The First Sunday in Advent strikes some as a quandary. Here we are in December, yet we hear the following from Matthew 21 as our Gospel lesson:
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” … The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
What are we doing reading about the triumphal entry at the very beginning of the liturgical year? Shouldn’t that wait until Holy Week? Indeed it does, for it is also the Gospel reading for the procession of the palms on Palmarum. But it is also read on the First Sunday of Advent. After all, our King is coming again to save us (that is the meaning of hosanna: “save us now!”), just as He came once before, and we are to prepare rightly for His second coming.
The music for Advent 1, therefore, reflects the triumphal entry and our eagerness to welcome our King. The chief hymn, Savior of the Nations, Come, has been sung on Advent 1 (and the ensuing three Advent Sundays) since at least 1545, and probably before. This week the choir will sing stanza 4 in a setting by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel:
Then stepped forth the Lord of all
from His pure and kingly hall;
God of God, becoming man:
His heroic course began.
The music fittingly is full of energy and brilliance, reflecting the text’s marked shift from the relatively introspective first three stanzas. (At the 8am service, the organ will play stanza 4 in a similarly boisterous setting by Paul Manz.)
Likewise, we sing at the procession:
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates!
Behold, the King of Glory waits!
The King of kings is drawing near.
The Savior of the world is here.
Life and salvation He doth bring,
Therefore rejoice and gladly sing!
To God the Father raise our sacrifice of praise!
And, in the brilliant words of Paul Gerhardt at communion:
Love caused Your incarnation; love brought you down to me.
Your thirst for my salvation procured my liberty.
O love beyond all telling that led You to embrace
In love, all love excelling, our lost and fallen race.
He comes to judge the nations, a terror to His foes,
A light of consolations and blessed hope to those
Who love the Lord’s appearing. O glorious Sun, now come,
Send forth Your beams, so cheering, and guide us safely home.
We rejoice at the opportunity to welcome our saving Lord, Who came 2000 years ago, and will come again on the Last Day, and comes to us every week in the Word and Sacraments.