✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
It is written in the Psalms, “Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!” “Evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.” And it is written in Isaiah, “Those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Yet even with those great promises of God, we are not a people who like to wait, on God or anything else. Everything needs to be available within a couple of clicks. People better answer our calls or texts without delay. Christmas is four weeks away, so we’d better start celebrating and playing all the music and doing all the shopping right now. What is it about the world–and even that bit of the world that resides in us–that can’t wait, that must do all the celebrating in advance so that by the time the actual holiday comes, you’re weary of the songs and the artificial cheer and you’re ready to move on, especially if things don’t quite live up to expectations?
I think the answer is to be found in the fact that for the world, there is no certainty about the future. All they see looming in the distance is decay and death. So what’s the point of waiting? With the world it’s life, then death, so you’d better have your fun now before your time’s gone. But that’s not the way of the church and the people of God. For us, what we see in the distance is something far better than anything we will know in this world. Christians know that the pattern that Jesus has laid down for us is death, then life, first humility, then exaltation, first repentance, then forgiveness and reconciliation and joy. That’s why we have Lent before Easter, and it is why we have Advent before Christmas. We can delay our gratification; we can afford to wait. For we wait on the Lord, who will in the end give us the greatest joy and happiness in the fulfillment of His promises.
The world celebrates holidays backwards. But the church has it right. That’s why it’s not yet the Christmas season but the Advent season. This is a time of penitent and hope-filled preparation. This is a time not for mere sentimentality but to dwell more fervently on the Word of God to make ready the way of His coming to us–which is the reason for the additional midweek Advent services. And even though we will follow the tradition of many churches of putting up the Christmas decorations on the third Sunday in Advent–which is called “Gaudete” or “Rejoice Ye” Sunday–we won’t light all the lights and candles until Christmas Eve. We eagerly anticipate Christmas, but now’s not the time for the full celebration. We don’t sing the “Glory Be to God on High” yet in the liturgy. That’s the song of the angels at Jesus’ birth. Now’s the time for waiting and discipline and preparing for the coming of our Lord in the flesh to save us.
That’s why we have the somewhat unusual Gospel that we do today. Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” This Gospel teaches just how it is that our Lord comes to us–humbly, whether on a beast of burden or in a lowly manger. Jesus comes not simply to be born; He is born to humble Himself even to the point of death on a cross, to give His life as a ransom to rescue us from sin and death and the devil. “Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Note that there are two donkeys that Jesus rides, an older one, the mother, and a younger one, a colt, the mother’s foal. These two donkeys represent God’s Old and New Testament people. First, Jesus rides the old, to show that He is the fulfillment of all that Israel was about and all that its prophets foretold. Then Jesus rides the new, which is born from the old, the new Israel, which is the church. Our Lord comes to make all things new by dying and rising again. Out of the old order of death comes a new order of invincible life for us in Jesus. He unites all believers, from the Old Testament and the New, from every nation and race, together as His true and everlasting Israel.
And let us not forget that we are the donkey, a very stubborn animal, hard-headed, set in our sinful ways, eager to go our own direction. And so Christ must ride us and gently but firmly drive us toward the cross. He drives us to die with Him, to die to ourselves, so that we may also rise with Him to new life, real life. He drives us to repentance through the Law so that through the Gospel we may have His full and free forgiveness.
The people spread their clothes on the road before Christ. This is a fitting sign of their repentance and their faith in Him. For we must all lay aside our clothing. St. Paul exhorts us, “Let us cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light.” You too, then, must cast your clothes on the road before Christ, laying aside the stubborn works of your sinful nature. For that is how you repent and prepare the way of the Lord. Do not engage in gluttony and drunkenness. Do not indulge in immoral passions and lusts. Do not give way to strife and division and envy and pride. For these things choke you off from the life of God.
Instead receive by faith the clothing that only God can provide. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” For He is your righteousness, as Jeremiah says. Jesus wore all of your dark, sin-stained clothing and made it His own so that you would be free from it. Jesus Himself became the beast of burden, bearing and carrying the sin of the whole world to the cross. He became Sin for you, so that you would become righteous before the Father by His holy sacrifice. Jesus perished in the darkness so that you would wear His garments of light and live as children of the Day.
That’s the sort of king you have in Jesus, not one who coerces and forces His subjects to serve Him at the tip of a sword or with guns and bombs, but one who lays down His life to serve His subjects, who draws you to Himself through His self-giving. Every other king sends out soldiers into battle to fight on His behalf. But this King goes into battle Himself to fight on your behalf. He rides not on an armor-clad stallion, but an animal of peace–for He comes to bring you peace, as the Christmas hymn sings, “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” This King will ascend His throne not by wearing a crown of gold but a crown of thorns, not by defending Himself but by becoming defenseless, dying so that you may live and escape from the enemy’s grasp. This is the King who is coming to you.
And notice that He’s the One doing the traveling. You don’t have to go out searching for Him. Jesus searches you out and comes to you. You can’t get to God through your own spirituality or works or emotions. But God can and does come to you in His grace, 100% of the way. Without our asking or help, He came down from heaven right to where we’re at, right into our very body and soul, taking up our human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. He even went so far as to come into contact with the slime and the slop of our sin and death on the cross so that we would be cleansed and rescued from them by His precious blood.
And our Lord still rides into this Jerusalem, this Mount Zion, meekly and humbly. The gates of the city through which He enters among us are His words and sacraments. There in simple water, in spoken and preached words, mounted upon bread and wine, the Lord Jesus comes to you to bring you His forgiveness and life, that He might live in you and you in Him forever–no Christmas-special glitter and fanfare, just beast-of-burden humility and love. So it is that before receiving the Sacrament, we sing the Sanctus, which contains the very same words that were shouted to Jesus in the Gospel, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Let us all , then, come forth to meet our King Jesus with heartfelt Hosannas, casting our prayers and praises like palm branches on the path before Him. Hosanna means “Save now.” “Save us, Lord.” It is a penitent cry of praise which is confident that the Lord will help us who wait on Him. We know that Jesus comes to us here, to give us poor beggars His royal and divine treasure. While the world madly rushes by with its mobbed stores and Black Fridays and small business Saturdays and Cyber Mondays, as people anxiously spend their money on treasures that wear out, here in churches that are too often ignored, that which does not wear out is freely obtained. Here are gifts for you with an eternal guarantee, warrantied by Christ’s own blood. Let us receive Him who alone gives real peace and lasting comfort and happiness, who comes to you humbly and lowly. “Daughter of Zion, behold, your King is coming to you. He is righteous and having salvation!”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