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He Comes!

December 01, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this first weekend of Advent comes from our gospel text where Matthew records, “And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Are you confused? We are starting an entirely new Church year – happy new year, by the way – and we’re considering a text that is usually reserved for Passion Week! This is the Palm Sunday narrative, the glorious triumphant day that Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem, riding upon a donkey, to the hails and cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” as palm branches and robes are strewn in His path. It’s a glorious day … but it doesn’t exactly fit into the post-Thanksgiving, nearly-Christmas feeling you get around this time of year. What our text speaks of is glorious, but it’s neither holly nor jolly. There’s no mention here of a little bitty baby to be born in Bethlehem, no angelic hosts, no stable or manger. So, why in the world are we talking about Jesus’s triumphant coming into Jerusalem … just a few weeks before Christmas? Well, that’s what Advent is about, my friends. It’s about Jesus … coming to us.

 The word “advent” means the arrival of a notable person, place, or thing, and that is precisely what we are celebrating and observing during the season of Advent (hence its name). We are celebrating the coming of the Christ, the One whom countless generations, innumerable persons longed for … the Annointed One whom God had promised would come to save His people. In our Old Testament text, Jeremiah wrote about this Messiah’s advent when he recorded, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

Jeremiah was by no means the only prophet who foretold the coming of the Messianic king. Moses preached to the Hebrews that YHWH would raise up a prophet like him from among their brothers. Isaiah wrote of a shoot that would come from the stump of Jesse, a Davidic king upon whom the Spirit of YHWH would rest. Zechariah cried to the daughter of Zion that she should rejoice, for her king was coming to her righteous and having salvation, humble … and riding on a donkey. Many generations waited for this King, this Messiah to come … and by the time Jesus sent His disciples ahead of Him to untie the donkey and the colt with her, at long last, the time was at hand! The King was coming, the Rabbi who had been creating all the buzz for the previous three years! Here He came, humbly entering Jerusalem on the back of a beast of burden! Humble as His appearance may have been, the people knew the royal procession when they saw it! And it could not have come at a better time!

Rome had had its boot on the neck of Judea for several decades, and the people of Judea (and Jerusalem in particular) were sick of it. They were sick of oppressive taxes. They were sick of oppressive conduct. They were sick of two-faced politicians who played to the people’s sensibilities, and yet kowtowed to Rome. They wanted freedom from this oppression … and the advent of David’s royal Son, no matter how modest-looking, how humble, was most welcome! It was a sign that things were going to change! It appeared that, just as Adonai had redeemed His people from the oppressive rule of the Babylonians, He was about to do so again! It’s no wonder the atmosphere was so festive as Jesus rode through the city gates as the crowds cried out, “Hosanna in the highest!”

But these joyous cries are marred by what we know would happen by week’s end, when the tables would turn drastically and tragically. We, who know the rest of the story, know how short-lived these festivities were. By that Thursday, this same heralded King would be dragged before the Sanhedrin, beaten and bloodied, only to be condemned as a blasphemer. The following day, presumably the same crowds that blessed Him as the Son of David, would cruelly damn Him and demand His crucifixion. By the end of that day, the One to whom the crowds declared, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” would die the worst death imaginable at the hands of evil men and be laid in the newly-cut tomb of a rich sinner.

Not exactly in the Christmas spirit, but that’s sort of the point. We haven’t reached Christmas yet. Advent is not merely the precursor to the main event. This is the season that we are eagerly anticipating Jesus’s arrival: as the newborn Messiah, yes, but also as our Redeemer. We all too often forget that the shadow of Calvary’s cross would always loom large over that stable in Bethlehem, over Egypt when they fled there, over Nazareth when they returned. Jesus’s tête-à-tête with Pontius Pilate on that Good Friday lays bare the reason why we consider this text on the first weekend of Advent: “Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.’”

The crowds weren’t wrong about who this was coming into Jerusalem, humble and lowly. They weren’t wrong to give Him the royal treatment. They weren’t wrong as they cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” The One riding that donkey is the King, the Messiah, the One for whom countless generations and innumerable peoples waited … but His kingdom is not of this world, and He has not come to be served, but to serve. He had not come to oust the Romans, but to redeem Romans, and Jews, and Greeks, and Persians, and Americans, and all human beings that have ever lived or ever will live. Among other things, Advent is a reminder to us of why it was necessary for the Second Person of the Trinity to take on human flesh and become one of us in the first place: to redeem us from the just punishment for our sin. Jesus of Nazareth, true God and true Man … came to die, for you, and for me.

Of course, as people who know the rest of the story, we know that He did not stay dead. He was resurrected on the third day, never to die again! He is ascended to the right Hand of the Father, and we do confess that He will come back again! That’s also what Advent is about, my friends: Jesus’s return! It won’t be as a little baby born in some backwater city, neither will it be as a king upon the back of a donkey, riding to His death; it will be in glory and majesty! The God who took on human flesh will no longer veil His deity; it will be on full display as He comes back in power and righteousness, to judge and reward, to destroy and to restore! Advent … is all about Jesus coming to His people – as that little babe of Bethlehem, yes, as redeemer of the world, yes, and as the One who is to come again! So raise your “Hosanna’s” to the Son of David, who is also David’s Lord! He has come, and He is coming again!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.