble Word of the Gospel. He doesn’t come to collect debts. He comes in order to give. Jesus delivers the grace we need to sustain us as we walk the pilgrim way. That is why the message of Zechariah repeated by Matthew is a joyful message for us on this First Sunday of Advent: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden. The King brings free and certain grace for you, just as He has for many church years before. The message does not change this new church year. Though the calendar year will change in a month or so, the constant cycle of Christ’s grace does not change. Your King comes to you bringing gifts of forgiveness. Welcome Him anew today and always!