By Paul Koch –
The word “advent” is a version of a Latin word that means coming or arrival. So, as we begin the season of Advent in the church we do those things that look forward to and anticipate the arrival, the coming, of something grand. We light an advent wreath each Sunday as each candle counts down to the big day. We have extra services when this body of Christ will gather together in anticipation of what is to come. And what is it that we are looking forward to? What is the big day that we are awaiting? Is it Christmas? It must be Christmas, right? Well, not exactly. I mean Christmas is certainly part of it for what we are celebrating is the coming of the kingdom of God. But that kingdom didn’t just come on Christmas morning. No, as we learn in our text today that kingdom comes whenever Christ himself comes. While Christmas may be the great arrival of our Lord, it is not the only arrival of our Lord.
This time of year is full of all sorts of traditions and peculiarities that make it stand apart from any other time of year. There are the familiar decorations that go up in our homes and around town. There are the songs on the radio, the familiar Christmas carols that we all know and love. There is the expectation of joy and happiness all around. Along with that expectation comes the reality that not all of us are happy. Every year around these holidays, there is a spike in amount of people who are battling anxiety and depression. Pressure to be with family, to put on the smile, to pretend like everything is just okay is never quite as powerful as it is during this time of year. And so, though we are anxiously awaiting the coming of the kingdom of God, though we get out the advent wreath and decorate the Christmas tree, this waiting isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It isn’t always magical and wonderful.
And so, I think it is fitting that every year in the church we begin this season with the story of our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Not a story of angels and shepherd or even wise men, not Mary singing her great Magnificat or John the Baptist jumping the womb of Elizabeth. No, we begin with the story of our Lord riding on a donkey into the city of Jerusalem. See, this text connects our Christmas celebration and preparation with what happens to our Lord during holy week, during his great passion. That is, this reading connects the coming of our Lord with his death and resurrection. Now, this usually doesn’t make it into our Christmas carols or the decorations around our homes, but this is the reason that he came. This text is a beautiful way to begin the season of Advent as we anticipate and meditate upon the coming of our Lord.
The great city of Jerusalem was the pinnacle city for God people. It was the place where the temple was located. There the holiness of God was present. There sacrifices could be offered, and atonement received. There, in that city and in that temple, was the location of God for the sake of his people. But our Lord knew that that city was the place where we would face the fiercest opposition. That city was the place where the plots to destroy him would get formulated and the false accusations would arise. That city was the location of his betrayal and his beatings, and outside those walls is where he would be crucified. Jesus knows what will happen in that city. He has already predicted it to his disciples, which makes his intentionality to get there so striking. When he comes, when he arrives in this city, he does so deliberately. He tells his disciples exactly what to do and they go and find everything just as he said. Then, He ends up finally making his entry into Jerusalem.
So, they go and find a donkey and tell the guy that the Lord has need of it. They bring it back to Jesus, so he can go to the place that will reject him and brutalize him for the sins of the world. After all of this, the disciples take over and make this moment something altogether different. They begin to make his arrival one of great fanfare and celebration, one of triumph and power. They do all the things that you would do for an arriving king. They take off their cloaks and put them on the donkey. They begin to spread their cloaks on the path before him, others begin to cut down palm branches and use them to mark his path. The crowds around get into the action and the whole scene seems to transform before our eyes.
The proclamation that comes form the crowd as our Lord enters Jerusalem is the great proclamation of Advent. They shout, “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!” Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David. Here the cries of the crowd match up with the prayer of the church. Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We pray for the coming kingdom of God. Now we know that the kingdom of God comes without our prayers, but we pray in the Lord’s prayer that this kingdom might advent with us; that we might receive the blessings of the kingdom of our Lord in our lives. This seems to be the celebration of the crowd as our Lord enters the city.
However, it is worth noticing that our Lord is silent during this whole time. This is beyond what he told his disciples to do. In fact, though the coming of Christ is certainly the coming of the kingdom of God, this whole text is marked with a certain irony. For while they celebrate the coming kingdom of God they don’t seem to understand what sort of kingdom it is. As far as they are concerned, Jesus enters Jerusalem to establish a kingdom of power. A kingdom that comes with fanfare and a parade. But as far as Jesus is concerned, according to what he has actually told his disciples, he enters that city to suffer and die. He won’t be crowned King until he is nailed to a cross.
See, we always want to do this. We want to make Jesus into the king we desire. The king of glory and power, the king that comes with celebration and carols and lights and trees in our homes. You want a king that brings joy and happiness and fellowship and wonder. You want the smiles and the heartwarming moments. You want to overcome the depression and the sadness, the loneliness and the hardship that seem to plague the human life. Over and again God’s people gather together to create places of such joy and happiness. There is no room for lament, no place for grief and tears in the fellowship of those who celebrate the advent of the King.
This is why I think the next verse of the text is so crucial. Verse 11, right after the cries of the crowd, speak to what our Lord did when he finally made it into the city. There we read,
And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”
Notice, there is no big speech, no coronation of the king. No, in a marked silence away from the crowd he makes his way directly to the temple. And he takes it all in. The temple, the place where man’s separation with God was dealt with. The sights of sacrifice all around, the smell of incense still hanging in the air, a whole system developed to bring passing cleansing of the sinner.
Perhaps there, away from the celebration and smiles and joy, he thought of his suffering and death. Perhaps there he saw how this whole temple with all it’s rituals was about to be brought to an end. For surely, he knew that his blood would spell the end of such a place. And perhaps, just perhaps, he thought of you as well. He thought not of victory and easy lives but of struggles and hardships. Perhaps he thought of the pain and failures that cling so easily to your life. He thought of your sorrow and depression as the crowds decorate and celebrate, he thought of your loneliness and broken hearts, he thought of your inability to reconcile yourselves. And so, with a long look around he headed back out, prepared to do what must be done to give you life and hope and assurance.
The advent of our King is worthy of our celebration. But your Lord didn’t come to usher in the kingdom of your heart’s desire, he came to bring the kingdom you need. The kingdom that still reigns even now, the kingdom that comes in his Word and sacraments, the kingdom that has called me to say to you this day. No matter your hurt and your troubled hearts, no matter you wayward and confused way, Christ has come for you. In him you are loved by God, in him you are assured of life everlasting for in him you are forgiven.