Upside Down Advents
Text: Luke 19:28-40
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There’s a tradition concerning the surrender of the British at Yorktown to General George Washington, the act that ended the Revolutionary War and won American independence. The tradition—based on some shaky accounts from long after the event—holds that when the British General Cornwallis yielded and surrendered, the British musicians played a song called, “The World Turned Upside Down.” This is a nod to the fact that a colonial militia, made up of men who were not professionally trained soldiers like the British military, had just defeated the world’s most powerful army at the time. Whether or not they did play that song, a song which no one seems to know precisely, by the way, is not the point. The point is that with this victory, a humble group of colonists overthrowing a major world power, the world had been turned upside down and nothing would be the same afterward.
We see this in our Gospel reading for today, the First Sunday in Advent. We begin this new Church year with this season that focuses on our Lord’s many advents, or arrivals—His arrival in Bethlehem with His birth, His arrival in Jerusalem in our reading today, His arrivals in our lives in this world, and His arrival at the end of time, when He comes to judge the living and the dead.
But take note of these arrivals. All but that last one, at the end of time when everyone will see Him and recognize Him as Lord and God, all but that final advent are lowly and humble. Luke records Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem today. He arrives on a borrowed colt of a donkey. He doesn’t even own the animal He rides into the grand capital city of Judah. He has to borrow it, without payment, simply on the goodwill of the donkey’s owner. He doesn’t ride a war steed. He doesn’t arrive in a decorated chariot. There’s no parade of vanquished foes or well-dressed court attendants. It’s Jesus, a young donkey, and twelve men who came not from noble families, but were fishermen, tax collectors, and other such occupations.
Of course this should be no surprise for those of us who have followed Jesus’ life. His first arrival was no gala event either. He first came into this world in a stable, born to a virgin mother that everyone eyed with suspicion. He was wrapped in spare scraps of linen cloth—no silks, no fine soft fabrics. His cradle was a manger. His mattress was straw. And even though He was born as the descendant of King David, He had no attendants except for shepherds, fresh out of the fields, still covered in wool and whatever else the sheep had left for them in the pasture.
And even today, Jesus’ arrivals are still quite lowly. He doesn’t come into our lives with trumpet blasts from heaven or beams of light breaking through the clouds. He enters our lives through a little water poured over our heads, a promise that through this gift, this Sacrament of Baptism, He will be with us to the end of the age. He comes to us through His Word, ink on a page read out loud, read in the quiet of devotions, prayed alone or together. He comes to this very sanctuary, not bursting through the doors with pomp and circumstance, but at the altar, in bread and wine, shared with you, His people, at the Communion rail.
Jesus arrives in lowly, simple, humble ways. It’s not the grand show that the world would expect of an heir to an ancient throne. And it certainly isn’t in the way that the world thinks God should behave. And yet, these gentle ways are how the Lord enters places and lives: a donkey, a manger, water, words, promises, bread, wine. It’s the way of His choosing, and He chooses to come to you in this way, lowly and having salvation.
Now that’s not to say that when Jesus arrives in these simple ways that there’s no effect. It’s quite the opposite. When Jesus arrives, even in these humble ways, especially in these humble ways, He always turns things upside down. Even though He arrived in Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, it still shook things up. The people who followed His simple parade called out and praised God with a loud voice, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” They saw the signs. They knew the last time an heir to the throne arrived on a little donkey’s colt like that was Solomon inheriting his father David’s throne, and that meant big changes for Jerusalem. Solomon, when he arrived, ushered in Israel’s golden age. So now too, the citizens of Jerusalem and Judea saw Jesus entering in a similar way and hoped for an overturning of the world—kicking out the Romans, restoring the kingdom of Israel to its former splendor, giving them their place in the world again. The Pharisees panicked over this shake-up. “Teacher, rebuke your disciples,” they told Him. “Tell them to be quiet and stop raising such a ruckus.” But things were already in motion. The cross was on the horizon. Jesus was entering Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world, changing everything in creation forever. “I tell you,” He answered, “if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” The world was changing with this humble entrance.
Jesus had shaken the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. He spent the last few years shaking them in their own status, challenging the righteousness they were building for themselves. And now, with this advent, with this arrival, that challenge was being ramped up. He would continue to turn things upside down, eating and drinking with sinners and forgiving them, showing those who were doing fine and felt no need for spiritual healing that they were the ones on the outside now. The world was being flipped upside down and with this arrival in Jerusalem, there would be no stopping it.
It still happens that way. When Jesus enters our lives, even through those simple ways—water, Word, bread, wine—He challenges us. He flips our world upside down. He shakes us in our own righteousness. We’re good at the Pharisee’s game too, thinking that we’re doing fine, that we’re not all that bad. Sure, we make mistakes, but everyone makes mistakes. But how many times would we publicly wear the label “sinner”? How many of us would say that we’re just as guilty as the tax collectors, or the prostitutes, or drug dealers or thieves or murderers? How many of us, when our sins are pointed out, don’t have some kind of excuse for them? “Teacher,” we say to Jesus, “tell your disciples to stop raising all this ruckus! Stop pointing out my sins. I’m not as bad as him. I’m basically a good person.”
But Jesus, when He arrives, even lowly and humble, He comes to shake things up. He comes to change things. And so we’re shaken in our own self-righteousness—and that’s a very good thing. We should be challenged. We should have our sins pointed out. The disease can’t be healed unless a diagnosis is first made. So we can’t begin to have those sins removed from us until we first know and recognize that they’re a problem, that they’re our problem, that we’re not keeping up with that perfect standard of God’s Law. Jesus comes this Advent, here in this space, in your homes, in your lives, to shake you up, to stir you up, to awaken you.
But He doesn’t do it just for the sake of shaking things up. He does it so that He can bring forgiveness, healing, and life to you. That’s why He entered Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt—to die for the sins of the world. That’s why He was born in His first advent—born in Bethlehem so that He could live a perfectly holy life in our place and do what we could not, for us. And that’s why He comes to you this Advent, in all those advents—water, word, bread, wine, body, blood. He comes to you to awaken you to forgiveness. He turns the world upside down, and in doing so He makes sinners holy. He makes the unrighteous righteous. He makes the sick well. He makes the dead alive.
When Jesus arrives, He changes everything. That’s what we recognize this Advent. So we are no longer seeking our own righteousness. We’re not racing the Pharisees to prove that we’re better than those hypocrites, nor are we trying to show that we’re better than the rabble we hear about on the news. Instead, we confess along with the prophet Jeremiah this morning that the Lord is our righteousness. Jesus is our only holiness; nothing that we do. So when Jesus comes to you, when He enters your life again and again, it changes you. It changes the way you see the world. It changes the world for you.
That’s my challenge to you this Advent. The next four weeks, focus on the simple, lowly ways that Jesus comes to you. It’ll be in reminders of your Baptism. It’ll be in His Word. So if you don’t do them regularly, take up devotions for the next four weeks in preparation for Christmas. Look for the small ways He comes to you through your brothers and sisters in Baptism, the actions that Jesus does through them to speak peace and forgiveness to you. Have Him enter your life in Holy Communion, through bread and wine and body and blood, His triumphal entry to bring you forgiveness, life, and salvation. Don’t simply rush to the splendor of Christmas, like the rest of the world. Don’t expect Jesus to do things according to the world’s ways or timing. Rather, look for how He has chosen to come to you. Live in Advent. Come to church in Advent. Read His Word in Advent. Receive the Lord’s Supper in Advent. Pray in Advent. And in all these ways, your Lord will make His advent in your life. You will see your King coming to you, righteous and having salvation, for you. In the name of Jesus, who comes to us. Amen.