Advent 1 – St. Luke 19:28-40
A donkey bearing its load approaches the holy city. It has been a long journey for this simple beast of burden as it is not used to carrying such a cargo. It fondly remembers the grassy yard it once stood in, a far cry from the dusty roads that it now walks. This donkey has never traveled very far from home, so this journey is strange and unfamiliar. Others walk alongside this donkey; talking, laughing, shouting. No one seems to be concerned that only one gets to ride on his back.
There will be quite the commotion later on in the day; people running around, strangers going back and forth; but this donkey will only be an observer by that time. For now, the spotlight is on, and this donkey is doing its best to deliver its precious cargo to its desired destination.
Which Biblical donkey does this describe?
Based on the secular calendar, it is the donkey that we assume travels with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. And no doubt, that is the donkey we seek out today. After all, is that not where we are headed? Is the Bethlehem manger not what these next four weeks are all about?
What better image do we have than the one that is before us: 4 weeks to Christmas, and Mary and Joseph are just starting out on their journey, which will likely take them quite the span of time; as each Sunday, we gather together and chart their progress, knowing that on December 25, they will have arrived and are meeting their newborn son.
That is the story that we long to hear; for we are already in the spirit of the season, and what better than to have the Church in that same season; a season of growing anticipation for the great day of celebration.
For that is what you want these next four weeks to be all about: anticipation and celebration; culminated by buying, giving and getting.
These next four weeks are all about stores selling and selling so that they can make a nice year end profit. But of course this has begun quite some time ago; Christmas decorations and materials could be found as far back as July if you knew where to look; the rest of the stores hopped on board soon after Labor Day, and all of them went full blast the Monday after Halloween.
But not everyone is a store; and so these next four weeks are all about buying and buying; gifts for one and all. The illusive perfect gift is out there, whether it be in a store hours away, or whether it be hiding on the internet; these next four weeks are all about finding that one perfect gift for everyone on your list.
And why do you buy? So you can get. These next four weeks are all about the getting and getting. Slowly but surely, one by one, and pretty soon a full avalanche of presents and cards will be showered upon you climaxing on Christmas Eve and Day. Who knows if there was a perfect gift out there for you, but by golly everyone near and far has certainly tried to get it.
And what better way to do the giving and the getting then by eating and celebrating. The month of December is a wash of parties and celebrations in which to exchange those cards and gifts and other items with those around you.
That is what we have turned these four weeks into after all; a four week march to an ultimate celebration on December 25: the ultimate birthday party.
But is that really why Jesus came into the world? To allow for a giant four week long birthday celebration?
Or have we been following the wrong donkey?
One donkey leads to Bethlehem, this is a very familiar donkey, popularized in nativity scenes and on greeting cards and in Sunday school programs. This donkey does in fact carry the very precious cargo of Mary upon its back, while Joseph gently walks alongside.
This donkey is leading us to Bethlehem, and that is a great place to go, that is after all where we find the newborn baby Jesus. And the devil is just fine with you spending your Christmas in Bethlehem, as long as you stay in Bethlehem celebrating and partying all month long, and not asking yourself a much deeper question, like where is that other donkey going?
For this morning we see another donkey, this one going to Jerusalem, this one carrying the very precious cargo of an adult Jesus upon its back; and on each side there are disciples and great crowds following.
This other donkey leads us to Good Friday, where we see Jesus not lying in a wooden manger, but hanging on a wooden cross.
This other donkey reminds us that these four weeks in early winter are meaningless without another week in early spring. That week in early spring gives us the real reason why Jesus came into the world; not to usher in a massive celebration for His birth, but rather as Simeon says so that many might rise and fall, and so that the hearts of many might be revealed.
Satan knows that if you follow this donkey, you will discover that this one whose birth we prepare to celebrate is in fact the Lamb of God, who has come to take the sin of the world away; the Savior of the nations come in human flesh.
And Satan knows that if you follow this donkey to the cross, you will discover that Jesus has actually come to call you to repent of your sins; that He has come to call you to live as shining lights in the world; that He has called you to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
That is not the message Satan delivers as he tells you to spend and buy and party; that is not the message you are going to hear in many of the songs that are poised to flood the radio; nor is it the message that the stores or commercials or internet posts are going to tell you either.
But that is the message the one riding on the donkey delivers.
Actually both donkeys.
The one heading to Bethlehem will hear Mary and Joseph speak of how the angel Gabriel told them that this child they will soon meet will save His people from their sins.
The one heading to Jerusalem will here Peter and Andrew recall how John the Baptist told them that this was indeed the Lamb of God, who had come to take the sins of the world away.
The one heading to Bethlehem will hear shepherds speak of how the angels told them that lying in the manger is the Savior, who had come to bring peace between man and God.
The one heading to Jerusalem will hear the crowds shout out that this is the one who comes in the name of the Lord; that this one has come to bring peace in heaven.
These donkeys know something that so many around them do not; much like Balaam’s donkey who saw the Lord long before his master did.
These donkeys know that this Jesus has come to suffer and die; these donkeys know that this Jesus has come to take away the sin of the world; these donkeys know that Jesus is not just a babe lying in a manger; this is the very Son of God.
Which donkey should you follow?
Follow the one that goes to the cross; follow the one that leads you to Jesus; follow the one that knows that these four weeks in early winter are all about the one week in early spring.
Know that the one the donkey carries into Bethlehem is going to Jerusalem, where He will exchange His wooden manger for a wooden cross; so that you might exchange your sins for a crown of glory.
Know that upon the back of this donkey, is the greatest gift that you could ever receive: not the latest toy, or the newest gadget; but the gift of eternal life; a gift that is given to each of us in our baptism; a gift that today is given to you Joshua; a gift that is won on Calvary’s cross just for you.