The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
As we turn our attention to the Gospel lesson appointed for this first Sunday in Advent, we see God’s Gospel promise of redemption and salvation; the promise first made in the Garden of Eden, FINALLY coming to fruition. It’s a very beautiful and powerful scene…but Christmas doesn’t exactly spring to mind when you hear these words, does it? This account seems a bit out of place. ‘Tis the season, right? But this isn’t a nativity account. This is holy week material. This is Easter time material. This is the account of Jesus processing into Jerusalem a mere five days before the Last Supper and the Garden betrayal; a mere six days before He will be nailed to a bloody pagan cross. This Palm Sunday procession is a very purposeful procession to Calvary, and we know this. And all of this is great and wonderful and worthy of praise, to be sure, but what does any of this have to do with Advent or Christmas?
Well…believe it or not, but your early Church forefathers knew what they were doing when they appointed this particular text for this particular day—this first day of the Advent season. There’s a very good reason we focus on Christ processing to His Passion on this first day of Advent…but more on that later. Let us first examine the text before us. Rather than cut to the chase and immediately show the correlation with Advent, let us take a little time and simply focus on the text itself.
Consider the fact that Jesus brings His merry little band of apostles to a rather unexpected and abrupt halt just a mile or so outside of Jerusalem. Out of the blue Jesus commands two of His apostles to go on ahead and fetch Him a donkey. This in itself is strange. Jesus WALKED everywhere He went. He didn’t ride anywhere. He certainly didn’t ride horses, because horses were the rides of great and powerful men; royalty. Jesus certainly could have commanded the use of the finest royal war horse…but He didn’t. Instead, He calls for a lowly donkey; an unassuming beast of burden and her colt. Right off the bat, knowing the rest of the story like we do, we see Jesus entering into His beloved city do His Father’s will in the most lowly and humble of ways—on the back of a donkey.
Consider also how Jesus shows His omniscience and omnipotence. I’ve heard it said that Jesus is encouraging His disciples here to go and steal (aka “borrow”) somebody’s donkey. That’s simply not true! Remember: Your God and Lord is Lord of ALL creation. EVERYTHING ultimately belongs to Him, and He uses earthly goods and means in order to accomplish His will. Using the donkey of some anonymous (and faithful) farmer is a prime example of this.
Again, consider how He prepares His disciples for what is, no doubt, an uncomfortable situation. “Untie the donkey and her colt and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything about it, tell them ‘the Lord has need of them,’ and he will send them at once.” Here in this very simple and straight-forward command is almighty God’s omniscience and omnipotence on display. Jesus KNOWS right where the donkey and her colt are. He KNOWS that they are there. He also KNOWS that the disciples will encounter questioning (not necessarily opposition, but curiosity, to be sure). He knows all that the future holds, and with these words He is showing/proving yet again to His disciples that He is in full and complete control. NOTHING is happening (or will happen in the days to come) that is not under His complete control.
“The Lord needs them.” With these very simple words Jesus is proving to His disciples that His Word—the Word of the Lord—is indeed powerful. It can and does work miracles…even the little simple ones like permitting the use of your donkey. The Word of God can and does accomplish His will. Just think about this from today’s perspective. Imagine finding somebody going into your garage and getting ready to drive away in your car. “Can I help you?” would probably not be the first words to come out of my mouth. “Yes, the Lord has need of this car.” “Oh, okay. By all means.” And yet…this is exactly how it played out. This anonymous owner sent his donkey and colt at once…just as Jesus said he would. They were sent, not out of some trance-like spell that Jesus cast over the man, as if he were a mindless zombie. No! The man hears that his Lord has need of them, and he responds in faith. The Word of the Lord can and does work miracles. This anonymous faithful man sends them immediately to his God and Lord, no questions, no caveats, no complaints. How many of you can be accused of such faith? I can’t. Again, our Lord is showing/proving that He knows all that lies ahead, and He is in complete control. His will is being done perfectly.
And just in case any doubt remained, Matthew makes sure to tell us that all this took place in order to fulfill what the prophet Zechariah had so faithfully prophesied centuries earlier. All of this was God’s plan from the get-go. In fact, all the prophets had been pointing to this. From that first promise made in the Garden of Eden so many centuries before, the Word and Will of God all pointed to this fulfillment and fruition of God’s plan of salvation and redemption.
