Text: Matthew 21:1-11
A little while ago I got a text message from our landlord that he wanted to come visit us at our (his!) house in a couple days. We have a really great relationship with our landlord, he really likes us and is happy to rent to us and we really like him and are happy to rent from him so it is a really positive relationship and we have no problem with him coming over for a visit. But, when I got that text message a kind of panic set in. All of a sudden both Leah and I had this urge to get the house cleaned up. It’s not like our house was tremendously messy or anything like that, things were a little cluttered, but it wasn’t that bad. The prospect of our landlord coming raised the bar a little bit from our standard levels of cleanliness though. We wanted the house to look good when he came, we wanted to show him that we take care of his house, we didn’t want him to think we were slobs.
So for the next couple days we (but mostly Leah) went to work cleaning the house. Toys were put away, floors were scrubbed and vacuumed, the dusting was done, the house looked good. Then, the landlord came. He got to the house right as I was getting home. I parked my car and walked over to his car to meet him. We walked towards the house and stopped in the driveway for a minute. We spent a few minutes talking and in a few short minutes had figured out everything that needed to be figured out. We shook hands and he was ready to walk away, but I said “Wait! We have some mail for you in the house!” In the end he only poked his head in the front door for a minute to say “hi” to Leah and the girls, but that was it. He never set foot in the house. That’s the way things go sometimes, I guess.
This sense of urgency that comes from impending visitors, however, is not all that unusual. When I was a kid this sense of urgency filled our house whenever my grandparents were coming to visit. Suddenly it would be “all hands on deck” to get the house clean.
It is this sense of urgency that I think Paul is directing us towards in our epistle reading today (Romans 13:11-14). It is high time to “clean house,” our spiritual house, Paul is saying. “The hour has come for you to wake from sleep,” Paul says, “For salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day it at hand. So cast off works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime…” Paul’s words here call on us to wake up from our sleepy slumber in sin and live as the people of God because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Every day the second coming of Jesus is one day closer than it was the day before, that day is nearer now than it ever has been, so wake up, Paul says, and cast off the works of darkness. Walk properly, not in orgies or drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.
Some of those things that Paul mentions seem pretty out there (orgies, drunkenness, etc…). We might be able to easily say that we don’t do those things. But what about jealousy and quarreling? Those have to hit pretty close to our own hearts. How often are we jealous of others? How often do we quarrel and fight with other people about silly little things? Too often to count.
These are the things Paul urges us to leave behind as we walk now as children of light in the light of Jesus our Lord. He urges us to wake up from our lives of sin and live like people of God without these works of darkness.
Have you ever tried to wake up someone who is in such a deep sleep that you have to grab them by the shoulders and shake them to get them to wake up? I have to do that with my kids sometimes, they sleep very soundly. That kind of shake up is what we need to be shaken from our lives of sin and bring this kind of urgency to our lives as we look forward to the coming of our King, the Lord Jesus Christ. Too often we are just excuse ourselves and our sinful actions rather than trying to change them or stop them. We need to be shaken up so that we sense the urgency and “clean the house” by casting off our sinful works of darkness.
In our Gospel reading today the city of Jerusalem got quite the shake-up. Jesus is coming on Palm Sunday into Jerusalem and the people come out from all over town and line the street with their jackets and palm branches. They shout for joy that Jesus is here. At the end of the story Matthew tells us that the whole city was “stirred up” about Jesus coming into town. The word for “stirred up” there really almost means like an earthquake. The city was shaken by Jesus coming, it was quaking over Him being there. When Jesus died on the cross the earth actually did shake and it happened again three days later when He rose from the dead. This time, though, it is the people, not the ground, who are shaking.
This reminds me of the people of Israel at Mount Sinai when God spoke to them, gave them the Ten Commandments, and made a covenant with them. It was a frightening scene on the mountain that day. There was thunder and lightning on the mountain. The sound of a loud trumpet. And there was even smoke rising up from the mountain. God was there, He was present on that mountain and it was a scary scene. The people were gathered at the foot of the mountain that day, but did not dare to even get close to the mountain. They were afraid and they stood there trembling, shaking in their boots, before God. They were not asleep that day, they were wide awake and terrified. They told Moses not to let God talk to them. Instead, they wanted God to talk to Moses and he could just relay the message on to them. This scene was too much for them to take, they were shaken up.
The people in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday were shaken up in a very different way, however. Just like the people out there at the mountain, God came to them that day and many of them knew it. “This is THE prophet Jesus from Nazareth,” they said. The prophet. The one prophet that God had promised to send, the next and greater Moses. “Hosanna to the Son of David” they shouted. They knew Jesus was the Messiah, their Saviour. But, unlike the people at the foot of the mountain these people were not shaking with fear. There is something very different about this picture. Their King is coming to them but He is humble, riding on a donkey. There is no thunder, lightning, smoke, or booming voices here. Just a man, the God man, riding on donkey coming to His people.
And, in the same kind of way, Jesus comes to us even today. He comes to us, not in terrifying thunder, lightning, and smoke on a mountain but in His Word and in His Sacraments to shake us from our slumber in sin and wake us up to live as children of the light. In His Word He calls us out of our sins, in words like we heard from Paul in his letter to the Romans this morning. God is speaking to us in these words to shake us out of our sin and bring us into His eternal life. He comes to us today also in bread and wine to forgive all of our sins and give us the strength, by His grace, to live as His people.
He comes to us like this today because He has already come to us, being born in a manger, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, dying on a cross, and rising from the dead. Look at how God has already come to His people, to us, by becoming like us in every way and yet without sin. Look at how He has reached out to us in our sin and how He keeps reaching out to us in our sin and drawing us out of that sin by His words of forgiveness. It’s Jesus who sets our house in order, who cleans up the mess of our sin by His death on the cross and gets our hearts ready for the day of His coming because He has already come to us and He keeps coming to us.
So let’s wake up from our slumber in sin. Let’s put the ways of sinful darkness behind us and live as the people of God. Let’s let God’s Word shake us up and show us our sin so that we can look on Jesus and see our Saviour who takes away that sin. Let’s be wide awake, through the grace and forgiveness of Jesus, to look forward to His coming again. Let’s prepare for this Christmas season by repenting, confessing our sins and receiving God’s forgiveness. Let’s rejoice that God has come to us, that He keeps coming to us, and that He will come again. He will come soon, our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Amen.