December 3, 2006
“Palm Sunday in December”
Now that the holiday season is upon us, and American consumerism is in full swing, the stores have trotted out their decorations and touted their Christmas bargains. Yet some stores and specialties businesses (I can think of two here in Wisconsin) are open year-round with a specific Christmas theme. I don’t know how they stay in business. Who wants to buy ornaments for the tree in the middle of the summer? Likewise, I’ve never understood the point of having “Christmas in July” sales. But yet it seems during the hottest days of the year some car salesman is dressed in a Santa suit to sell some cars.
Today we have another somewhat strange combined occasion. For here we are on the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Church Calendar, with our eyes on December 25th just a few weeks away – and suddenly – our reading from Luke takes us to Palm Sunday. Jesus, riding on a colt, makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. He is welcomed and cheered as a king. The people sing “Hosanna!”. What is this reading doing here? Did someone print the wrong bulletin, or what?
In fact it makes perfect sense to observe Palm Sunday in Advent. Because both occasions highlight this simple theme: “The King is Coming”. He is coming to be born in Bethlehem. He is coming in the clouds to judge the nations. He is coming, riding on a lowly donkey, to Jerusalem. And when Jesus comes, he brings with him salvation.
The King is coming: who invited him?
Around this time of year, with all the parties and get-togethers, there will be lots of invitations sent out, and lots of invitations received. Maybe you are having a party and have made your guest list. But imagine what it would be like if someone came who wasn’t on the list. Someone you didn’t invite. It would be strange.
One thing you might notice about all of Jesus’ various arrivals, is that he is not the one being invited. No, it’s just the opposite, he invites himself. No one asked Jesus to come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey. In fact, it was he alone who made the arrangements – down to the last detail.
Just like no one invited him to be born a human child in Bethlehem. No act of human will brought him to our world. It was the work of the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary – at the initiative of God alone.
Just like the day and time of his promised return are already appointed, and though we pray, “come quickly, Lord Jesus”, he will come in his time, according to his will.
And though some preach and teach otherwise, we do not invite Jesus into our hearts. We don’t open the door of our heart, or purify ourselves, or make ourselves worthy of his coming to us, individually. He takes the initiative. He calls us, invites us, by his Gospel. He makes us pure, and worthy, and he enters our hearts by his own divine mercy and grace. An uninvited but welcome guest is our King, Jesus!
Jesus is coming: Look Busy?
The king is coming. Jesus is coming. A certain bumper sticker message seeks to poke fun at this reality, and reads, “Jesus is coming: Look Busy!” As if the boss is away at a meeting, and we his employees have to fool him, when he returns, into thinking we’ve been hard at work. But God cannot be mocked. Jesus is coming. And we haven’t been busy.
Well, we haven’t been busy doing what we should. But we’ve been plenty busy doing what we shouldn’t. In this busy season of the busy year – stop and ponder how you’ve been using or abusing your time. None of us have perfect priorities. We don’t always balance too well the many demands on our time – so many of which we put on ourselves. Sometimes we are over-burdened with things that matter little, and neglect those that matter most. We may appear busy; we may feel busy; but we are often simply distracted.
No amount of “looking busy” or “trying to get busy” will suffice when our king comes. He knows the truth.
Jesus is coming: Shout Hosanna!
But as we read the Palm Sunday account, it seems people were busy in a godly way. They were busy welcoming the coming king. The disciples followed his instructions – and brought him the donkey. The crowds following him and welcoming him shouted and sang his praises.
Some of the Pharisees told Jesus to have his disciples settle down. “We don’t want to give the Romans a reason to be angry. They might see all this fanfare as a sign of unrest – and people could get hurt, Jesus! Tell them to be quiet. Rebuke them. Cut it out!”
But Jesus, who accepted the praises rightly due to him, answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out”. The king is coming, you see. And a king deserves praise. If his people didn’t give it, his creation would have. It was inevitable.
And so they shouted, “Hosanna!” which means, “Save us now!” They knew, in some way, that the king had come. It was the miracles, Luke tells us, the mighty works that they had seen, that caused such a reaction. The recent raising of Lazarus, in particular, was still all the talk, and word must have traveled fast. A miracle worker. A maker of wonders. A great king, yes, the king has come to save us!
If they only knew. For he had come to save them – from their sin. He had invited himself, as he always does, for the great Passover feast. He soon told his disciples to go make preparations in that upper room. And for the few days leading up to the Passover, Jesus the King, Jesus the Lamb of God, would stay in his holy city, with his people. Just like the Passover lamb, according to the custom, was to be kept in the home for several days before it was slaughtered and sacrificed. So the crowds that sang his praises would soon cry for his blood, as “hosanna!” became “crucify!”.
But it was in the crucifixion that he did, in fact, “save us”. That’s why our king came, after all. It’s why he came to Jerusalem. It’s why he came to Bethlehem. He came to save. And because he has died and because is risen, and because he has promised… he will come again to make his salvation complete.
Advent means coming – but here we mean not only his first coming, his coming as a babe in Bethlehem, or even his coming as a humble king on Palm Sunday – but also his second coming which has been promised. The color of Advent is blue – because Jesus will come again from the sky. The tone of Advent is expectant – not because we’re waiting for Christmas – we know when that will be. We wait for the salvation of the Lord to be made complete on that, the last day, whenever it may be.
The king is coming. He doesn’t need an invitation, because it’s his party. The king is coming. Don’t just look busy – you can’t fool him anyway. The king is coming. So shout Hosanna to the one, Jesus Christ, who came once, and will come again, to save us. His Advent is at hand.