First Sunday in Advent

November 28, 2010

“See How He Comes”

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!"



He owned the whole world but he had to borrow a donkey.  He ruled over the stars and galaxies, setting the earth in orbit, sustaining all things by the almighty word of his power.  Yet he chose to hide his power and majesty.  He claimed his kingdom in humility.  He did not come to frighten us or to impose his will on us or to condemn us for our many sins.  In fact, he came to bear our sins.  He came to his people as the prophet Zechariah said he would, “lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”


The Holy Spirit spoke by the prophets.  What God promised was fulfilled.  The prophets spoke for God.  What they said was not what they invented, surmised, or figured out.  They spoke and they wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  The prophet Zechariah went on to say about this king and his kingdom: “He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”


Jesus had set his face toward Jerusalem.  He knew what awaited him there.  He knew that a few short days after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem he would be betrayed into the hands of sinners, beaten, whipped, mocked, and crucified outside the holy city.  The adulation of the crowd would give way to the cry of the mob.


But on that particular day they praised him.  They cried, “Hosanna!” acknowledging him as their Savior.  What a beautiful and spontaneous confession of faith!  They called him the Son of David.  They confessed him to be the Christ, the fulfillment of the promises of God to his people for thousands of years.  He was their King.  Their praise resounds throughout the world as the Church continues to sing “hosanna in the highest” to him who comes to us in his body and his blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.


They praised him.  They discerned who he was in his preaching.  He preached with authority and not as the scribes.  The scribes were the ever balancing experts who could cite arguments for this and arguments for that.  These rabbis say thus and so but those rabbis say this and that.  Jesus didn’t talk that way.  “You have heard that it was said,” Jesus would begin, and then he’d say, “But I say to you.”  He spoke with authority.  “I say to you.”  That’s authority.  He was the fulfillment of the Holy Scriptures and he spoke with the full authority of the Holy Scriptures.


But look at how he exercises it.  What would you do if you owned the world?  What would you do if your word were law?  What would you do?  How would you do it?


Jesus knew that if he came to his people with his power unveiled they would run away from him.  So he hid his power.  He did not come to coerce anyone into anything.  He came to rescue his people.  How?  By coming to them in a way that they could receive him.  That’s how.


It’s not as if anyone has the native ability to receive Christ as Savior.  We are born spiritually blind and dead.  The Bible makes that clear.  We had better know it so that we don’t rely on our own strength and presume to regard ourselves as the source of our own faith.  No, it’s God and God alone who converts the sinner to faith.


But how?  He comes to us in a very humble way.  He reveals God as God wants to be revealed.  The Father says to listen to his Son.  The Son sends the Spirit who testifies of the Son.  And how does the Son present himself to us?  How does he want us to see him?


Look!  He’s riding a donkey.  He’s not riding a proudly prancing stallion stirring up dust and displaying the arrogance of power.  He’s riding on an animal that would bear a pack on his back.  A beast of burden.  Even we moderns who don’t know one animal from another can see the significance in this!  He’s not here to impress us with appearances.  Just the opposite.  He comes as one of us.


This is how we receive him.  God has become one of us.  The God who lives in that unapproachable light that no mortal has seen or can see becomes a human being.  More than that, he humbles himself before all of humanity, and in his humility he condescends to accept from us homage and praise.


Oh, but that’s so common.  There’s a story I like to tell about the first time we moved to East Grand Forks – back in the eighties – and I went to the Norwegian import shop at the mall and commented to the lady behind the counter that Norwegians sure were common around here.  She replied, “There’s nothing common about being Norwegian.”  I thought that was funny (and I still do), but she was wrong.  It’s very common, as in no big deal. 


You wouldn’t expect God to present himself as no big deal.  You would expect God to do what he did on Sinai with the thunder, lightening, and terrifying display of power.  But no, God comes to his people in a way that, to our senses anyway, is no big deal.


He comes in humility because he comes to people who would be afraid of him if he displayed his power.  They are afraid of his power because he has the power to destroy.  The author of life has the right to take back what he gave, especially when those to whom he gave it have forfeited their right to it.  And they have!  Whether they will admit it or not, they have.


And God knows it.  God sees it.  He told us to humble ourselves before one another, preferring the other instead of insisting on our way.  He told us to respond to a curse with a kind word.  He told us how to love and what love requires.  He told us again and again.  And we responded by loving ourselves more than anyone else.  We ignored him.  We defied him.  He knows it and we know it.


That’s why, even if we wonder at God coming to us in such a humble way, we could tolerate no other kind of approach.  For if he were to come to us to consider our sins we wouldn’t have a prayer.  What a terrifying prospect!  The source of all goodness, beauty, and love stands in judgment and condemns!  What does this say of us?  Where does this leave us?  Nothing could be more terrifying or humiliating.  If our conscience is alert and informed we know that the God who comes to correct all wrong must begin with us.


And he does.  But not in the way we would expect.  He corrects all wrong by bearing it, confronting it in his own body and soul, and conquering it.  Humility incarnate faced all of the arrogance, conceit, and self-serving hubris of humanity and this humble man prevailed.


Praise him, for he deserves it.  Praise him as he welcomes the worship of the little ones – both children and grownups – as he comes to us as one of us to bring us back to himself.  Praise him for where he is heading.  He is heading to the cross.


It may seem odd that the Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent features an event that occurred on Palm Sunday, just a few days before Good Friday.  We would think of Advent as the coming of a Child, a birth in a manger, the shepherds, wise men, the giving of gifts, and the celebration of life.  But the birth required the death.


God does not bring us back to himself simply by becoming one of us.  Becoming one of us is necessary.  Becoming one of us is where it begins.  If God didn’t become one of us he couldn’t be our Savior.  This is why we confess with the whole Church the true deity of Christ.  He is not just a son of God; he is the only begotten Son of God.  He is not just like God; he is of the same substance as the Father.  This humble King riding on a donkey is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.


But being who he is and becoming what we are is not enough.  He needed to do what was required of us.  He didn’t need to do it for his sake, but for ours.  He needed to obey and offer his humble obedience to the demands of divine justice.  He needed to suffer the punishment divine justice required of us sinners.  This could not be accomplished in arrogance and pride, but in the deepest humility this world has ever witnessed.


So look at this king and see how he comes.  What do you see?  You see love.  You see divine love, for he is your God.  You see human love, for he is your brother.  And to whom is he coming?  To you!  To you who in arrogance dismissed God’s word as irrelevant to your best interest.  To you who shoved others out of the way to get more for yourself.  To you who gave into the temptation and committed the sin of which you are now ashamed.  To you who wants to know God, and to have God, and to be at peace with God.  To you who are sorry for your sins and want God to forgive you.  Listen to the prophet.  Look!  Your king comes to you.  He comes in humility.  He comes to forgive you.  He comes to put your mind, your heart, and your conscience at peace. 


So we welcome him.  We confess him.  We join with our brothers and sisters who spread palm branches on the path before him and we sing: “Hosanna to the Son of David! `Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!' Hosanna in the highest!”  Amen