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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Throughout history, conquering kings and warriors have entered great cities with processions and fanfare, and curious, if not adoring crowds have watched and cheered them on. The ancient city of Jerusalem was no different. 350 years before the birth of Christ, Alexander the Great entered Jerusalem. The young 30 year-old ruler was welcomed with awe and excitement. According to Flavius Josephus, an ancient historian, Alexander appeared on an impressive steed, the powerful war horse that had served him so well in battle. The high priest at the time led Alexander to the temple, where the book of Daniel was opened to the prediction that a Greek ruler would come to destroy the Persian Empire. All agreed that Alexander the Great was this conquering hero.
Three hundred years later, the popular Roman soldier, General Pompey, who had crushed the revolt of the slave Spartacus, entered the city of Jerusalem. It was, however, less of a triumphal entry and more of a triumphal invasion which resulted in the death of over 12,000 people. Having sieged the city walls, Pompey marched into the temple, and moved directly into the Holy of Holies, the sacred place reserved for the High Priest. That day the city became a part of the Roman Empire.
Nearly 2000 years later, in 1898, Kaiser Wilhelm, the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, and his wife, Augusta Victoria, visited Jerusalem. Their tour of Palestine was an extravagant affair, and in honor of their visit the city undertook many improvements. Keiser Wilhelm’s entourage consisted of over two hundred people, and when they entered the Holy City the king rode in on a white horse, accompanied by the empress in a carriage. The Jaffe Gate, the main entrance to Jerusalem, was widened so that Her Majesty’s over-sized carriage could pass through, and so that His Majesty didn’t have to dismount his horse. Yes, the city of Jerusalem had witnessed many visits of conquering kings and warriors who changed the character the city for their generation. But Jesus’ triumphal entrance into the city prophesied generations earlier changed the city and the world forever.
For 70 years the Jewish people had lived in exile in Babylon. During their exile the younger generation had fallen away from the faith of their forefathers. Children had intermarried and no longer spoke the language of their parents. But then, almost overnight with the defeat of the Babylonians by the new king of Persia, the Jewish people were free to return to their homeland and to rebuild their lives. Of course, they knew the physical challenges of returning would be great. After all, they would still be subject to the rule of a foreign power in a remote province, and they would be living in a precarious military zone with Egypt to the south. Many of their own countrymen believed that the cost of following God was too high, too iffy, and so they decided to stay in Babylon.
The returning Jewish people thought the work of rebuilding the nation would be easy, but they were quickly reminded that the world is dangerous and unpredictable, and that life, even with God beside them, can be chaotic and precarious. Conquering kings and warring generals, you see, enter the world all the time and they demand respect and allegiance. The people of Israel expected a glorious age to dawn before them, like the reign of King David, with their own king once again ruling over them. Painfully, the people grew frustrated and were losing hope.
It was to such a weary, longing people, that the prophet Zechariah, first wrote his prophetic word of hope. It was the promise delivered to the people of old and the word that God gives to his people today. It was the promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ 500 years after it was first spoken. “Rejoice, O Daughter of Zion, Behold your King comes to you. Look he comes to you riding on the foal of a donkey, humbly.” It is the good news that echoes through the season of Advent. It is the good news of Christmas. “Rejoice, your King has come to you.”
Like God’s struggling people of old, you and I, might be tempted to doubt our own faith. We do the things that we know and believe are right, but it seems that our neighbors are apt to abandon once cherished common beliefs and practices. Evil seems to be gaining an upper hand, and the wicked one appears to be running loose in the world. We might say openly, that faith is nice and worthy, but deep inside we wonder whether our lives would be better off on the side of the mighty conquering powers, rather than on the side of God. The good news, my friends, is that you need not anxious or afraid. Instead, Rejoice, for your King has come to you as well.
Legend has it that after Keiser Wilhelm’s parade had ended in Jerusalem, someone attached a large sign to the Jaffa Gate through which the Keiser had entered without so much as dismounting from his horse or removing his plumed helmet from his head. The sign read, “A better man than Wilhelm came through this city’s gates. He rode on a donkey.” What a contrast between a proud monarch and the gentle humility of the Prince of Peace.
My friends, Jesus does not come as the conquering kings and warriors of the world, but rather he comes humbly to win your heart and your affection, so that all the power of his kingdom may be yours. He comes humbly. And there is no one, so lowly or so needy, that he is not willing to meet, to bend down and over, and to lift up. No, not even death can separate you from his love and wonder of his eternal kingdom. For his is an unshakeable kingdom that begins now and finds its fulfillment in the life to come. That is his promise to all who open their hearts and lives to him.
It is a lovely and playful thought, but so gentle and caring was Jesus’ nature that he could not separate the donkey from her colt, so together, they entered the city with Jesus. And so lovingly, my friends, he comes again this Advent to win your heart and your affection- if you will receive him. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.