1st Sunday in Advent
November 27, 2016
“Who Is This?”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us at the beginning of a brand-new church year is today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 21.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
As a pastor there are a lot of things that I read or do or try for the experience. That way I can make a somewhat educated assessment about something when someone asks. That being the case, my alarm went off one Friday at 4:00 AM. Why so early on a Friday? Because it was the day after Thanksgiving and I wanted to experience what is known as “Black Friday.” I left my house at 4:15 AM to “kick off” the Christmas shopping season with insanely early shopping hours that attract massive crowds seeking significant savings on certain items. I ended up shopping until the sun came UP, not until the sun went down. I stood in line outside a certain store and felt the rush as crazed consumers surged inside not seeking warmth, but deals. When the sea of humanity finally reached our shared destination, the “hot item” was already gone; only 9 in stock in the first place. As I listened to people in line and in the stores and watched their behavior, there was one point that was clearly made. There was a clear misunderstanding of what Christmas is truly about. This was NOT Christmas spirit; this was rampant consumerism gone horribly wrong. It was an experience I would rather not repeat if given a choice.
When you first heard the Gospel lesson, what was your initial impression or response? “Whoa…wait. Isn’t this a lesson closer to Easter?” Well, what did you expect today in church? Jingle bells? Deck them halls? Not yet. Instead, today’s Gospel lesson is a narrative known as the “Triumphant Entry,” that is, Jesus rides into Jerusalem to begin what we know as the events of Holy Week. So what can we say about this experience for the people? Did they get it” Was this a true, faith-filled event or was the triumphant entry horribly misunderstood? That’s hard to say. There were some people who seemed to understand, while others were forced to ask, “Who is this?”
Jesus leaves the area of Bethany and Bethphage, passes the Mount of Olives, and rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. The Old Testament prophet Zechariah had forth told this event: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey” (9:9). What an experience indeed! The Son of God rides into Jerusalem – the political and religious center of Israel – as their gentle, promised King. And yet there are people who ask, “who is this?’
On that day so long ago in Jerusalem, Jesus came to His people riding on a donkey. This is the way the prophets foretold that the peace-bringing King would come to His people. In response, the people shouted “Hosanna,” which is the transliteration of a Hebrew expression that means, “O save!” This is a plea being made for this king to come and save His people. In addition, the people spread their cloaks and palm branches before Him and called Him the “Son of David.” All of these words and gestures point out that some of the crowd saw the coming of Jesus as the fulfillment of the long-awaited Messiah – the King who comes to save His people once and for all.
That probably sounded pretty good to most, since Jerusalem and all of Israel was occupied by the conquering Romans who oppressed the Israelites politically, militarily and financially. And yet, there is that segment of the crowd who hollers, “Who is this?”
Can’t you almost hear those doubters now? Can’t you hear their voices as they misunderstand this monumental experience? “Look at that! He’s riding a donkey. And just look at the color of that donkey; I wouldn’t be caught dead on a donkey THAT color. And just listen to those people singing and dancing. Just what is their problem? Just listen to that racket! And look at them carrying on like that! Who is this anyway?”
The danger becomes that when we “major in minors” as I like to say, we can miss the big picture of what is going on. Perhaps some in the crowd were so busy criticizing and questioning they missed the MAN sitting on that donkey. That may sound silly but in our church today, Christians do the exact same thing. We spend our time bashing pastors and worship styles and techniques, judging that one is better than another. We think a church filled with 30 somethings is MUCH BETTER than a church filled with 60 somethings. Since when? We become critical of people who don’t look like us or act like us or talk like us or think like us or worship JUST LIKE US. And when we do this, my friends, we miss the man on the donkey. We forget who this is and why He came. We have become obsessed with the speck in our neighbor’s eye and ignored the plank in our own eyes (Matthew 7:3).
Jesus comes to His people still today. He comes to us in His Word and in His Sacraments – in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. But has our familiarity with Him over the years caused us to misunderstand the experience so that we must step back and ask like the Jerusalem crowd, “Who is this?” Christ comes to us in His Word and Sacraments to remind us again and again that our sinful rebellion against Him and others has been forgiven by virtue of what happened later that week following the triumphant entry. On Sunday Jesus arrived to shouts of joy and celebration. By Friday – the ultimate version of “Black Friday” – He was dead on the cross.
But this HAD to happen so that our sinful rebellion would be forgiven and that we as believers might live sanctified and holy lives busy with the task of making disciples, not criticizing them. Jesus came to live and die for us and even for those who don’t look like us or act like us or talk like us SO THAT we can reach out to these people in order that they might love like us.
Thanks to our wonderful Lutheran heritage (we turn 500 next year), we regularly confess who Jesus is through our creedal confessions. There is no confusion or misunderstanding when we confess the 2nd article of the Apostles’ Creed regarding who Jesus is: “(I believe) in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” This is who Jesus is and this is who we confess He is.
This time of year the world has a weird sense of what Christmas is about: spend more…buy more…get more. Our Lord rode into Jerusalem on a donkey so that He can model His example for us in our faith-filled lives: give more, just as Jesus Christ gave His life for you.
Who is this? This time of year you won’t find the answer to that question in a mall. It is my prayer that you will see Christ Jesus anew today coming to you righteous and having salvation so that you need not wonder who this is. It is Jesus.
Welcome to Advent.