The First Sunday in Advent
November 27, 2016
“Christ’s First Advent: The Triumph of Humility”
St. Matthew 21:1-9
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, `The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them." All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: "Tell the daughter of Zion, `Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.'" So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their garments on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David! ``Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!' Hosanna in the highest!" St. Matthew 21:1-9
Advent means coming. Jesus’ first coming was at Christmas. He came in humility. His second coming will be on Judgment Day. He will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead. He came in humility. He will come in glory. He comes to us today in his gospel and sacraments. He comes to us in love. He comes to make his home with us. Where Jesus does not come, we have no hope in this world.
Jesus comes with knowledge. In Proverbs chapter eight, Solomon calls him wisdom. In John chapter one, St. John calls him the Word. He knows everything there is to know. To know him is to know God. Jesus knew where the donkey was and where the colt was. He knew that someone would ask them why they needed them. St. Mark records how the disciples told those who asked that the Lord had need of them and they immediately let them take the animals. Jesus knew what was written about him by the prophet Zechariah, and he knew he had to fulfill it. Zechariah wrote, chapter nine verse nine:
Jesus is omniscient. He is all knowing. Who alone is omniscient? God alone is omniscient. Jesus is omniscient. Jesus is God. There is nothing he does not know.
This would be a terrifying thought if we didn’t know that Jesus is on our side. But how do we know that Jesus is on our side? If Jesus is God and God speaks through his law and we have disobeyed God’s law, doesn’t it stand to reason that Jesus knows every sin we have ever committed? And if he does, how can this omniscience bring us anything but anxiety, if not outright fear?
The lyrics from a song about Santa Claus come to mind:
Now, Santa cannot possibly know when you’re sleeping, when you’re awake, and whether you’ve been bad or good. But that’s beside the point. The point is that if you do good you will receive good and if you do bad you will receive bad. Any good Buddhist knows this! But this is more than karma. This is Christianity also. St. Paul himself wrote that we reap what we sow. If we reap what we sow, the coming of the One who knows everything we have ever thought, said, or done is a time, not to celebrate, but to avoid if you possibly can. Jesus really does know when you’re sleeping. He really does know when you’re awake. And he really does know what you have done, left undone, wanted to do, and talked about doing. He is omniscient. And he is coming.
But look and see how he comes! He comes to you in humility. He comes in meekness. He who will judge the hearts and intentions of the entire human race, who knows every sin you’ve ever committed, comes in humility. He comes to die for you.
His ride on the donkey into Jerusalem was not a spontaneous decision. He did so deliberately. The confession of faith and outpouring of praise from the crowd was in fulfillment of Psalm 118. They confessed him as the Christ, the Son of David. They cried out to him for salvation. They worshipped him as their Savior. And Jesus accepted their praise.
Then he went to the cross to die. The ride on the donkey was a ride toward death. Why else would he come to Jerusalem but to die there? He came to the Holy City to shed his blood for the sin of the world.
He knew he would be rejected. He knew he would suffer. He knew he would bear in his own body the sin of the world. That is why he came. That is why he came in humility. He came to obey the will of his Father. He came to fulfill the demands of the law. He came to suffer the penalty for the world’s disobedience.
When Jesus came in humility he embraced what humility would require of him. Humility requires obedient suffering. Pride refuses to suffer for anything, much less for the sins of others. Pride challenges God’s authority. Pride scoffs at the benefit of humble obedience. Pride sets itself up as God’s judge. Pride judges the neighbor, too. Pride goes before destruction.
God came to rescue us from destruction. The Son of God, sharing the majesty and glory and power of his Father, chose to become our brother to share our human nature. He also chose to humble himself and obey the divine law, all the way to his ignominious death on the cross. There, as he was lifted up to be mocked by the world, God obtained the greatest glory. By his willing obedience and perfect sacrifice on Calvary God was given greater glory than all of the religious acts of religious people combined.
What was so great about it? It was the greatness of love. Why did the crowd worship him? Why did they offer him such a beautiful liturgy of praise? He loved them – that’s why! He loved them and they knew it. He didn’t come to judge them or punish them. He came to rescue them from the threatening perils of their sins. The almighty God hid his power under humility and in meekness rode the royal road to our salvation.
That the Christian Church values humility as a virtue cannot be denied. Even the man who claims authority over the whole Christian Church on earth and says that when he speaks ex cathedra he is infallible in matters of morals and doctrine will put on display a show of humility by washing the feet of bishops in front of the cameras. Humility sells.
But why? It won’t get you elected. It won’t get you the job. It won’t make you money. It won’t stop the bad guys from stealing your stuff or the militaristic dictator from fomenting revolutions around the world. What is it about humility that makes it such an excellent Christian virtue?
It is not how sinners save themselves. It is how God saves sinners. God becomes a man in order to humble himself and die. That is greatness. For that is how people corrupted by sin and unable to sanctify themselves are forgiven and set free. This is how God is glorified. His greatest glory is in separating sins from sinners. He does so by assuming our flesh and blood and becoming like us in every way except for our sin, and by his innocence confronting our sin in his very body, and conquering our sin by suffering its penalty and curse.
Where God is humbled is where mankind is exalted. This means that his humiliation is his glorification. Of everything in creation, nothing is as precious as human life. The angels and archangels and all the company of heaven praise God with us and sing – when? It is when we are preparing ourselves to receive his body and his blood. It is where and when the body and blood of Jesus, once given up on the cross to take away the sin of the world, are given to us to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of our sins.
We come burdened by guilt. He comes to cover that guilt and take away the burden. We come, confessing our sins of pride and self-promotion. He comes to forgive the sins by which we tried to exalt ourselves, and by forgiving us elevates us to heaven where we are seated with him, in fellowship with God, at peace with one another, and free from guilt and fear.
The humiliation of God is his glorification because by it he rescues us sinners and that brings him glory. He sees us as we are. He knows everything we try to hide from others, even from ourselves. But in knowing us he neither turns away from us in disgust, nor turns against us in anger, but comes to us in love.
Your king comes to you. He is your king. You did not choose him. He chose you. You did not make him king by your vote. God made him king by his vote. As we sing,
The eternal God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, is the king who rides the donkey into town to die. He comes to you. You don’t come to him. Oh, we come to church. Church is where Jesus comes to us in his gospel and sacraments. We don’t bring him out of heaven to earth. He comes of his own accord.
He comes to you. Not just to the other Christians who have everything together and are living good Christian lives. He comes to you who have repeatedly fallen short in your duties and squandered your opportunities. He comes to you to forgive you and restore you and strengthen you.
There is only one way to meet him. That is in faith. Don’t try to figure out how the almighty and omniscient God can become a man, and as a man offer himself up for the sin of the world to take that sin away. Just know that this is what he did and he did it for you. Take him at his word. He comes to you in the only way you could receive him, not in the uncovered majesty of his glory, causing you to turn away in fear, but humbly, as a servant to suffer for you. He is your God. Sing to him hosanna! Lord, save us! Save us now!
Rolf D. Preus