Advent 2 – Numbers 22:22-35
Look inside the stable. What do you see? A grey donkey stands close by to where the newborn Jesus now lies.
It is hard to imagine that a talking donkey would only be the third most popular donkey in the Bible, but he is. And perhaps that is best considering the circumstances, that this talking donkey sees the wonder that no one else does.
But then again, the donkey always seems to be the first to know in the Bible.
The donkey sees the angel of the Lord standing before the traveling party in Numbers 22, and knows that forward progress is impossible.
All Balaam sees is a clear path to King Balak and the people of Moab, and potentially a big pay day for casting a curse upon the people of Israel.
The donkey in St. Mark carries Jesus into Jerusalem to loud shouts of Hosanna! The donkey is quiet and obedient as he walks the streets now strewn with coats and palm branches.
But all the crowds see is the answer to their problems in that this Jesus will be king, and He will drive the Romans out and restore the kingdom to the power and glory Israel knew under David and Solomon.
No donkey is specifically mentioned in the Nativity accounts, and yet it is almost certain Joseph would have had one for the journey to Bethlehem, especially considering the pregnant state of Mary. No doubt that donkey was also gentle and docile as it made the journey, carrying the ever precious cargo of the Mother of our Lord.
However, all Herod sees is a threat to his earthly kingdom; as if he were somehow able to undo what the prophets of old had long foretold.
Yes, when there is a donkey around, you had better pay attention.
That would prove to be very helpful advice to Balaam. He rides atop his noble steed, making his way to King Balak and the untold riches that he might acquire. Perhaps one reason he does not see the Angel of the Lord is because he is already dreaming of how to spend that money, or how that new found power will come in handy when dealing with others.
Lest we be too hard on Balaam, he had originally called upon the Lord and asked him what to do in this situation; after all, it was the children of Israel that Balak was calling upon Balaam to curse as they approached Moab.
But when the Lord told him to decline the invitation to meet Balak, Balaam decided to go anyway.
Not at all an un-relatable situation in our modern day. The Word of the Lord is constantly before us, telling us how to live as the holy children of God. The sacraments are always before us, as constant reminders of God’s presence in our midst. We do not find ourselves in the dark when it comes to our actions toward others, the answers are pretty clear before us in the Ten Commandments.
Like Balaam, we have the answer.
Unfortunately like Balaam, we do not always want to see the answers that God gives to us.
You do not like it when God tells you how to live your life. You do not like it when God says that you must repent. You question whether God is truly present in the Word, or in the water and bread and wine.
Like Balaam, sin clouds your eyes, and you refuse to see the presence of God which is before you in every situation.
What you do not have, is a talking donkey to tell you that God is standing right in front of you.
What you do have, is a donkey in your Nativity set, who serves as a reminder of the constant presence of God in our daily lives, pointing to the infant Jesus in his manger box; and declaring to you that this is God in the flesh, present for you.
Look at the donkey’s manger box, what do you see? It is the newborn baby Jesus, the one promised from long ago; and He is here to make God known to you in the Word, in the water, and in the bread and wine.
No doubt the shepherds and magi, and maybe also Mary and Joseph, questioned how God was going to work through a child who was so small; or how this infant child would be the savior of the nations. After all, the Pharisees will ask the same question as Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey.
But when there is a donkey in the picture, you had better pay attention.
For at the center of those nativity scenes, lying in the donkey’s manger box, is the Lord of heaven and earth, who has come into the world to save people like you and me, whose eyes are so often clouded by sin and temptation.
For the Word makes known to Balaam, to the shepherds and magi, to the people of Jerusalem, and to you and to me that the Lord is always before us, always calling us to His Word and to His ways.
That is not a threat, rather it is a promise. You do not face temptations alone; you do not stand against the full onslaught of the devil’s might by yourself. For standing by your side, is Jesus, not the infant Jesus who lies in the manger, but the Jesus who is the Lord of heaven and earth, who conquered sin, death and the devil on the cross.
The Lord is with you: today, tomorrow, and every day. You do not need a talking donkey to tell you that: you have God’s Word, you have His sacraments, and you have His promise, all before you.