St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop +Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for Advent Sunday – December 2, 2018
“And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name 'of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.”
JESUS CAREFULLY TAKES his seat upon the back of the young donkey colt that’s never been ridden until this morning. Its mother is nearby, but the skittish little animal comes under the command of its first human rider without kicking, without the wild revolt that is typical of its breed. Under this new load, the colt finds its feet and begins to pick out its path. At first there are but a few voices that cheer to see the progress this donkey and its burden are making toward the gates and walls of the great city. Then crowds gather on either side of the road. Men’s coats are thrown down to soften the sound of the cobbled street, and palm branches are carefully placed to make a bed for the hoofs of this tiny steed. The colt would balk now at all the shouts and ululations, making sudden and unfamiliar arm gestures with an air of excitement. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” some shout. “Welcome the King!” others proclaim. “Enter! Enter, Lord!” they all say.
The timid donkey is led through the gates of the city, now challenged by self important authorities who demand its rider call for silence and disperse the chanting crowds. Once, long ago, another donkey spoke sense against the foolishness of man. Now this donkey’s Rider declares that the very stones in this wall would cry out if His disciples were not allowed to shout their praises.
They ride on. In the city, many voices shout any number of things: “Who is this?” “What, a king is riding on such a pathetic little donkey?” “Is this that upstart prophet of Galilee?” At a clearing, widening the narrow walls and streets into an expanse of well-cut stone, Jesus halts his progress and gets down off the colt. After a long, searching look at the building before Him, Jesus turns back and bows to the face of this humble beast. “Thank you, my friend. You have done your part today. It was well done. My peace to you and your family, always.” Then He is gone.
This event signals the beginning of our Church Year at Advent: the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, into the Temple of Yahweh.
Advent means a coming, and our response is to ready ourselves. Christ’s coming is in three phases, as all things holy come in threes. He came, 2,000 years ago, into the universe He created, as part of it, descending to its depths, emerging as a human creature, indwelt and incarnated as God the Son. His death and resurrection are for another season.
He will come once more at the end of His first creature, which is Time, in order to summon all His own into His new kingdom of peace and justice and truth and love, and thence into an eternal heaven on a new earth.
But in the middle, Christ comes. He comes now. He comes to you and to me. And how we welcome Him, or reject Him, is how we will spend these lives and how we will spend eternity.
Jesus came the first time humbly. Zechariah had clearly seen Him riding on a donkey colt. This colt, in fact, had never been ridden and its mother was led alongside it, but the young beast didn’t need her assurance. Jesus upon its back was enough for it to know what to do. Jesus comes at the end in power, astride a white stallion, robes emblazoned with Lord of Lord and King of Kings, dipped in the blood of His enemies, a sword thrust out from His mouth in judgment.
But what is His vehicle today? How does Jesus enter our world and our lives, seen only in our hearts or minds, invisible to our outer world? Any number of answers might serve: a sense, a strong feeling, a relief, a certainty, a calmness at everything suddenly fitting into place, a word of a friend, or of a stranger, a look in someone’s eye, the stillness of an empty church, the bread and the wine. How does He come today?
More important is the question: do we welcome Him in? This way, this path, is not a set of rules to follow, a code of ethics per se. It’s not ritual, or membership, or dues to pay. The highest noble may beggar at the sainthood of a poor woman, so there is no status in being Christ’s. Yet this is a kingdom and there is a throne. It’s not much of a throne, I might say, by our standards. We’d like Him to sit in more splendor. But He wants that seat and He’ll have it, or move on. He’s looking at you. He gestures at your soul, your heart, and there is the place He’s always wanted to go. He is awaiting your welcome. Enter, Lord!
I type “Enter Lord” in Google, and Enter Lord Vader is its only suggestion, with images of the dark lord of Star Wars. An honest mistake. But even Christian websites suggest we’d rather talk about our entering His Kingdom, by faith, by confession, by conversion, by requesting it of God. We are more skittish than the young colt when His question comes to our spiritual ears: “May I enter your heart? I must take my place inside your life.”
