By Paul Koch –
Every year when the season of Advent rolls around, the church throws us a bit of a curveball. I mean, we have the tree up in the sanctuary and I’m sure you all have either begun or even finished decorating your homes. There is Christmas music on the radio and everyone is beginning to plan for the big holiday. But as we gather here today, as we listened to the readings, we get a mixed message. Instead of baby Jesus and warm feelings of family and friends, we are greeted with the famous triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem, humble and riding on a donkey. Instead of Advent it seems like we are in Lent. Instead of getting ready for Christmas, this is the text we always read on Palm Sunday in preparation for Holy week and the death and resurrection of our Lord.
Yet, I think this strange juxtaposition of our Lord riding into Jerusalem as we begin the church’s countdown to the celebration of Christmas is fitting. For it brings into great clarity the nature of what it is we celebrate on Christmas. This miraculous birth, this gift of our salvation is the arrival of the true King. He is a King unlike all earthy kings. He is a Lord unlike all earthly lords, and His coming changes everything. So, in the midst of singing about Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus, we hear the shouts of the people crying out, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
The text begins with our Lord sending two of His disciples into the village to secure a steed for Him to ride into Jerusalem. They are to find a colt upon which no one has ever sat. And if the owner of the donkey asks them why they are doing this, they are to tell him that the Lord has need of it. They go, and they find everything just as He had told them, and they brought Him the donkey. Then the excitement really begins, they lay their cloaks on the donkey and begin to parade him into the city. They are laying their cloaks on the ground before Him, sort of an impromptu red-carpet treatment. As we know from other texts, they are cutting off palm branches and doing the same things. There are people in front of Him and people behind Him and the whole thing takes on an atmosphere of grand celebration. Rightly so, for the King has come. He has arrived in His city. He will go to His temple.
Everyone is thrilled… Well, not everyone.
The ones that are not happy about all this, the ones that want the crowd to just shut up and go away, they are the ones who already have a king. They have no need for this King riding on a donkey. No need for the King born in the little town of Bethlehem because their own kings are doing just fine. You see, perhaps they are the ones that really get it. The arrival of a new King means your old king is finished. The two cannot coexist. There will be one true King and all others will be revealed as imposters.
Have you ever met those people who have a clear set of ambitions and goals in their life? The type of person that has a plan, and that plan can be spelled out quite clearly. They know what the steps are that they need to take to reach their goals. They know where they are along the path to achieve them. We celebrate these types of individuals, they are usually high achievers and the sorts of people that inspire us. I knew a young man that had that sort of drive many years ago. It seemed like the sky was the limit for him. There was absolutely nothing that he wouldn’t achieve if he set his mind to it. But that was before the accident. It was difficult enough to press on after he lost his father, but his mother just couldn’t seem to cope. She tried, but it all seemed to fall apart. She was racked with guilt and doubts plagued here everywhere she went. She became timid and was afraid to go out. She no longer went to church, no longer heard the Word of God. And deep down he knew. He knew that if he was to honor his father and mother, if he was to be faithful to the Word, then he could not pursue his plan. His king, his ambition and goals, had to die.
Or think of that woman who was the busybody of the congregation. Not in a bad way, she just loved to help out, and so she helped out a lot. She served the congregation at a great sacrifice of time and energy. The thing is, over time she began to like the attention she received from her good works perhaps a little too much. The recognition for her faithful stewardship became defining for her. But then they called a new pastor and he didn’t know about all her great deeds. He didn’t know that she organized the potlucks and made sure the volunteers were ready to help clean the sanctuary. When she began doing things so that he might recognize her work, he didn’t seem to be impressed. She became withdrawn and upset, and even dared to use the greatest weapon of discord in the church. It wasn’t necessarily planned out, but she felt she had to do something, so she began to gossip about the new pastor. Not accusing him of heresy or anything, just little things about poor decisions, poor leadership qualities, that sort of thing. But nothing seemed to work, and she became obsessed with the whole dynamic. She no longer heard the sermons, she no longer found joy in the fellowship, and slowly she began to fade, make other plans, find other excuses to not be there. Her king, her good deeds and service, wasn’t being honored so she left.
Which begs the question, what kings do you have? What king does Jesus threaten in your life? See, our kings aren’t always filthy and unclean things. They aren’t always the stuff of the shadows. Actually, your kings are usually the things you are most proud of. Your ambition or your planning or your faithful deeds or your searching and service. But there is only one King, as St. Paul says, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
The Pharisees understood this. They want it to stop. They say to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” For the arrival of a new King is the death of all the old kings. It is the advent of a King that you have no control over, now power to influence, no means to restrain or lead or direct. This is terrifying. Will He care about your previous work? Will He be fair and reasonable? Will He execute justice and righteousness, and if so, what will that look like?
But here’s the thing, outside of any control by you, outside of any merit or worthiness on your part, He has come with mercy. He who has every right to demand everything from you, gives everything to you. The King who ought to demand your performance, demand that you keep the law whole and undefiled, instead sets you free from the law. In fact, He fulfills it for you, does what you cannot do. This is why it is fitting to begin Advent with our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, because it reminds us once again of the reason for the season. Our King has come but he came for a reason; He came for you, for your salvation, for your life, for your hope.
He promises to wash you in His grace, to call you by name and embrace you as His brothers and sisters. He promises that He will feed you his own body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins. The true King is your King. And He has come. In fact, He comes even now. He comes for you.