In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. Matthew 21:5 “Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… Have you ever noticed how the world celebrates holidays all backwards? All of the celebrating is virtually done before the day ever arrives. This is especially so with Christmas. All the feasting, the decorating, the nostalgia are done up front. The Christmas movies and Christmas music and Christmas parades all begin not only before Advent but way before Thanksgiving! By the time the actual holiday arrives, Christmas seems almost anti-climactic. By December 25th you’re tired of the songs and the phony holiday cheer and you’re ready to move on, especially if things didn’t quite live up to expectations.
That’s the way it is with the world because that’s the way the world looks at life. You live for a while, you have your fun, and then you die and it’s all over. So you better make your time now count.
First there’s life and then there’s death.
But with the church it’s the other way around. First there’s death and then there’s life, both with our Lord and with us. Life really begins when we are freed from sin’s curse and are with our Lord in the resurrection. So our days in this world are lived differently, as preparation for that coming time when the celebration will really begin.
This faith is reflected in the way we observe Christmas. The Christian church doesn’t celebrate a holy-day, a holiday until it actually arrives, and in the days following. The 12 days of Christmas that you hear about in the carol are the days from Christmas to Epiphany on January 6th. That’s the real Christmas season. What we’re in now is the Advent season. And Advent is a time of penitent and hope-filled preparation.
In the early church, Advent was a time for fasting, believe it or not. This is a time not for mere sentimentality but to dwell more fervently on the Word of God to make ready the way of His coming to us. We eagerly anticipate Christmas, but now is not the time for the full celebration. Now is the time for waiting and discipline and focusing on the coming of our Lord in the flesh to save us.
That’s why we have today’s Gospel. The Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the donkey five days before Good Friday may seem out of place here in Advent, but in fact it dramatically emphasizes what this season is about. Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” This Gospel teaches how our Lord comes to us – humbly, whether on a beast of burden or in a lowly manger. Jesus comes not simply to be born; He is born to die. He is born to humble Himself even to the point of death on a cross, to give His life as a ransom to rescue us from sin and death and the devil. “Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Note that there are two donkeys Jesus rides – an older one, the mother, and a younger one, a colt, the mother’s foal. These two donkeys represent God’s Old and New Testament people. First, Jesus rides the old, to show that He is the fulfillment of all that Israel was about and all that its prophets foretold.
Then Jesus rides the new, which is born from the old, the new Israel, which is the Church. Our Lord comes to make all things new by dying and rising again. Out of the old order of death comes a new order of invincible life for us in Jesus. He unites all believers, from the Old Testament and the New, from every nation and race, together as His true and everlasting Israel.
And let us not forget that we are the donkey, a very stubborn animal, hard-headed, set in our sinful ways, eager to go our own direction, or else just sitting back on our haunches and refusing to budge. And so we must be driven. Christ rides us and gently but firmly drives us toward the cross. He drives us to die with Him, to die to ourselves, so that we may also rise with Him to new life, to real life.
He drives us to repentance through the Law so that through the Gospel we may have His full and free forgiveness.
The people spread their clothes on the road before Christ. This is a fitting sign of their repentance and their faith in Him. For we must all lay aside our clothing. St. Paul exhorts us, “Let us cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light.” (Rom. 13:12)
You too, then, must cast your clothes on the road before Christ, laying aside the stubborn works of your sinful nature; for that is how you repent and prepare the way of the Lord. Do not engage in gluttony and drunkenness. Do not indulge in immoral passions and lusts. Do not give way to strife and division and envy and pride. For if you persist in wearing such “clothing,” it will constrict you, it will choke you, it will squeeze you off from the life of God.
Be rid of such garments and receive by faith the clothing that only God can provide. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 13:14) for He is your righteousness, as Jeremiah says. Jesus wore all of your dark, sin-stained clothing. He took that all upon Himself and made it His own so that you would be free from it. Jesus Himself became the beast of burden, bearing and carrying the sin of the whole world to the cross. He became sin for you, so that you would become righteous before the Father by His holy sacrifice. Jesus perished in the darkness so that you might wear His garments of light and be robed in His holiness and live as children of the Day.
That, dear friends, is the sort of king you have in Jesus, not one who forces His subjects to serve Him, but one who lays down His life to serve His subjects. Your King goes into battle Himself to fight on your behalf. He rides not on a stallion with glittering armor, but on an ordinary donkey, an animal of peace – for He comes to bring you peace, as the Christmas hymn says, “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” This King will ascend His throne not by wearing a crown of gold but a crown of thorns, not by defending Himself but by becoming defenseless, dying so that you may live and escape from the enemy’s grasp. This is the King who is coming to you.
And notice also that He’s the One doing the traveling. You don’t have to go out searching for Him, as though He were some far-off guru sitting high at the top of a Himalayan mountain in the lotus position. No, Jesus searches you out; Jesus comes to you.
You do not – indeed, you cannot – come to God through your own spirituality or works or emotions. But God can and does come to you in His grace, 100% of the way, without your asking or help. He came down from heaven right to where you are, right into your very body and soul, taking up your human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. He even went so far as to come into contact with the slime and the slop of your sin and death on the cross so that you might be cleansed and rescued from them by His precious blood.
And your Lord still is coming to you now to dish out all the benefits He won for you. You must learn to recognize the donkey on which Christ is riding to you. Don’t look for glitter and fanfare. You must learn to see the meek and humble ways in which Jesus still enters into this place and into your lives – His Word and the Sacraments. The Savior-King rides to you on the baptismal water. He travels to you through His spoken and preached words.
And indeed, you have the triumphal entry in every celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar. For the Lord who came in His flesh and blood to Jerusalem comes also to you here in His body and blood to give you the forgiveness of sins which He purchased on Calvary. He “saddles” the bread and wine and rides right to where you are, that He might live in you and you in Him forever. So it is that before receiving the Sacrament, we sing the Sanctus, which contains the very same words that were shouted to Jesus in the Gospel, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.” For the King still rides.
While the world madly rushes by seeking to create a perfect moment of nostalgia and find peace and comfort, we receive Him who alone gives real peace and lasting comfort, Who comes to you humbly and lowly.
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.