[Picture: The Triumphal Entry, woodcut by Albrecht Dürer]
Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the First Sunday of Advent, 12/1/2019. The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the First Sunday of Advent, click here.
Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror; and all that remains is the leftover sandwiches unlikely to make it past this afternoon. Trees are up in some of our homes, and the windows at Macy’s are filled with elves. Everywhere you look, it’s already Christmas, or some version of it. And if I’m honest, I love Christmas so much that I really don’t mind.
But the Church in her wisdom knows that we have a tendency to get ahead of ourselves, and so, we have Advent. It’s a different color than Christmas, a different flavor, a different feel; it slows us down with candles that we light just one week at a time. It’s syrupy and soft; simple and subdued. But for all of that, Advent can also be tricky, even confusing – especially on this first Sunday.
This is a time in the Church year when our focus is preparation for Christ’s coming. But why start our preparations this way – so close to the end? Why start Advent, why start our year, with Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem? That’s the appropriate text for Palm Sunday – and palms are out of season.
Well, somewhat like Advent, Jesus can be tricky, too. If that sounds unlike the Jesus you know, remember what He does to Satan. Think way back at the Annunciation, the day Gabriel came with Good News to the Virgin Mary, and the Son first took on human flesh. In that moment Satan, the deceiver, was himself deceived, even in the very face of Truth.
It’s not the way you would do it. If you wanted to trick someone, you’d play your cards close to the chest. You would maintain a sense of secrecy. And yet, through Gabriel, God was recklessly specific about His rescue plan for humanity.
Despite this, all Satan could see was a vulnerable fetus inside a fearful teenager, from a relatively insignificant town – a town some folks didn’t think could produce anything worthwhile. (John 1:46) You could practically hear Him jeering: “This is how you’re going to do it? This is how you’re going to save the world? A baby? This is going to be easier than I thought.”
It probably seems presumptuous to assume an easy victory, but Satan is shockingly superficial. After all, he’ not omniscient, i.e. all-knowing like God is. Like you and me, though with a great deal more experience, Satan has to judge things based on what he sees and hears.
There’s nothing threatening about a young woman, a manger, or a baby. But what about now? His attacks are so brazen and bare, even base. What does he see and hear that would give him confidence today? Why does he still see value in fighting battles in a lost war?
He sees you. As soon as you leave this place and go back into the world, back to the temptations he has set in your path, and back to the lies he has told you, he brightens up a bit, sensing that all is not lost, and there may be some small victories ahead.
He sees you – fallen into his traps and barely struggling – all your favorite sins come back home for the holidays, sins so familiar they barely seem harmful anymore. He sees you believing the lies he whispers to you – breeding discontent in your family and among your friends, and even here in this community. He watches this with delight, but it doesn’t stop here.
Satan doesn’t even really mind watching you go to Church. He’s seen this movie before. He knows that the voices that shout “Hosanna to the Son of David!” will soon be the voices that shout “Crucify Him.”Satan sees you in your sin and your failures and is sure that this puts him ahead somehow.
Likewise, today: Satan sees Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem, and he is convinced that victory is at hand. Jesus is finally taking the bait! And better late than never. It may have taken three years, but he knew that offer of worldly glory and kingship would eventually take. Jesus is finally giving in to that temptation offered in the wilderness. But…
This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your King is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
Contrary to Satan’s assessment of the situation, the triumphal entry was yet another setback in Satan’s plan. Jesus does not stop at the city gates to relish in His kingship. Rather, He moves on. Jesus moves on with intention and mercy and love. He moves on toward the cross, where Satan would again be absolutely certain of His victory; at least until the foot which is pierced crushes his head, and robs him of his power.
But today, the first Sunday in Advent, Jesus is not out to trick you. Instead, today Jesus begins to show us the real meaning behind the whole tricky exterior. Everything in this world was created so that this story could exist, the story of the encounter between God and his people; the story of the encounter between a loving Father, and His sons and daughters; the story of a Jesus who came near to us, so that He would bring us near again to our Father.
From the very beginning, as a Child and as a Man, every step on Jesus’ journey is a decisive step toward cavalry – toward that awful, glorious place where His eyes are firmly set, even now; where He would mount the cross, a throne even greater than that of His mother’s womb, for your salvation, and for mine.
It’s true that on some pages of your story, Satan has deceived you and won some battles. But we know how this story ends: with Christ defeating death and giving life to the world.
And so, today, as we begin Advent, let us also enter more fully into that life that Christ gives by entering into us – by living voice and living body and living blood – just as He entered into Jerusalem, just as He entered into Zion’s daughter. Humble, yes, but also zealous and holy, filled with the joy still set before Him.
Advent can be tricky, and even confusing. But it’s just confusing enough to keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus – in the manger, on a donkey, on the cross, and in the arms of Mary.