21 November 2005

A Homily for Advent I

The Donkey (G. K. Chesteron)

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

The donkey had its hour, indeed. “One far, fierce hour and sweet.” Who but our God could come up with such a totally unimpressive way to enter His City as the long-awaited, long-promised King? Who but our God would dream up riding a donkey – “with monstrous head and sickening cry” – on His way to save the world by being the sacrifice for the sins of all? He was coming to be the beast of burden that bore the burdens of all our race, and so what else to ride but a donkey?

Such is the way of the God who is born in a cattle stall to refugee parents in an occupied land. Such is the way of the God who would bring life to the world by taking the world’s death into His own body. Such is the way of our God. The humble, lowly, un-presupposing way. The donkey way of doing things.

And this humble, unpretentious and unimpressive way, our God does not give up. Not till the last day when it won’t be a donkey he comes riding on, but the very clouds of heaven. Until that day, though, it’s the donkey way of doing things.

Water, bread, wine, hot air from a man’s mouth. Them be the lowly beasties that God STILL chooses to “ride on” to come to us, to be our servant King. They look so ordinary, so utterly unimpressive. I mean, think about it. A man dressed up in an outfit that looks more than a bit like a circus clown pours a handful of water over the head of an oblivious child and that’s the difference between eternal life and eternal death, between heaven and hell? Or certain words are spoken over bread and wine which they are given out into our mouths, and this is the food that if one eats of he does not die, but lives in Christ forevermore? Or a bunch of people sit in pews week in and week out listening to a man jaw on about stuff from a book whose last bit was written 2,000 years ago, and this is what the Church lives from?

The world is aghast that the Church could even go on existing from such donkey-business. And more than one voice (even those who claim to be inside the church!) suggest that if the Church has a future, she’d best give up the donkey business and start looking for something a little more impressive. But we inside the Church, we know that the donkey had it hour – one far, fierce hour and sweet.

We know WHO the donkey was carrying into Jerusalem that fateful day. We know WHAT He was coming into Jerusalem to do. Not to be battling and solving any earthly dilemmas, but to battle and conquer nothing less than sin, death, and hell. He was riding in to be the sacrifice for all time and for all peoples who will but trust what He there accomplished and did.

And so we delight in the donkeys he continues to use. That His Word comes riding into our lives attached to a handful of water and claims us as His very own, marks us as belonging to Him, and gives us the promise of eternal life – it fits his normal way of doing things – it’s donkey business. That bread and wine are changed, so that now they are His body and blood of the Redeemer and that He gives them to us to eat and drink so that our sins might be forgiven and we might be united to Him and His endless life – it fits his normal way of doing things – it’s donkey business. That the words of sinful and foolish men, who can be justly compared at times, I freely admit, to a donkey (and even given the not-so-nice name that we usually give donkeys), that the words of these men can be the words of life itself. This is no surprise to us. It fits His normal way of doing things – it’s donkey business.

And that He would then have use of donkeys even like you, and use you to bear Him and His Gospel to others, inviting them to join in the never-ending procession that surrounds the one who comes riding to us on such humble means – why, there’s nothing odd about that at all. It fits His normal modus operandi – it’s donkey business.

“Behold, your king comes to you.” And how he comes is in the way of the donkey, lowly, unimpressive, and yet truly the Very Son of God, come to you to take from you your sin, your death, your hell and to give to you His very own righteousness. “The Lord, our Righteousness” as Jeremiah had it today. And so the Church has never stopped crying out to Him: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” So if it’s donkey business time, then there is no time for the monkey business of the works of darkness. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. We best be putting on the Lord Jesus, letting Him climb right atop us foolish looking beasts, we donkeys, and letting Him ride and direct us, making no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires. Not the ways we would choose to go, but directed by Him who sits upon us. Our donkey riding King, our Savior, our Jesus. Amen.

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