First Sunday of Advent 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 21:1-9


Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror; even leftover sandwiches aren’t likely to make it past this afternoon. Trees are up in our homes, and the window at Macy’s is filled with elves and gingerbread men. Sorry. Gingerbread persons. Everywhere you look, it’s practically already Christmas. And if I’m honest, I love Christmas so much that I really don’t mind.

But the Church knows that we have a tendency to get ahead of ourselves, 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 one week at a time. And it can be tricky, even confusing– especially on this first Sunday, when nothing’s the way it seems. This, after all, is a time in the Church year when our focus is preparing to receive the Baby in the Manger on Christmas. So why would we begin Advent with Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem? That’s the Palm Sunday text – and palms are out of season.

But, like Advent, Jesus is tricky, too. If that sounds unlike the Jesus you know, just look at what He does to Satan, the original trickster. 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, Satan, the deceiver, was himself deceived, even in the face of Truth. Now, you’d think that if you wanted to trick someone, you’d play things close to the chest, and maintain a sense of secrecy. And yet, Gabriel was incautiously specific about God’s rescue plan for humanity. Nevertheless, all Satan saw was a vulnerable fetus inside a fearful teenager, trekking through the outskirts of Galilee. 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.”

That might seem a bit presumptuous, assuming an easy victory, but Satan is awfully superficial. He’s not all knowing like God is. He has to judge things based on what he sees and hears. So, what does he see and hear that would give him such confidence? Well, as soon as you leave this place and go back to the world, back to the temptations he has set in your path, back to the lies he has told you, he brightens up a bit and senses that all is not lost, and victory is at hand.

He sees you – fallen into his traps and barely struggling: all your favorite sins come back home for the holidays, 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 here in this community. So he 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 he’s won.

Likewise today, Satan sees Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem, and He is convinced that victory is at hand. Jesus is finally taking the bait! Better late than never. It may have taken three years, but Satan knew that offer of worldly glory and kingship would finally take. Jesus is finally giving in to the 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, this triumphal entry was only another setback in Satan’s plan. Jesus does not stop at the city gates to relish in His kingship. No, He moves on. He moves on with intention and mercy and love; on toward a cross where Satan would again be absolutely certain of His victory.

Today, the first Sunday in Advent, 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 repentant sons and daughters; the story of a Jesus who came near to us, so that we might once again come near to God.

Yes, from the very beginning, as a Child and as a Man, every step on Jesus’ journey is a decisive step toward cavalry – that awful, glorious place where His eyes are firmly set, even now; the place where He would trade the wood of a manger for the wood of a cross, a throne greater than that of His mother’s womb, for you salvation, and for mine.

It’s true that on some pages of our story, Satan has deceived us 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 living and free and holy and filled with joy. 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.


About Pastor Hopkins