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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.
It is said that everyone loves a parade. And I’m no exception. When I was in high school, I was the drum major in our marching band. I led the way on the streets, blowing my whistle, signaling with my baton, and high stepping from the front to the rear, and the Music Man’s “76 Trombones Lead the Big Parade” was my favorite song.
Parades have a long and illustrious history. By most accounts, the very first parades were military processions that began in ancient Mesopotamia. Rulers designed their cities with sculpted depictions of their victories on buildings and gates. They then triumphantly marched their armies through the gates, under the arches and alongside those buildings for all to see and remember. In Babylon, when kings returned home from battle, they entered through the famous gate of Ishtar and then marched through the city and under the approving stares of 60 enormous statues of lions. The Romans took their military processions one step further.. The word “parade” did not sufficiently convey the importance of their conquests and return. Parades were to be called “triumphs” and in a display of their great victories, captives and plunder were paraded in front of roaring crowds.
New Testament theologians Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their collaborative work, “The Final Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem,” suggest that there may have been two parades on that first Palm Sunday, and the procession that heralded Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem may not have been the largest or most spectacular. Back then, Jerusalem was an important pilgrimage site. The city’s population swelled from 25,000 to over 250,000 during the Festival of Passover. So once a year, during Passover, the Roman governor moved his headquarters in Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea up to Jerusalem in order present a show of strength designed to prevent any outbreaks of insurgency or violent rebellion against Roman rule. Pontius Pilate, like the Roman governors of Judea before him, entered the city through the gate on the west. In a show of military force, “the cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.” Pilate’s procession was the visible manifestation of Imperial Roman power.
By contrast, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem from a gate to the south must have appeared as a political parody. An itinerant rabbi from Galilee riding a donkey through a gate on south, accompanied by his peasant followers shouting “hosanna” and casting garments and leafy branches onto the ground. Yes, Borg and Crossan suggested that there were two parades that day. Two parades, two entrances, two arrivals—and all too often, too many in the lost crowd cheering on the wrong parade.
But frankly it is no different today when it deals with matters of faith. The world is full of parades, or perhaps more accurately, the world is full of “bandwagons.” Sometimes it’s really difficult to know which parade to join, which bandwagon to hop on. It’s so easy and so tempting to join the wrong ones and so hard, sometimes, to get in the right procession. That’s how it may seem to you this Advent season. The parades are marching towards the mall, the internet, and the grand spectacles. Yes, it is easy to follow the crowds and to forget what king is truly coming.
The good news my friends, is that whether or not you are searching for him your king is coming to you. Regardless of whether you are standing and seeking or hiding and fearing, regardless of where you have discovered yourself this year at the peak of success or in the darkest valleys, Jesus is coming to you. As Martin Luther once wrote, “You do not seek him, but He seeks you. You do not find Him, He finds you.” That is the good news the prophet Zechariah announced generations earlier. “Tell the daughter of Zion, look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” That is why it is so important to remind ourselves of Christ’ coming this Advent. Not only does He come to you, but He also promised to dwell with you, and guide you and protect you.. He comes to you now through the humbleness of Word and Sacrament. In these humble means the same Lord Jesus that once rode into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday long ago, is the same Lord who rides into your heart, into your life, into your sins and into your troubles bring his gift of salvation and life. Behold, your King comes to you. That is the truly good news we share this day. Jesus is coming to you.
My friends, it is said that everybody loves a parade. So go out to meet him. Two parades entered Jerusalem that day. The Prince of Peace came from one direction and the pretender to the throne came from the other. Which procession might you have turned out to see? Amen.
May the peace of Christ which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.