Sunday, December 3, 2023

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent - Mt 21:1-9


                                             Advent 1

                                                                                                 Mt 21:1-9



     In August 1944 the Allies were chasing the retreating Germans across France.  They had no intention of entering Paris.  The city had no strategic value, and they didn’t want Paris to be damaged in combat.

     However, on August 19 the population of Paris started an uprising against the Germans.  Fearful that the Germans would lay waste to the city as they had done against the uprising in Warsaw, there was now a need to enter the city and liberate it.

     The Allies needed to enter the city, and French General de Gaulle was insistent about how this would happen – Free French troops needed to go in first.  It did not matter that French forces were a small minority among the Allies, which were overwhelmingly made up of United State and British forces. It was important for restoring national pride that French forces entered first and liberated the city.

     The Allied command sent the 2nd French Armored Division to lead the attack, supported by the United States 4th Infantry Division.  The French forces managed to enter the city on August 24.  They were welcomed by the Parisians on the 25th as German resistance collapsed.  The next day, the French troops took the lead in triumphal parade as the France celebrated regaining her sovereignty.

     In our Gospel lesson this morning we see Jesus enter the city of Jerusalem.  We learn that he was also very specific about how this would take place.  He made preparations to fulfill God’s Word as the Messiah.  Yet we learn that he entered as the humble king who had come offer himself for our sin.

     Our text describes what happened on Palm Sunday. Jesus had travelled from Galilee to Judea in order to be in Jerusalem during the Passover.  We learn from the Gospel of John that our Lord made this trip several times during his ministry as he went to the city to observe the pilgrim festivals.

     Like many other pilgrims, Jesus had made the journey on foot.  But as he arrived at the city he did something new.  We learn that he sent two of his disciples into the village of Bethphage and told them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me.”  The disciples did as our Lord had said, and when they had brought the animals they put their cloaks on them. Our Lord rode the donkey as they continued down from the Mount of Olives and crossed over into Jerusalem.

     Our Lord choreographed his entry into Jerusalem.  And Matthew tells us why.  He says, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

     Jesus entered into Jerusalem on a donkey because this action fulfilled what the prophet Zechariah had written.  He was the king – the Messiah – coming to his city.  The donkey certainly had royal associations in ancient Israel.  But it was not a warhorse or chariot that you would expect of a Roman emperor or governor. And this contrast is noted by the way Zechariah describes the king: humble.  Jesus comes as the Messiah – the king.  But he comes as the humble king.

     Jesus comes as the humble king because of the purpose of his trip.  In the previous chapter Jesus had told the disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”  Jesus comes to the city to suffer and to die.  He comes to bear our sins and to give his life as the ransom that wins forgiveness for us.

     On the one hand, it may seem strange that we come to church today and our Gospel lesson makes it sound like this is Palm Sunday.  After all this is the First Sunday in Advent.  It is the start of the season that is preparing us to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

     However, the Gospel lesson has been chosen for a very specific reason.  The first Sunday of the season that prepares us for Jesus’ birth sets before us the purpose of Jesus’ ministry in the world.  Jesus was born in order to die for us. When the angel announced Jesus’ conception to Jospeh he said,

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

This is not a cute story that we are preparing to remember.  It is not about the most wonderful time of the year.  Instead, the child born in the humility of a manger came into the world in order to ride as a humble king on a donkey.  He came to his city in order be enthroned on a cross.  He came as God’s answer to the sin that is present in your life.

Jesus was certainly noticed.  We learn that most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road.  Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went before and after him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

“Hosanna” was a word that had come to be a statement of praise.  The term “Son of David” was associated with the Messiah that God had promised. The statement “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” derives from Psalm 118 and identified Jesus as one who was part of God’s work.

What did the crowds think about Jesus?  We can’t say for sure. Most likely there were a mix of views just as there were a variety of expectations in Judaism about the Messiah. But it is evident that they believed Jesus was somehow part of God’s action to bring deliverance to his people.  And the one thing that all versions shared was that this would be powerful and immediate.  When God acted he would do so in might to destroy the enemies of his people and give them victory.  Might and power now – that is what people expected.

That is what we want from God.  We want might and power now. We want a Church that is successful and popular, not one that receives our culture’s rejection.  We want healing and relief, not the way of faith that trusts in God.  We want success and wealth, not trust that God holds our times in his hands.

Jesus came as Israel’s Messiah – as her king.  But he came as the humble king because this is how God works.  He came as the humble king whose purpose was to suffer and die for the sins of all.  He came as king who was the suffering Servant – the One who gave himself into death for us.

The king came to his city and he was not recognized.  He was rejected.  We learn in our text that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” The crowds that accompanied Jesus were excited but they were no more insightful. Rather than saying that this was the Christ sent by God they said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

The humble king had come to be crucified.  He had come to die a humiliating death as he was mocked by those below.  Those who passed by derided him wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”  The religious leaders said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”

But Jesus remained on the cross because of his love for the Father and his love for us.  He had entered into the world in humility as he was born of virgin and laid in a manger.  He died in humility because this was the way in which he won forgiveness for us.

Yet the humility came to an end. Jesus died and was buried.  But on the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead.  God defeated death as he raised Jesus.  He exalted Jesus for the risen Lord declared, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

The death and resurrection of Jesus has shown us that God works in humility in order to bring forgiveness and salvation.  Humble means are not the opposite of power.  Instead, they are God’s power at work in our world for us.  That is true of the way that Christ continues to come to us today. 

In a few moments we will sing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” We will do this as Christ’s Word is about to be spoken over bread and wine.  Through that Word, the risen Lord will cause his true body and blood to be present for us – the body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Like the baby in the manger and the man on the donkey these are humble means.  But they are also God present in our world giving forgiveness and salvation.

Through his body and blood Christ strengthens us in faith. He calls us to himself and leads us to rest in him.  He gives us grace to trust in God in the midst of all circumstances because God has revealed his love in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is the risen Lord who gives us this food that sustains us during this pilgrimage of life.

Christ loved us by acting in humble service.  Now forgiven by him, he sends us forth to act in the same way towards those around us.  In Matthew’s Gospel, just before entering the Jerusalem our Lord said, You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

On this First Sunday in Advent we see Jesus enter into Jerusalem.  We see him enter as the humble king who goes to the cross to die.  We are reminded that this was always the way of Christ.  Though the Son of God, he entered into the world as a humble baby in a manger.  He came in order to die as he won forgiveness for us.  Yet that humility culminated in exaltation when God raised him from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus now guides the way we look at things.  We recognize the humble Word and Sacraments as the means by which Christ comes to us with forgiveness and strength.  We trust in God in the midst of all circumstances because of the love he has revealed to us.  And we live in the confident expectation that the way of humility and faith will come to an end on the Last Day when we greet our exalted Lord with the cry, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” 








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