Text: Matthew 21:1-11
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There’s something exciting about the word “arrival”. There’s the feeling of joyful anticipation when you drive to the arrivals section of the airport to pick someone up. We look forward to the arrivals of family members, friends, and loved ones for the holidays. When someone enjoys success at something they’ve been trying for a while, we say that they’ve arrived. So on and so forth, arrivals mean excitement and a reason to rejoice.
The Church has long been aware of the excitement that comes with arrivals. But our excitement is for more than just a generalized feeling of warm fuzzies or world success. It’s about more than looking forward to our favorite seasonal foods or treats or events. Our anticipation about arrivals is summed up in the season of Advent, a word which itself just means “arrival”. This season harnesses the joy we have that our Lord, God Himself, is coming to us—not only just to be in the same place as us, but coming to save us.
It’s the last part of that realization—that God is arriving to save us—that makes our Lord’s advent—or more properly said, plural advents—so different that other arrivals that we might celebrate elsewhere. And how different His arrivals are! We heard about His arrival in Jerusalem just a few minutes ago, humble and mounted on a donkey’s colt, a beast of burden. He doesn’t arrive in a show of pomp or shock and awe. Rather, because our Lord is coming to save us, mortals that we are with our favorite sins and stream of idols, He cannot come to us in splendor or power. If He came to those who aren’t perfectly pure, to sinners like us, then His purity, His righteousness would burn us up. It happened in the Scriptures whenever those who hadn’t been purified by sacrifice were confronted with the holiness of His presence in places like the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle. They died. Nor can He come in majesty and glory to those who are broken and hurting. It would only scare us away. What could a God like that—so different from us in His glory—what could He want to do with us? It would cause us to hide, to turn away, to be afraid, like our ancestors Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden did. And if you don’t think so, if you think that you wouldn’t react to the Lord’s glory that way, I invite you to look at any passage of Scripture where the Lord shows Himself to someone in His glory. It doesn’t matter if they’re a priest, prophet, shepherd, farmer, or king. They’re all terrified. We would be too.
So God comes to us in another kind of arrival: in humility, in meekness, hidden under something else. We see it in His triumphal entry into Jerusalem in our Gospel reading today. Not only is He arriving through the city gates on one of the silliest looking animals in creation—a shaggy, long-eared, big-snouted donkey—it’s a borrowed donkey at that. His honor guard are a bunch of fishermen and peasants from the field. Later that week, we’ll see His humble arrival in His kingdom on the cross, where the very heart of the Triune God is made perfectly known. When the thief on the cross next to Him asks Jesus to remember him when He arrives in His kingdom, Jesus says that he’s going to with Him in His kingdom that very day. It’s arriving through the cross, hidden though it is in bloodstained rough wood. We see it in the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus comes to be present in this very sanctuary, where you come into real contact with Him, with His body and blood, touching the resurrected and ascended body of our Lord, but hidden under simple bread and wine. But He’s arriving, truly arriving, in this space in order to save you, to forgive you and strengthen you in the true faith to life everlasting. So we learn to see it this Advent and Christmas, when we celebrate and look forward to that humble arrival of God in swaddling cloths. He’s arriving in all these ways to save us, so we take the next few weeks to ponder that and rejoice.
Of course, the lowliness of these ways doesn’t lead everyone to rejoice. The world will despise these humble arrivals. So we hear the mockery of the God who dies, all the way to the beginnings of our Christian faith, in those days just after Jesus’ resurrection, echoing even now, from those who want a more impressive God. We hear the accusations of superstition and arrogance that the world will throw at our divine service, calling what we do at the Communion rail silly. The world will look at the way we describe God and try to find ways to disprove His existence, or His goodness, or His power, simply because He doesn’t arrive in the proud and glorious way the world says He should. These humble, meek arrivals of God will always end up with some who mock it, who doubt it, who try to poke holes in it, who misunderstand it—accidentally or intentionally.
But no matter. The world and its power-addicted slaves have always despised the simple and beautiful gifts of God. It will always want something bigger and better, more impressive, more instant gratification. We may fall prey to it to at times, falling for those same wrong expectations. We get frustrated when we think God isn’t answering prayers fast enough. We get down when we look around and don’t see our lives, or our status, or our community, or our church as shiny and impressive as others say it should be. There are times that we would rather God come to us in chariots of fire and thunder from the heavens. We’re prone to those same frustrations and disappointments that the world has when God doesn’t arrive the way we think He should, whether it’s in our personal lives or our world, showing up with power, glory, honor, numbers, wealth, health, ease, or comfort.
But that’s why we have these constant humble arrivals of Jesus coming to us under lowly means, because we’re sinners too, and He knows that He has to come to us in gentleness and lowliness. So He continues to come to us to save us in these simple ways—a donkey, a pastor’s voice, a friend’s encouragement, bread, wine, a baby born in a stable and laid in a manger. Jesus still comes to us to forgive us and cleanse us, to set us free from the world’s expectations. As St. Paul said this morning, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand.” And so we wake up, we open our eyes and our ears to see and hear how Jesus is coming to us in all these simple places. We open our eyes and our ears to the reasons He’s coming to us: healing, forgiveness, and life.
As you prepare for Jesus’ arrival at the end of this Advent season, I encourage and challenge you to really take time to think about how you’re getting ready for it. Are you burning yourself out for Christmas by taking on too much, doing too much? Are you stressing yourself out that it won’t be good enough for this Jesus who arrives in simple, humble ways to save you? It’s easy to do. It’s one of the world’s tricks to make us lose focus. Instead, I encourage you to slow down. Don’t pack your schedule. Don’t pack other people’s schedules. Say no to some things so that you can take time to pray, to talk with other people about this season and what it means. Take time to read Scripture. If you don’t do devotions, there’s no time like the present to begin. Consider it a New Church Year resolution. Learn a hymn. Come to our midweek meals and services. Call someone who needs to hear the joy of this season. Invite them to rest in the Lord’s service with you. Get ready and really give thought to the many humble ways that Jesus comes to you and then get yourself to those places—the Word, bread, wine, prayer, peace. Jesus is arriving, and it’s for your benefit. Receive Him now. In the name of Jesus, who comes to save us. Amen.