The king is coming. Mark has no birth narrative. His jumps right into the ministry of Jesus and move rapidly from event to event until he reaches the cross. Yet the anticipation is that the kingdom of God has come among us. As Mark unfolds his gospel story what is clear is that the kingdom had come when Jesus arrived on the scene, but what is also clear in Mark’s gospel is no one really gets it. The crowd knows Jesus is special, he is the healer, the disciples don’t seem to get it at all, always misinterpreting what was taking place, in fact the only one’s who seem to know who Jesus is are the demons who always react to his presence.
Today’s reading is from Palm Sunday. Jesus is entering the city on the back of a donkey. Not what was expected or anticipated. The people wanted a warrior king, someone to deliver them from the Roman oppressors. They get Jesus on a donkey. They wanted a triumphal entry and they get the scene before us.
The crowd is quite animated, shouting hosannas and throwing their cloaks in front of Jesus and he moves toward the city. The leaders of the Jews are quite angry and tell Jesus to have the people stop. Jesus informs them that if the people stop praising him the very rocks would cry out his praise.
Mark lays out the scene before us and as is always the case in Mark no one gets it. Jesus enters the city and by the end of the week this same crowd is calling for his execution and he is nailed to the cross and dies only to raise again on the third day. God announces his plan and raises expectations. He executes his plan and no one understands. Mission accomplished and the sinner is drawn to salvation.
Here we are at Advent. The calendar of the church is back to the beginning. We start to tell the old, old story one more time. We decorate our homes and our churches. The communities where we live hang lights and the city takes on the air of a festival. Everyone seems a little happier and there are parties galore. Churches and families set up manger scenes to remind those who enter the reason for the season. For the next four weeks everyone is waiting for the glorious celebration and each year the expectations are high. We shop, we cook and we plan for the day. A day to gather with family, return to church in some cases for the yearly visit, all with the hope that things this year will be different.
The story of Jesus is read. The stores play carols that tell the story of the manger. The king is coming just as was promised. The plan has been announced. The king is coming let us rejoice.
The plan is executed; well in fact it was executed over two thousand years ago but we live out the story once again. Yet even though it is known, so very familiar to many, it is misunderstood. The day arrives and we all hope that everything will be different. The children rise early and open their presents, the guests arrive and the party begins. Everything is just as planed and somewhere the story of the baby born in a manger is retold.
The hope is that some how all of our problems will dissolve and the world will finally be at peace. The myth is told and believed. It is somehow wrapped around the real story, but it has no substance. We wake up on the 25th and nothing seems to have changed. Or has it?
You see, “unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulders and his name shall be called, wonderful councilor, the might God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Everything has changed because Jesus has come.
Advent is a time of remembrance, of preparation, a time to relive the story of the incarnation, when God took on flesh. We forget. The purpose of the church calendar is to call us to remember. The pressure is to conform to this world.
The story is the start of the battle that will bring sin to its knees. The baby is born to a virgin and all the misunderstanding that that would entail. The pregnant mother has to travel a long way to comply too the Roman census. When she arrives at Bethlehem there is no rooms left to rent so she is forced to give birth in a barn. King Herod wants the baby killed so he ends up ordering the murder of every male child under the age of two forcing the Holy Family to flee to Egypt for safety. The struggles would continue until the crucifixion of Jesus. This is war, tat will only end when Jesus conquers death and rises from the grave.
This is the most glorious story, but it gets co-opted and it happens every year. It is replaced by the idea of joy and happiness that is not founded on the defeat of sin, but on the hope that the joy of the holiday will somehow make everything right. Santa Claus becomes the focus not Jesus. The presents take center stage not the incarnation. The holiday festivities replace the somberness of the incarnation.
It’s easy to get side tracked during this time. The fun and excitement of the season can easily take over. I love this time of year and I will enjoy its every moment. But come away with me from time to time and remember what we celebrate. It is not the goodness of man, quite the opposite. This holiday is a reminder of the sinfulness of man, but it also points to the goodness of God.
This Advent season we are reminded that, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” This season we stop to remember his first coming as we prepare for his soon return.