Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Our text for this morning is the Gospel Reading from Matthew 21:1-9—the story of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday of Holy Week. This text is the Palm Sunday story, which is actually quite fitting for this first Sunday in Advent because this story points to why Jesus came to this earth. This time of year, it’s easy to lose sight of this and to be sucked into the whims of culture and to operate as if Christmas were about consumerism, giving and receiving gifts, and eating a ton of Christmas cookies. Our text invites us to ponder more deeply the reason why Christ came at Christmas. As the text begins, Jesus and his disciples have been traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Now that they have gotten close to Jerusalem, Jesus sends two of his disciples ahead to get a couple of donkeys. Jesus wants to ride the young donkey into Jerusalem—which seems kind of strange at first. But Matthew tells us that there is a good reason why Jesus wanted to ride the donkey into Jerusalem. It was to fulfill the words of the prophet: 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 (Matthew 21:5). This is an interesting quotation for several reasons. First of all, it’s not from one single source. The main which quotation Matthew has in mind is Zechariah 9:9, which says: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). There are several minor differences between Zechariah’s original prophecy and Matthew’s quotation of it. But, for all of the minor differences, there is one major difference. Zechariah introduces his original prophecy about the coming king with: “Rejoice” and “Shout aloud, O daughter of Zion!” Matthew instead introduces Zechariah’s prophecy about the coming king with the words of Isaiah 62: “Say to the daughter of Zion…” (Isaiah 62:11). Why does Matthew make this change? It was true, the king was coming to Zion. (“Zion” is just another way to refer to Jerusalem—it’s the name of the hill on which Jerusalem sat.) The king was coming to Jerusalem and was mounted on a donkey. But it’s not time for the people to rejoice. Jesus is coming to save his people, but he hasn’t saved them yet. And so, Matthew doesn’t want the crowds to rejoice yet. The king is coming, yes, but he’s coming to die. The crowds shout, “Hosanna”, which means, “Save us!” It’s certainly right to be asking Jesus for salvation, but the crowds weren’t prepared for how he was going to save them.
2. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that humble donkey, his disciples and the crowds prepared for his coming by laying down their cloaks for him. They cut branches and laid them down in the road, signaling their submission to him. But the problem was, Jesus didn’t turn out to be what they were expecting. All of their preparation was simply outward. They weren’t quite ready to let their hearts be changed by the forgiveness Jesus came to bring them. And so, the same crowd which shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” in just a few days time would be shouting, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:22 & 23). But this is why Jesus came to earth. He came so that he could die for the sins of the world, so that all who believe in him might live forever with him. Behold, your king is coming to you.
3. And my friends, our king still comes to us today. Our king comes to us through his Word & Sacraments. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus commissions the Apostles by saying: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 29:18-20). As the Apostle’s baptize and teach, Jesus promises to be with them. He promises to be present in their baptizing and teaching. In fact, he promises that wherever the Word is preached and the Sacraments administered, there we will find him: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). Our king still comes to us through his Word & Sacraments.
4. And so, the real presence of Christ in our midst today is the fuller fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy. Once again, the prophet said: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). And so, we rejoice. We rejoice because our king comes to us bringing salvation. He has accomplished the salvation of mankind by the tree of the cross that where death arose, there life also might rise again. We are sinful human beings. We are filled with nothing but sin and death. This is why each one of us is born to die. With each breath we draw, we are one step closer to death. But here, in his Sacrament, Christ meets us with the promise of a life that will never end. This is why, in a few minutes, as we prepare for our king to come to us through the Lord’s Supper, we will sing: Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth; heav’n and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He, blessed is He, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.Our confession is that Jesus is coming to us at his table. Our king’s real presence comes to us in this meal where he offers to us forgiveness, life, and salvation. And so, this morning we approach our Lord’s table in humility, thankful that he comes to us today.
5. As we prepare for our king to come to us in this meal, we lift up our hearts to the Lord in praise. We give him thanks for all that he has done for us. And we come to his table firmly believing in his promises. But . . . What if we don’t? What if we don’t truly have our hearts and minds focused on the Lord? What if our focus is on ourselves and our immediate surroundings, as it so often is? What if we don’t feel thankful? What if we have doubts about his promises? What do we do if we realize that we’re not all that different from the crowds on Palm Sunday, preparing outwardly, but not quite ready to let our hearts be changed by the forgiveness Jesus came to bring? Is it better to remain at home? Is it better to avoid the Sacrament all together rather than approach the Lord’s table with our heart or mind in the wrong place? Admittedly, each person’s situation will be different, but Luther’s Small Catechism offers helpful pastoral counsel for you if you find yourself wrestling with these questions: Who receives this Sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe. How do we prepare to receive the Lord’s Supper? Just believe. As long as you have faith that Christ comes to you for your forgiveness in this meal, you are worthy to receive it. Anything beyond this might be good and have its place, but faith is the only thing that truly matters. It doesn’t matter how strong or weak your faith might be. It doesn’t matter how many doubts are in your mind. Where there is even an inkling of faith, there the Holy Spirit works through this meal to strengthen you in both body and soul unto life everlasting. Behold, your king is coming to you.
6. Finally, my friends, Advent is about more than Christ’s first coming at Christmas. And it’s about more than his coming to us in Word & Sacrament—it’s also about Christ’s future coming. Our king will come again on the last day. And when he comes on the last day, he will bring final salvation for us—salvation from sin, salvation from death, and salvation from the devil. We will be saved from everything which ails us in this life. We will be saved from sickness, suffering, and sorrow. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that this time is fast approaching: Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5). These days are coming. Our king is coming again soon.
7. So, how do we prepare for our Lord’s final coming? In our Epistle Reading for this morning, St. Paul gives us some practical advice for how to prepare for our king’s final coming: Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light (Romans 13:11-12). There is much that could be said about St. Paul’s words here. Paul reminds us that it’s time to wake up. It’s time to stop blindly going through the motions of life. Jesus’ final coming is nearer now than it ever has been before. So, it’s time to get prepared. There’s lots we can do to prepare—Paul gives some suggestions about things to avoid. In essence, he says that we should avoid selfish pursuits. We should avoid living only to satisfy our desire for pleasure. Instead, the best thing we can do to prepare for our Lord’s coming is to “put on the armor of light”—that is, to let Christ prepare us for his coming. So, this Advent season and beyond, I want to strongly encourage you to make it a priority to regularly come to the Lord’s house where he prepares you for his final coming. Hear his Word and receive his Sacrament because here our king prepares us for his final coming and a life that never ends. Behold, your king is coming to you.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.