“Jesus Rides In and Interrupts Us” (Luke 19:28-40)
December begins, and Christmas preparations begin in full earnest. Oh, sure, I know that you’ve been seeing Christmas advertisements well before Thanksgiving. I even saw some Christmas displays in stores before Halloween this year. Every year we complain, don’t we, about how early it all seems to begin? But I’m not here to complain about it. I’m not even going to chastise those who decided to put their Christmas tree up over the Thanksgiving holiday. I’m just stating a fact. We’re all quite busy, for sure, with various preparations … planning parties and meals, purchasing presents, and putting up our winter holiday paraphernalia.
And then, while all this is going on, Jesus rides in and interrupts our frenetic holiday pace. And on a donkey, of all things! Isn’t the hero supposed to ride in on a white horse? And shouldn’t the donkey be in the stable this time of year, laying quietly in the hay, staring at the precious porcelain baby in the manger?
Instead, we’re thrust ahead in the timeline. Expecting to hear about preparations for the birth of Jesus, we’re rushed ahead some thirty years later toward the end of his earthly ministry. Instead of thinking about Christmas, we’re forced to think about Palm Sunday today. This is the day Jesus rode down the Mount of Olives on a donkey’s colt and the crowd cried out, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” But then, even while thinking about Palm Sunday, we hear an echo of Christmas. The crowd also shouted, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” We’re thrust ahead in the story today, but at the same time we get a flashback to the angels of Bethlehem. “A multitude of the heavenly host” appeared to the shepherds and announced the birth of the Savior, “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased’” (Luke 2:13-14).
The First Sunday in Advent is a reminder that there was a bitter purpose to all the sweetness of Christmas. Jesus had his own preparations to make. Not just preparations for a pony ride. He was preparing for his death. Jesus was on his way to his date with destiny in Jerusalem. There his opponents were waiting to find an opportune moment to seize him and condemn him to death. The journey of the Son of God from heaven to earth culminated in his journey on the back of a donkey on the way to the cross.
Jesus rides in today and interrupts our Christmas preparations. Before we celebrate his coming to Bethlehem, we remember his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and we remember his promise to come again in judgment. This reminds us that adorning our lives with repentance is a better way to prepare for Christmas than hanging tinsel, mistletoe, and stockings.
Advent originally was a penitential season. In a sense, it still is for us. Like Lent, it’s a time to reflect in a more focused way on our sin problem and the way that God took care of it in Christ. Advent prepares us for an even more joyful Christmas celebration, when we realize that God’s Son was incarnate, not to be a precious baby lying in a manger, but to be our suffering Savior hanging on a cross.
But Advent always seems to get overshadowed with all the “holly, jolly – chestnuts roasting – just hear those sleigh bells jingling” business. Calling for repentance is an unpopular message this time of year. Actually, it’s not popular at any time of the year. Like the Pharisees who told Jesus to rebuke his disciples in our text for calling him King, our sinful hearts rebuke the preacher who dares to tell us that we have offended the King.
“Blessed is the King,” the disciples cried out. But what kind of a king was the crowd looking for? They were looking for a conquering King. They were expecting a Messiah who would come to lead the people in battle, kick the Romans out of Judea, and restore Israel to her former glory.
The crowd missed the point of the Messiah. He did come as a King, but not of an earthly kingdom. He came to rule in our hearts by the power of his Word. He did come as a conqueror, but not to defeat earthly powers. He came to conquer sin, death, and hell through his suffering, death, and resurrection from the dead. He came, as we prayed earlier, so that we might be “rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by [his] mighty deliverance” (Collect for the First Sunday in Advent).
Does today’s crowd miss the point of the coming of the Messiah today? Do we miss the point? One of the things I love about this time of year is that even sacred music is still piped into malls and stores and restaurants. I was in Burger King in Lake Stevens just the other day, waiting to pick my kids up from school. I had a few moments before school was out. So I went in, got myself a cup of coffee and an ice cream cone, and opened up my commentary from Luke to study this very text that I was going to be preaching on today. While I was there, I heard choirs and crooners sing lines such as these: “veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity … peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled … nails, spears shall pierce him through, the cross be born for me, for you.” Such sublime words. Such saving words when heard with faith. But I’m afraid that for most people, those words are just part of the background noise as they go about their business … whether it be shopping for gifts or finishing up their Whopper.
Jesus rides in and interrupts your life today so that you do not miss out on the meaning of his coming ... so that the message of Christmas is not merely background noise but central to your celebration. Advent is a call to mourn over your sin. Advent is a call to rejoice that in Christ your sins are forgiven. Advent is also a call to rejoice in hope at Christ’s Second Coming. It’s a call to be watchful for his return on the Last Day. And it’s a call to recognize how he rides in today, not on the back of a humble donkey, but under the humble forms of bread and wine.
If we do not proclaim the message, then the stones will cry out. The powerful Word of the Savior will go forth no matter what and accomplish God’s purposes. Thanks be to God that he has taken our stony hearts and turned them into a heart of flesh (Ez. 36:26). He gives us lips to sing his glory, tongues his mercy to proclaim, throats that shout the hope that fills us, mouths to speak his holy name. The Advent cry of the Church is still “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” The Lord’s name was placed upon you in Baptism. The prophet Jeremiah says that this new name we bear is “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 33:16). Forgiven and covered with the righteousness of Christ, you will be “blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thess. 3:13).