Sunday, December 03, 2023

More than Meets the Eye

 Matthew 21:1-9

And when they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them, and bring them to Me.  And if anyone says something to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them."

Now this took place that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION, ‘BEHOLD YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU, GENTLE, AND MOUNTED ON A DONKEY, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN.'"  And the disciples went and did just as Jesus had directed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid on them their garments, on which He sat.  And most of the multitude spread their garments in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road.  And the multitudes going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!"

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent                               12/03/23

 More Than Meets the Eye

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

No matter what the Gospel lesson sounds like, this morning is not Palm Sunday.  Of course, you knew that.  The lesson leads us to consider that day and that ride, but the purpose is entirely other than the purpose on Palm Sunday.  

There is more here than meets the eye.  On Palm Sunday, we are looking forward to the betrayal and the crucifixion, and Jesus is heralded King of the Jews before His slaughter.  This time of year we do not look forward to those things, but to the birth, and to the question of the Wise Men, Where is He who is born King of the Jews??  The Gospel begins our Advent preparation for that question by showing us the coronation ride of the King.

On the scale of human events, this Palm Sunday ride doesn't really seem so big.  It was humble.  Jesus rode on a donkey.  He sat on a saddle of coats -- outer garments, actually, which served as coats, and cloaks, and blankets at night, and protection against sand storms, and as an all-around, multi- purpose garment.  That is what the disciples threw on the backs of the donkeys.  Others lined the road with their cloaks, and still others cut branches off of the local palm trees and carpeted the path of Jesus with those.  Some took the Palm Branches and waved them and called out "Hosanna."  It wasn't as outwardly impressive as we might think, but there was more than meets the eye.  And so that is our theme this First Sunday in Advent, More than Meets the Eye.

It is true, this ride wasn't much by our modern standards.  We have no way of knowing how many people actually witnessed it.  The Bible speaks of a "multitude".  But what size is a multitude?  Jesus had sent no press agents.  This affair was basically the disciples of Jesus.  There is more than one gate to Jerusalem, so Jesus could only enter by one – and even if it were the busiest, He could well have missed the attention of most of the people in the city.  He may have had a crowd of only a couple hundred, perhaps as big as a couple of thousands, cheering like an impromptu rally, and calling out the Hosannas.  But there was more going on here than meets the eye.

We can be fairly sure that His ride took Him to the Temple, because Mark tells us that in his Gospel.  And this was the week before the Passover, so there were lots of very religious tourists in town, many hoping fervently for the coming of the Messiah.  The ride He took was deliberately very much like the ride of the ancient Kings of Israel, which they took on the day of their coronation.  The cries of the people were the praises called out to one being led into the city and to the temple to be crowned king.  And Jesus drew a lot of attention, attention that was not appreciated by the priests of the temple.

What was happening was the coronation ride of the King, the One who was promised of old to sit on the throne of David forever.  It was among the reasons that the high priest looked for a way to destroy Jesus.  It contributed to the death on the cross.  But first it was the testimony borne of necessity that this One was the Messiah, the promised King.

In Advent, we look forward to the coming of the King, and we remember how He came.  We look forward by looking back.  It doesn't matter that the crowd was small, or large.  The crowd proclaimed, perhaps unwittingly, the truth that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the promises of the prophets.  Their testimony tells us that we are awaiting the coming of He who will fulfill the promise to us.  We aren't looking forward to His death, or the work of redemption.  They were, but we do not look forward to that because we can see by looking back that He has already done it.

The Prophets told us that we could expect One who would come, who would suffer and die, who would purchase us back from our own sins, from death, and from Hell.  We heard that promise just a couple of weeks ago, in the words of Ezekiel, through whom God promised that He would shepherd His sheep.  We hear it in the words of Isaiah, familiar prophesies at this time of year,  Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

That is, in fact, the point of this Advent season.  Jesus has fulfilled the promises on our behalf.  He has lived like any one of us, except without sin.,  He has endured all that it is to be truly human, and yet kept the Law of God which none of us has been able to do – or willing to do , if we are honest with ourselves.  Isaiah continued, All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

We look forward to His return because He died in our place, and lifted the debt of sins from our shoulders.  Because of Jesus, we are forgiven.  Because of Jesus we will rise from our graves to new and eternal life.  Because of Jesus we have hope in this life and in this world, and comfort when we consider the end of this life and leaving this world.  Jesus died for all, that those who believe might live in Him and for Him.  And it is that return that we look forward to in Advent.

We look forward by looking back at what Jesus did and how He kept the ancient promises when almost all had abandoned hope and trust in God.  They had been waiting for thousands of years, and when He came, He came to a small nation under foreign domination, and rode a humble donkey into Jerusalem with a small entourage leading and following and singing the praises of the King who would not ascend the golden throne they imagined, but the throne of the cross.  On a world-scale it looked small and unimportant, but it was more than meets the eye.

So now what?  We look forward to the coming of the King.  We are a small entourage – ridiculously small if you compare us to world population, or even to the population of those who claim to be Christian.  We look forward to the coming of a King, but not like those of old, exactly.  They were often confused about who the King would be or what He would do.  We know.  Many who call themselves Christian are confused, but we know.

We know what He did for us.  He died on the cross.  He took our sins and their guilt and nailed them to the cross in His body.  He turned the wrath of God away from us, and restored us to His love.  He won forgiveness and life and salvation for all of us, and it is received by those who know it, and believe it, and trust in Jesus and not in themselves, or their works, or their prayers, or their decisions, but in Jesus, His life and His death, and His resurrection.  We know who the King is and what He did, and what He will do.  We just don't know for sure which day, so we have to be prepared every day.

In the meantime, we go about singing His praises and calling out our "Hosanna's" just as that multitude of old did.  We do not have donkey and the parade -- we have instead the Sacrament, where receive the true body of our Lord Jesus in and with and under the form of the bread, and we receive the true blood of Jesus – the blood shed for us on that cross – in and with and under the form of the wine.  His body and blood are truly present for us to eat and to drink that we might receive Him within us, and forgiveness, and strength, and greater faith.

We don't need to cast our cloaks into the mud for the Lord to ride on, but we confess with our words and our hymns and our communing together that here is the Lord of the Palm Sunday ride, coming to us in His body and blood to rule in our hearts by His grace.  Just as they shouted "Hosanna!"  We shout the "Amen!" to the words of Jesus in the Institution of the Supper, not asking how it can be, but hearing our Lord, and trusting Him even when we do not know how, and confessing Him and His gift before men.  We want to tell the world that here, in this Holy Supper, is also more than meets the eye.

And we keep  faith with the people of God throughout the ages and wait and watch for the advent of our King, a coming promised so long ago.  But we wait with true faith, for we know who is coming, and what He has done, and we know what He has promised to do when He comes -- to bring us to eternal life, and destroy sin and death forever.  And so we watch and pray and wait faithfully, observing the promise of Advent all the year long.  We know that in Jesus is and always has been more than meets the eye.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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