And that brings us back to the fact that this Gospel lesson has been the appointed lesson for the first Sunday in Advent for centuries. WHY did Jesus come to earth to be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary? Why did Jesus give up all of heaven’s majesty to take on lowly human flesh; flesh that would be born in the lowest of places—a livestock stable in lowly little Bethlehem, with a feed trough for a bed? Talk about entering in the lowliest and humblest of ways! WHY was Jesus born? Answer: To save us from our sin. Even His very name, which God the Father commanded and gave through righteous Joseph, speaks to this reality. “You will call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” And when did that plan of salvation come to fulfillment? Not in the manger, but on the cross.
Folks: This [the cross] is what it’s all about. This is what our faith and our joy is ALWAYS all about, no matter the time or the circumstance. This [the crucifix] is why God sent His only-begotten Son. This was the plan all along, from before the foundation of the world. Jesus didn’t go to this cross begrudgingly or against His will. He wasn’t ambushed or surprised or caught off-guard. Jesus was in complete control all along, ever and always in perfect and faithful obedience to His Father; ever and always perfectly doing the will of His Father. “Father, if there is any other way, take this cup of suffering from Me.” He knew full-well what awaited Him, and yet He went ahead with it, never losing faith in His God and Father, even as His God and Father poured out all His righteous and holy wrath against all sin for all time upon Him on that bloody cross, forsaking Him for the salvation of the world; for you, for me, for everyone.
And this is why our early Church fathers appointed this particular lesson to be the first lesson of the Advent season every year. Our early Church fathers didn’t beat around the bush. They cut right to the chase. This [the crucifix] is what your life, your hope, your peace, and your joy is all about. This is why Jesus was conceived and born: to live and die and rise again for the forgiveness of all your sin. This [the crucifix] should mean something to you! God Himself took on flesh in order to suffer and die for you; in order to save you because you can’t save yourself, no matter how hard you try. These men were very wise and faithful in appointing this text to be the first Gospel lesson we hear as we prepare to celebrate the birth of God’s Gospel promise in the flesh. They make it clear, right off the bat and right out of the gate, that this is our focus and our joy at Christmas. The manger points to and foreshadows the cross. God has kept His Word and sent His only-begotten Son to die for us and save us from our sin. The manger is just the first step in that long and purposeful procession to Calvary.
This is why we set aside a little time (and it is just a little bit of time; a mere couple of weeks) before Christmas. We set this time aside for reflection and repentance; for re-orienting ourselves to the Truth and reality and source of our salvation. Our forgiveness came at great price and sacrifice. Just look at what our salvation cost God! No, we’re not singing joyous Christmas carols yet. It’s not time yet. Jesus came to this earth for us and our sin. Let us not forget this or look past this. Let this fact not get drowned out in premature Christmas caroling or buried beneath an impatient and worldly false sense of joy and peace. Jesus suffered and died for us and our sin! We set aside this brief bit of time so that we can get our priorities straight and our perspectives rightly focused on the right and truly important things. Gift exchanges and decorations and parties and cookies and egg nog and nostalgic songs about snow and roasting chestnuts and red-nosed reindeer and ugly sweaters are all good and fine. There’s NOTHING wrong with any of these things, but none of these things have anything to do with your salvation; with your peace that surpasses all understanding.
And even here in the midst of this penitential time, we do have joy. We’re not in somber lock-down. We still have reason to celebrate and give thanks. Look here [Holy Communion]. Here is your peace; a peace that does surpass all human understanding; a peace that can only be known in faith. Here is the risen and victorious Christ, in your very presence, holding out to you the very gift that is His holy Body and Blood.
And nothing has really changed, has it? Jesus still comes to us in very lowly, humble, and unassuming means: Word, Water, Bread, Wine. This [Holy Communion] isn’t just an Advent or Christmas thing, is it? This is every time two or three gather in His name. He doesn’t rend the heavens and come to us on a blazing war horse with trumpets blaring (or Christmas carols blasting). Nope. He comes to us in, with, and under the lowly elements of bread and wine. But…His Word and Promise is all-powerful. His Word can and does work miracles…even the simple miracles like bestowing His peace and forgiveness upon us in such simple elements. “Take and eat. Take and drink. This is My Body. This is My Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin.” How can your faith not rejoice in this Christological Truth?!
May this Christ-centered joy and peace be and remain at the forefront of all you say and do, now and into this “holiday” season and into all eternity. It is finished, in Christ and because of Christ.
To Him alone be all glory, all praise, and all honor.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
Send Pastor Jason Zirbel an email.