First Sunday in Advent: Luke 19:28-40
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. (Some of you know...) My birthday is on Christmas, so this is my time of year—usually. But this year is different. This year, this is not my time of year—because it belongs entirely to a little five-month-old who is already receiving gifts and guests. (They are coming for Christmas, but let’s be honest, not to see me.)
This year, I expect to find myself much more on the giving than the receiving side of things. And that’s because my role has changed. Now, my Christmas will revolve around a five-month-old, and how to make it a good Christmas for her. I have this responsibility, but it also comes with authority.
I have authority over Joanna; I make the decisions, not her. Of course we all know the jokes about how the baby is the one really in charge. But those are jokes. The truth is—even at Christmas time—I make the decisions; I have to make things work; I have the authority.
But lest you think this is some fatherly power trip, remember we are talking about Christmas. Christmas reveals something important about (God-given) authority; at Christmas time, authorities become the givers. They are the ones who plan everything, the parties and family gatherings, and call the shots—but it is those under their authority who receive the presents (or the Christmas bonuses), who are visited by Santa, who have whole meals prepared for them, who receive clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, home, and all of that for free! Especially at Christmas time, it is the authorities in our lives who are the givers.
Today in our gospel Jesus rides into the Holy City in royal fashion. And we must understand that Jesus knows exactly what he is doing. He knows what it looks like when he mounts an unridden donkey and parades into the capital city treading garments under foot, to shouts of “Blessed is the King.” He knows what he is doing, and so do the Scribes and Pharisees and Chief Priests—the authorities in Jerusalem.
They tell Jesus to rebuke his disciples because they are making him out to be King. And Jesus doesn’t rebuke them because that is exactly the point; that is why he has come. He has come to be King. And this royal procession does not lead to Herod’s Palace or to Caesar’s Praetorion. It leads directly to the Temple—to God’s Palace.
Jesus comes to Jerusalem in order to be crowned, and when we come through Holy Week to Good Friday, a crown is given. Of course the Roman and Jewish authorities give the crown in jest, they draw up the sign to put on the cross as mockery. But they do not realize their own actions. They crucify the Lord of Glory, and God the Father accepts their proclamation and bestows upon his beloved Son the very honor they feigned.
Jesus Christ is risen from the grave on Easter Sunday, and forty days later Ascends onto heaven’s throne, receiving all authority in heaven and on earth. He strips the Scribes and Chief Priests of their authority, and it is bestowed upon a King truly worthy: one who will keep God’s promises and execute righteousness and justice in the earth, and who is enthroned in a heavenly temple which enfolds all things.
Today is the First Sunday in Advent. Today you welcome a king, and just like the Chief Priests and Scribes discovered, that king is not you. This is the first realization of Advent: Behold, the King comes, and he is not you. In Advent we are reminded that we are not the king. We are not in charge; we are not the ones with the authority.
Advent is a penitential season in the Church, which means its goal is to cast us down from all our self-made thrones (the thrones of our intelligence, or our strength, or our wealth, or our reputation). It is a time to repent of all the ways in which we want to be our own authorities—to live by our own ideas and desires and not bend the knee to our true King.
This may well sound like bad news, like losing our independence, our self-reliance, or even our rights which we hold so dear. But remember, Christmas is coming—the season specially designed for those under authority, where they are served and surprised and planned for; where they receive.
It is only after Advent, only after coming down from all our self-made thrones, that Christmas becomes really something for us. We are not in charge, we are no the authorities. Which means that for us, on our knees, Christmas is a gift. It is our Christmas—which we did not purchase or plan. It wasn’t up to us. It was up to Jesus.
It was his plan to come to us, to meet us where we were, to become flesh and dwell among us—among his people. He has authority to bless and keep you, to suffer and die for you, to rise and to come to you even now in this liturgy. He has authority on earth to forgive sin, and authority in heaven to grant us peace with God. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest; blessed is the King who comes.