St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for Advent Sunday, November 28, 2021
“And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.”
SOME PEOPLE really know how to make an entrance. They arrive somewhere, summon up a theme song out of thin air, and at a dramatic moment they waltz in the room, every head turned their way. They feign embarrassment and say something like, “Oh! I see you’re all here. You’re all wondering why I called this meeting?”
The coming of the Son of God to this planet was nothing at all like that kind of a staged drama. It was a surprise, a completely unexpected series of events, offensive to those who were supposed to know it was coming, and it was absolutely perfect. Anyone may see it all clearly, but only by looking backward. And so we do in Advent.
God made all things and they were of excellent quality. The only potential problem was, of course, freedom. And it was at those moments when freedom was most terribly misused, and a crisis of conflict with our Maker was at its peak, that God would promise the solution of His own making, a Person He would send us, Messiah, the Anointed One.
From the time of our falling away in a garden world, God was telling us that our unseen enemy had his own greater enemy coming, the seed of the woman, who would someday crush his pointy head. Abraham and Isaac were told by an angel that a seed of theirs was to come one day and bless all the families on earth. Moses told the Israelites of another great Prophet who will come. King David would sing about being nailed to a cross and dying while foreign soldiers gambled over clothing. Isaiah saw a baby born of a virgin mother, that child Himself being God. Isaiah’s righteous servant would humbly submit to torture and death, for our sake to remove our sins from us. Daniel saw Messiah coming and was given a date in coded language. Malachi prophesied that Elijah would, in some way, return and prepare the road for God’s great answer for us.
And Zechariah, during a flood of other prophetic verses, had this announcement: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” Zech 9:9 The intense irony of all Messianic verses comes to almost absurdity in this proclamation, given some 400 years before it occurred. A king coming to claim a kingdom rides a baby donkey into town? The lowliest of mounts? Is that any kind of entrance? The prophet says He is just, and that He comes saving us all. It’s great news, but what of such a sign? What does it mean?
A proud charger, a stallion, would be the usual. Or a chariot, or a litter carried by slaves, guarded by an army with spears, a string of elephants all in a line, a band of musicians preceding, rose petals strewn about the pathway. None of that for the King of Kings. He’s riding a young colt, a donkey with long ears and the shy face of a burro. Its mother walks taller next to him, without a rider, perhaps giving comfort to the colt, who without being trained or broken is bearing Jesus up a road through shouting strangers. Behold, O daughter of Zion, thy King cometh!
When God shows up everything changes. The old paradigms are broken, all assumptions fall short. The Savior came with a plan to destroy one enemy, and to do so utterly, by surprise. Instead of attacking mankind, or drawing all people to Himself by magic, wearing silks and gold and beautiful adornments, a lofty crown, angel armies at His summoning: No. He came almost naked. He came, and in entering the Temple that had been built in His Name and for His worship, He immediately calls the game. He breaks the cages of sacrificial beasts and overturns the tables of monetary exchange. These were lucrative sources of cash for the priests and merchants of religion. With anger, and even just a little violence, Jesus ran the entire crew off, shouting: “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer (Isaiah 5:67); but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
If Jesus had punched the high priest in the eye that day, I don’t think He could have drawn more attention or antipathy toward Himself from the Temple rulers. He was clearly calling for a showdown. What a juxtaposition! A man in simple village garb rides into town on a humble mount. The people, however, have heard of Him and shout His arrival with “Hosanna! Son of David, save us now! Be our king! Be our Savior!” Then the clearing of the courts of animals and moneychangers. What might they expect next?
If God has an important event to prepare us for, He has shown us again and again that He first will tell us of it. Prophets are informed in many ways, with odd terms and images meant to jar our expectations. A man who suffers whips and piercings willingly and without complaint for our sakes. That’s something to baffle us. And yes, we hear of a king, a hero who will rule the world with justice and mercy, restoring glory to His people and living in His kingdom forever. That one we look for. The suffering, brutalized victim – we would rather not have him. But when it happens, and we realize Someone great has been among us, we look back at the prophecies, we line things up, and suddenly the picture clears and we see it. It was like that for the followers of Jesus, but only after His crucifixion, after He resurrection, after He opened the scriptures to them and they could finally put it all together and see, and believe.
It's what has been foretold and finally accomplished by God for us that we are responsible for, believing once it’s been made clear, now that we can see it, looking backward. It’s not so much what we look ahead toward that will judge us. If you think Jesus must return in this decade, and you are disappointed when He delays, that won’t hurt your status with heaven. You missed it. No problem. If you think this or that may happen that’s different from another’s expectation, neither of you is in trouble. But something great was told to people of old, and God worked out how that’s exactly what happened. Now you have a responsibility to believe it. Impossible though it seems, there it is in our history! And before the history, words of the prophets telling us just how it would be.
We look forward to Christmas by looking back at these strange tales out of Israel two millennia ago. And at older words of strangers spanning 1300 years before Christ in full harmony with the oddest predictions ever made by man. The prophecies wound us. They tell us we’re murderers. They say He will be happy to let us abuse Him. But the sooner we see it, the sooner we’ll quit our foolish resistance and come over to His side, willing to suffer along with Him. It is better to suffer for His sake than to stand with all those who, for today, have the whip-hand. Truly. Early Christians sang hymns all the way into the arena. The world was not worthy of them. But they knew where they were going.
Advent ushers in the Christian Kalendar year. We begin once again tracking the events that won our freedom and safety from the judgment of our good and holy God. We will celebrate this entrance of our world by its Maker at an announcement to a young woman by a bright angelic being, showing her she is chosen by God to be the mother of God’s Son. As foretold by Isaiah. We will see the woman and her husband travel to Bethlehem, for out of that city of David must come Messiah, as told by Micah. We will see a star leading magi to His bedside, twice foretold. Mad Herod kills the innocents, for whom Rachel weeps, as said by Jeremiah. Messiah is taken safely to Egypt then called back, as Hosea wrote. In all, there are some 360 Old Testament prophecies completely fulfilled by Jesus in His 33 years on earth, and many yet to be completed when He returns.
It’s enough for us to go on. We are presented a fully developed case for Messiah, and given a verdict for us to arrive at: Was Jesus Christ of Nazareth indeed God’s Messiah, the Son of God from eternity, born a man in time, who died for the salvation of our souls? Did He rise up alive that Sunday and is He alive today, though He’s been taken out of the world by His Father? You decide. Is the evidence strong enough to convince you? The verdict is yours.
For me, the case is too clear to dismiss. His entrance into this world was humble, yet the heavens sang. Lowly shepherds heard the angels. Some saw and believed it fully at the time and followed Him, others were harder to convince, and the powerful resented Him and conspired to kill Him. He makes His entrance. And we enter Him.
St. Paul puts it in a number of ways: putting on the new man, wearing armour of light, or the full armour of God. He even tells us to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, so we can live without making room for fleshliness and lusting after pleasures.” We wear Him, as it were. We are found in Him. He is alive and we live in Him. It’s not just poetry.
When we make our entrance wherever we go, something about us bears the sweetness of God’s beloved Son. Some will recognize it and love us for that aroma. Others will smell it, and to them it’s like death and decay, and they will hate us. But it’s the robe of Jesus they sense. We enter Him and He enters us and in Him are we found righteous, and only in Him.
Jesus sits astride a young donkey. It’s my very favorite animal in the Bible. I feel like him. When someday I go to Jerusalem, either the real city or the city coming from above, I want Jesus riding me and to hear the cheering of the crowds, not for me, but for the One I am bearing upon my back. I will carry Him wherever He wants to make His entrance.