What Did You Expect?
Why is he reading that? It’s the beginning of a new year. It’s the first Sunday in Advent. So why is your pastor taking you back to Palm Sunday? To answer your question, I didn’t choose this reading. This Sunday we begin the One-Year or Historical lectionary series. These readings for these Sundays are close to a thousand years old. A better question to ask is not, “why did the pastor pick that reading,” but instead, “why did Christians a thousand years ago pick them?” They chose this reading from Palm Sunday to ask you a question: what did you expect? What did you expect to find last year at Christmas? And what do you expect to find this Christmas? And as we read through these words from Matthew 21 we find real answers to that question, not just about Jesus at the end of his earthly life, but also at the beginning. In Matthew 21, we read: “1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”” (Matthew 21:1–3 NIV11-GKE)
What do we expect? What do we expect of Jesus our King? What we see in these words is that every detail about this king was perfectly planned. Jesus tells two of his disciples to go to a specific place, to specific people and to get two specific animals. And, as we look to the events that will unfold in these next four weeks, realize that the same is true. Every detail about this king was planned—and planned perfectly. But what else do we expect? “4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”” (Matthew 21:4–5 NIV11-GKE)
What did you expect in this king? Yes, he is a king that is perfectly planned. But he is also a king that is prophesied in the past. Hundreds of years before he walked up to Jerusalem to die God’s word told us that he would enter on foot only to the bottom of the hill. He would travel like the true king of Jerusalem that he was into Jerusalem. He would travel on two donkeys. That’s what the king rode on. And this teaches us what to expect at Christmas too. As we look ahead, won’t there be ancient and true promises and prophecies about what this king will be like? But these words aren’t done. We read: “6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”” (Matthew 21:6–9 NIV11-GKE)
What did you expect as you look and your coming King? Expect a king that is perfectly planned. Expect a king that was prophesied in the past. But finally, expect a king that is praised properly. The people shouted, “hosanna!”1 That’s the Aramaic for “Please save us!”2 They spoke the precise and proper words. They said it. But they didn’t get it. They said “hosanna.” But they meant, “let me take advantage of your humility.” Let us use you and abuse you, making you into what we want in a king and not listening to what you want.
That’s how it was on Palm Sunday. And it’s the same every Christmas, isn’t it? Look at the world around you. When they celebrate Jesus as the King of kings, what picture do they usually use? Do they use the picture that we saw last week as the conquering King coming down from the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead? No, outside of Christian churches, it’s hard to find that part of the bible spoken of? Why is that? Just like the people on Palm Sunday then, so also the people today like a humble king so that they can take advantage of him. A baby in a manger—how could that person be full of wrath against or even be aware of my sin? So whatever I’m doing that sinful and wrong, I can keep doing that.
And that is a temptation for us as Christians too, isn’t it? And what did you expect? What sort of king did you expect to find as we prepare for Christmas? Did you expect the sort of king that would not care when you sinned and would not be offended? That, for the times you gossiped and lied, for the times you hated and harmed others, Jesus was either not filled with wrath against that sin or not even aware of it.
These words move us to repent. For if we continually and constantly take advantage of Jesus’ humility, what did you expect would happen? Jesus will not come to cuddle with you, but instead, to crush you. And so we repent. And then finally, we praise him properly. Instead of ignoring Jesus’ words and taking advantage of his humility, we cling to them. For his humility is the only hope we have to pay for our sins—and it’s the only hope we need. And that’s why we don’t just read ancient words picked out long ago on this Sunday. We also sing ancient words too. For the good hymns remind us what we are tempted to forget. Take, for example, our hymn of the day. Listen to these words:
Love caused your incarnation;
Love brought you down to me.
Your thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
O, love beyond all telling
That led you to embrace
In love, all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race.3
What did you expect as you closed off one year and began another? What did you expect your king to be? These words from Palm Sunday teach us what to look forward to this Advent season. Look forward to a king that is perfectly planned for. Expect a king that was prophesied in the past. And look forward to one who is praised properly—that we repent of the times we used and abuse our king’s humility. And instead of doing so, we cling to it. For it is our only help and hope to save us from our sins. Amen.
1 “ⲱⲥⲁⲛⲛⲁ” (Matthew 21:9 GNT-WAS)
2 הוֹשַׁע נָא
3 CW 19:2