[Jeremiah 23:5-8 / Romans 13:11-14 / Matthew 21:1-9]
Palm Sunday at the start of Advent? It never fails to strike as strange those who forget that it is Advent we are beginning today, not Christmas. The world sees no need for Advent - for repentance and preparation - also the world that lives inside of our hearts. It wants to plunge full blast into the joy of the angels and the shepherds and the wise men, not to mention Frosty, Santa and Little Suzy Snowflake.
But the Church in her wisdom puts on the brakes and says, “Not so fast.” If the joy of Christmas is going to be all that God intends it to be for His people - a joy vast, deep, divine - it must be received in hearts that are stilled and quiet, in hearts that are sorry for sin and long to be freed from it. In hearts that understand our Lord’s three-fold coming and pray with longing “Come, Lord Jesus!” Only such hearts are able to receive the fullness of the joy that lies in the Christmas Feast - a joy far brighter than tinsel and infinitely more satisfying than an endless round of parties and gluttony and drunkenness - looking for life in all the wrong places.
So on to Jerusalem! On to the One who rides in on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. See with your eyes. But believe with your ears. That is the key. What you see will offend you. What you hear will astonish and delight you.
Jesus comes riding into town. He comes as the King foretold by the prophet. But such a King! Where is his army, his royal troops? They are unseen! Where is His Kingdom? It is unseen! Where is His pomp, His splendor, His glory? All unseen! What meets the eye is the rag-tag prophet from Nazareth, so poor that He has to ride on a borrowed burro, and hailed only by the rowdy crowd of pilgrims making their way into the City for the Feast. The great, the high, the noble - they look down their noses in disdain. They order Jesus to silence His rabble. And what is this King riding to? His coronation, His enthronement? No and yes. No, because He is heading for His death. The ignoble criminal’s death - being nailed to a cross. Yes, because the cross is His throne, from which He reigns and rules as King of all. But this cannot be seen. This can only be believed. And so on to the all important words of the prophet:
“Behold your King!” Behold means close your eyes and open your ears. The words will belie the sight, but the words will be true, no matter what the eyes see. Behold! That is, see with the vision of faith. Faith which is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. And what are we to behold? The King? No. Your King.
He rides on a beast of burden. That was not by accident. No steed of war. A plodding, faithful donkey to show you that He comes to bear your burdens. He comes to shoulder your sorrows. What is too heavy for you, what crushes the life and joy out of you, this King lifts off you. He bears your burdens Himself. Makes your sorrows His - all of them. Makes your sin His - all of it, upon His cross. Makes your hell His - that horrid loneliness He suffered in your place, crying out for you “Eli, eli, lama sabanchthani.”. Makes your death His - and dies it to destroy it. Thus the greatest Burden Bearer of them all is carried by the beast of burden to His appointment with death and destruction. He bears all that is yours in order to give you all that is His! His life, risen from the dead. YOURS. His pardon, secured by His risen flesh. YOURS. His Kingdom, His Father’s house, His feast that never ends. YOURS. Behold, that is the sort of King you have!
Your King brought you this in your Baptism. Made you there His own. Poured over your life His promises, His blessings. Your King brings you still these gifts in His words, to renew your mind and fill you with His Spirit. And, yes, in the Sacrament of the Altar, your King still comes. Comes riding into town - into your life, into your mouth - this time not on a donkey but hidden beneath the bread that is His true Body and the wine that is His true Blood. He comes to you still. Your King. And so you greet Him still in the old way. “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” As that day in Jerusalem, so here today, same King, same song, same gifts, same salvation.
Don’t you be saying in your heart: “Oh, that’s just a bunch of religious mumbo-jumbo.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The King really does come to you, gift bearing!. Many in Jerusalem didn’t have the eyes to see it because they wouldn’t listen to what the Word of God announced about Him. Even though He didn’t look like much of King, God’s Word said and so He was. Today, many is the person who sits in the pew and listens to the sermon with mild interest and curiosity, wondering if the pastor is going to amuse them today. Many is the person who approaches the Table of Christ because its the done thing, you know, not too often and not too seldom. A little bit of food and maybe a nice prayer to Jesus and that’s all it seems to be. But how deadly wrong. The sermon is not to entertain and amuse you but to bring the King to you. The Burden-bearing, Gift-giving King who comes in His Word as it is spoken. Not pastor’s thoughts for the week, but Jesus’ pardon and peace, forgiveness and unending life. Likewise in the Word as it is read and prayed. Likewise in the Supper. The Eucharist is not celebrated to satisfy your religious sensibilities - but to bring the King to you, in His true body and blood, with all His gifts of forgiveness and life, entering you, filling you with His presence, His peace and His joy.
So don’t judge what happens in this room by what you see with your eyes. Go by what the Word says. And lo, it will be for you the Royal Banqueting Hall. Your inner eyes will be opened and your heart, and you will see that Your King comes to you today.
When you have welcomed Him, and known Him to be the kind of King that Zechariah and the Evangelist describe, then you are on your way toward appreciating what Christmas joy is all about. When you long for Him to enter your heart and make it new, to fill your life with His endless life, when you hunger and thirst for His presence, and ache for Him to set you free you everything that leads away from Him, from all the sadness of sin, then Advent has begun to do its job and the Lord is answering your prayer to rescue you from the threatening perils of your sins and save you by His mighty deliverance, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be all glory now and ever and unto the ages of ages! Amen.