Certain yearly traditions beckon a transition to another season. One such tradition passed this week. You’ve probably heard of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. I remember as a child watching and waiting until the end to see Santa on his float waving to the crowds. In my young mind the transition had come. Thanksgiving was as good as over and we hadn’t even cut the turkey yet. “Bye bye pilgrims, Indians, and turkeys and hello presents.” Christmas is near.
Everyone loves a parade goes the saying and we often get excited about the transitions they communicate. That’s not really what the early church had in mind when they selected Jesus’ Palm Sunday processional in Matthew 21 to open Advent, but they did have transition into a new season in mind. We’re starting Advent again. It’s the New Year of the Church Year, so “Happy New Year.” And we greet the New Year with shouts of hosanna to our king Jesus. He parades into Jerusalem in our lesson this day as people wave palm branches and lay down their coats in his path.
“Hosanna” the people shouted. “Save us! Help us!” That’s what that word means. They hoped that this was the man the prophet Jeremiah had promised; the branch from Jesse, the Davidic King who would save God’s people. Knowing what they did of their God from the Scriptures they knew that when His promises appear they’re going to get help, they’re going to be saved. So they shout, they sing, “Hosanna!” to King Jesus.
“Behold, your king is coming to you…” This is the prophet Zecheriah’s gospel message to you this New Church Year. This is good news. He does not come armed for war. He does not give the battle cry. Instead he comes meekly on the back of a commoner’s beast surrounded not by an army, but by twelve disheveled and common disciples, some women, and soon children. This is good news. God has come to you and he does not come in judgment and wrath, but in peace and humility.
The king is so humble many can’t believe it. This is God’s powerful king? A Jewish rabbi on the back of an ass followed by a bunch of nobodies. Don’t let his meekness fool you though. Our English word meek does not do the Hebrew word justice. The Hebrews saw meekness as a virtue unlike we Americans who think of the meek as spineless pushovers. The Biblical view of the meek is more of our contemporary view of a brave stoicism in the face of evil. Not someone who is unmoved, but someone who is confident that despite all external appearances the forces and purposes of God’s goodness will prevail even when things look contrary. The meek trust not in assertiveness or power plays like the politicians and brokers of the day. The meek trust in the power of almighty God who has and will deliver all who trust in Him by His ways and might according to His good pleasure. The meek can be humble and even look unimposing because they are confident of God.
This is Jesus, meek and mild, confident of His Father’s will and plan for the Kingdom that He has prepared for His Son. He is certain of God’s promise to His forefather David, that He is the righteous Branch, and that through His sacrifice He will become the righteousness of God for all people who call upon His name. He is meek as He answers their prayers of “Hossana!” “Save now!” He answers that prayer just as strangely as he arrives lowly and riding on a donkey. He saves when He takes His jagged wooden throne and bloodied crown to Golgotha. He saves when the very nation that first sang his praises later calls for him to be crucified. He saves to attain a spiritual kingdom where His first kingly decree from his throne is not an order for taxation or a command for military conscription, but His decree is a costly and gracious one: “Father, forgive them…”
This is the king’s promise to you, forgiveness. This is the Church’s New Years day and this is the first thing your King wants you to know about him; that he’s come to answer your hosanna prayers. That’s God’s New Year promise to you: another year of His grace. You might be thinking that’s a big promise since so much can happen in the year ahead. Perhaps this year of God’s grace will go unfulfilled like any other New Year’s wish we’ll have at the end of the month. Nothing happens, but we become another year older and have another year to remember for good or for ill.
Yet, here is the difference about our King’s wish for you. His wishes are His promises and He sincerely means it. He has sealed His wish for you by His risen and living body and blood. The same body that was enthroned on a piece of wood for you now reigns for you and His entire church in heaven. He promises that no matter what this year holds He will sustain you. Therefore you can be meek like your King, trusting in God’s Word to prevail no matter what may come. You can do so confidently because you know He has sincerely meant all that He has promised.
Another year of God’s grace is in store for you. To tell you the truth every year changes us. When a year passes the things that happened in that year have changed us; sometimes in big ways sometimes in unrecognizable ways. Nonetheless we’re changed. We have either come closer or remained close in faith in our King Jesus or grown farther away. Perhaps you’re able to think of where you find yourself on that spectrum. Nearer, further, or unchanged really. No matter where we are we ought to listen closely to Paul’s Words for us this morning too, “For salvation is nearer to us now that when we first believed.”
The day is drawing nearer and nearer when your salvation will be fulfilled. The years are getting shorter, says Paul. Your King will return to you, this time not in lowliness, but by sound of trumpet causing all knees to bow. Until then we wait in the years in between trusting in faith that God will fulfill His wishes for us. A strange thing we remember in Advent is that our salvation is now, but not yet. We are waiting for Christ’s second Advent when our salvation will be complete. Yet, until then you receive His grace now and each year as God draws near to you in His Word, in His body and blood at Holy Communion, in His Holy Spirit which you received at Holy Baptism. That is how He delivers the grace and favor that the King has promised you.
Another year of God’s grace. This Advent as you begin another Church Year don’t just wish for it or go through the motions, but trust that another year of God’s undeserved mercy will come. Pray for it, that this year you will be drawn nearer in faith; that you will be open to what God has for you. Your King has never held back His blessings. He has answered our Hosanna prayer. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.