Scriptures certainly abound that say we must enter into Him, be living members of His Body, the Church, and come into His gates with praise. We are part of His life and members of His new humanity. The Communion of Saints. That is sure. But they also tell of Him entering us, and that may be harder for us to accept. An invasion of our inner being sounds weird, threatening, even frightening to us. What’s He coming in there for? What will He find?
But this is the challenge of Advent. He is coming to us. Will we let Him in? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” Rev 3:20 He stands there at our door, He knocks, and yet the handle of that door is inside. Do we open it to Him? Or do we deny Him access?
St. Paul writes: “if God's Spirit lives in you, you are under the control of His spiritual nature, not your corrupt nature. Whoever doesn't have the Spirit of Christ doesn't belong to him. However, if Christ lives in you… your spirits are alive because you have God's approval. Does the Spirit of the one who brought Jesus back to life live in you? Then [He] will also make your mortal bodies alive by his Spirit who lives in you.” Rom 8:9-11 It’s an important element in our spiritual development. Paul also writes, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Gal 2:20 And finally, Paul prays for Christ to “live in you through faith [so that with] all of God's people you will be able to understand how wide, long, high, and deep his love is. You will know Christ's love, which goes far beyond any knowledge. I am praying this so that you may be completely filled with God.” Eph 3:16-19
Why wouldn’t we want that indwelling? Every sacrament is an invasion of God into our spiritual being. At Baptism, the symbol of water washes our inner selves, and the Holy Spirit enters to turn our spirits back on in a new life that is lived toward God. At Confirmation, the Spirit is called for again, now to enter us and give spiritual gifts through us for the sake of others. The Eucharist clearly asks us to take into ourselves Christ’s Body and Blood, living food of a living God, into us. Matrimony is to enter the kingdom by God’s love entering us, a man and a woman, the image of God’s love intimately received. God’s Spirit again touches us by Confession, and cleanses us deeply as we pour out our contrition. Anointing the sick with oil invites Him once more to enter and heal our bodies, from inside. And I, having three times been Ordained, know the power that enters at my kneeling before my bishop, specifically for the callings that some receive. We are invaded by our God all our lives. Is it strange to think so?
What does He want? Why would He use us as vessels of Himself, of His Spirit? Why would He choose such a Temple as me? I see Him enter this Temple and take up whips and break cages, tumble the money tables and let bleating animals loose in terror and the hope of freedom. Have I become a den of thieves? God forbid. But my temple could use a good once over. Why choose me?
Why choose you?
I don’t know. But it’s certain that He does. He’s chosen us and given us names and made a place at His banquet, little place cards and golden crowns preparing. Do we dare make excuses? Do we tell Him He’s got the wrong guy? I skate close to that whenever I get my will in the way. I think I’m losing something to give my head to the lordship of Christ. I’m wrong. He has so much to give us all, if we will only stop trying to run it all by ourselves.
Who would you be if you were to pick out one part of that drama on the day Christ, as King of the Jews, enters into His city? Are you one of the cheering crowd? Do you throw your cloak on the roadway, hoping to soften His ride? Are you holding the rope that leads Him up the hill? Are you instead one of the questioners, objecting to all this unseemly noise? Is it just too Pentecostal for you? Might you be the gate or the wall, or the stones in the pavement that long to cry out? Are you that mighty Temple of the Living God, but filled with corrupt priests looking to keep their privilege and power and lock God out? There is only one part in that momentous day I would wish to play. Let me be the donkey that He rides on into town. That’s my role. But first . . .
Go with me in this prayer, if you like. Enter me, Lord! Let me be your city, welcoming you through its gates. Let me be your holy Temple, making a place for you to be worshipped. Let me be your disciple, your apostle, learning daily what the Lord of life wants of every person. Enter my soul, my heart and make inside me your eternal throne. Cleanse my heart, your tem
ple, by indwelling me with your Holy Spirit, and make in me a place fit for so holy a King. Let me cast away the works of darkness. Put upon me the armour of light, that in the last day, when you come again in glorious majesty to judge both living and dead, I may rise to life immortal. Through you, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, my God. Amen