Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the first Sunday of Advent 11/28/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11:00am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Advent1 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the First Sunday of Advent, click here.
Growing up, I used to love the choose-your-own-adventure stories. If you’re not familiar with those books, they were designed so that at the end of a chapter, instead of just going on to the next, you would be presented with a series of options.
Each decision you made along the way would determine what page you turn to. Do you enter the city? Do you make your escape by boat or by rickshaw? Do you go for the apple pie or the pumpkin?
Each decision you made in these books had consequences. And the story took shape accordingly.
Looking back, it’ strange how careful I was. It was just a book. At worst I’d mess up, make a bad decision, and have to start over. But, I’d never make that decision again.
I have no idea if this genre sounds interesting to you or not, but the books were so popular that if you and a friend were reading them, he would warn you in the hallway during passing period, and tip you off about the traps waiting for you.
I’m still amazed at the amount of caution practiced by children reading a book. Looking around, I am amazed at the lack of caution practiced by those children all grown up.
Our carelessness is astonishing: in real life, where the stakes are so very high – where real people get really hurt; where real sins do real damage; it is astounding how recklessly we carry on – in this very real world, where we can’t just mark the page with our thumb, and turn back if things don’t work out.
But we’re not going through this blindly. Ever since the fall, since Eden was undone, we’ve been warned. We know where your decisions lead. We’ve seen the result. Our sins are real; they will destroy us, and yet…
Over and over again, sin and death is the adventure we choose. For ourselves and others, this is the story we tell.
We can’t say we don’t know any better. We do. That’s why we yell at the characters in movies who can’t hear us. “Don’t get in the car!” “Don’t go find out what the creepy noise was!”
We know the consequences of their actions. We know the damage that will be done. We do, in fact, know better. But we’re helpless observers.
That’s part of what makes the Gospel for this First Sunday of Advent so difficult to hear.
The story is being told, and inside it doesn’t really sit right. And since we can’t yell at Jesus and tell Him to do something else, we are tempted to look away.
Specifically, we’re tempted to look past Jerusalem to see Bethlehem; past Advent to see Christmas. But we don’t have to rush through a story we’re just beginning to hear. That’s what makes Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem just the way to start.
It does us good to be reminded; not only of where this story is headed, but that Jesus knows where it is headed. Jesus knows full well what He is getting Himself into.
If we were writing it, we wouldn’t tell the story this way. And yet, this is the Advent Jesus chooses.
We did help write the story, though. For every time we chose our own adventure – with the sins we know and the ones we don’t; for every time we turned the page to a terrible and deadly ending, Jesus has stepped into our story.
That kind of a plot twist changes everything. As we make our way toward Bethlehem this Advent, we are reminded: what we will find there, Who we will find there, is our story retold.
Advent and Christmas mean that Jesus turns the book back to page 1. And as it was in the beginning, in the Genesis, it begins with a single Word.
This Child, this Christ, this Savior, taking on your own flesh. Being born, just like you. Loving His mommy, just like you. Learning and laughing, just like you. Growing up, just like you.
And then after all the chapters that are just like yours, He writes a chapter so very unlike yours. Jesus does not tell the story you would tell it.
You stand at the door of the city. The streets are full of people, among them, those men who have been after you are hiding and waiting.
a) Enter the city.
b) Turn around, return at a better time.
c) Rouse your friends, and enter prepared to defend yourself.
And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” verses 7-9
A Virgin Mother; a hay-filled feeding trough; a lowly donkey; the welcoming shouts of fickle hypocrites; a sham trial; a cross between two criminals. This is the Advent Jesus chooses.
All of that has the potential to get you down, and we know that this time of year has the ability to do that on its own. But because you know this is not the end of Jesus’ story, you are free to enjoy this Advent without fear.
The little Child, Whose coming you can hardly wait for; this little Child, all grown up, crucified for your sins, and raised for your justification; He’s brought you back to the beginning.
This First Sunday of Advent marks a brand new year in the Church, and a new beginning for every last one of you. It’s a wonderful story Jesus gives you here.
From font, pulpit, and altar – Jesus makes His glorious story all yours: Life and joy and mercy and resurrection, If only you would have it. And so, with a new year in front of you, with Christ Himself showing you the way, knowing full well how the story ends, it will be very interesting to see the pages we turn along the way.