Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Today we begin the new year of the church with the first Sunday of Advent. This word means "the coming" and refers to the first coming of our Lord as a child in Bethlehem. Advent should be a season of preparation to celebrate the Incarnation, just as Lent is a season of preparing for the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is why, in many churches, the liturgical color of Advent is purple, just liek Lent, because our Lord was dressed in purple on the way to the cross. However, now we do not anticipate the death of the Lord, but his birth. So the alternate color is dark blue, also a royal color and the color of the sky before sunrise, to symbolize the hope of the Old Testament messianic prophecies.
Well, in its annual cycle, the church remembers all the life and all the works of Jesus Christ. But, the world outside the church only recognizes two events, Christmas and Easter. First, for the holidays. Second, for the merchandise of gifts, food and drink and everything else. In fact, the world does not want to wait until December 25. For those outside the church it is now Christmas season.
In view of this reality that is not new, it is appropriate to begin Advent reflections with the account of Saint Matthew of Palm Sunday. On that day, the crowds acknowledged the coming of the Lord without understanding as it does today.
ďAnd the crowds that went before and those that followed shouted, saying: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
This is a burst of acclamation, prayer and praise to Jesus. "Hosanna" is a Hebrew word that is a request for help and a cry for joy as well. "Son of David" is a messianic title. "In the name of the Lord" can be translated as: "According to the revelation of the Lord"; "in obedience to the order of the Lord"; or "under the authority of the Lord."
Matthew, Mark and John distinguish two groups. John is clearer: a group had gathered in Bethany and went with Jesus to Jerusalem; the other crowd left Jerusalem to meet him. Jesus had visited Bethany a few weeks earlier when he had resurrected his friend Lazarus. Both groups had heard the story of Lazarus and wanted to see another miracle.
Bethany can still be seen on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives. There is no trace of Bethphage now, but it was located between Bethany, which is still east of the Mount of Olives, and Jerusalem. From Bethphage, the coming of Jesus could be observed from Jerusalem. At the entrance to Bethphage Jesus stopped for a time to send two of his disciples as a delegation, and gave them explicit instructions.
"Go to the village that is before you, and then you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie her, and bring them to me. And if anyone says anything to you, say: The Lord needs them; and then he will send them. All this It was done so that what was said by the prophet would be fulfilled, who said: Say to the daughter of Zion: Behold, your King comes to you, meek, and seated on a donkey, and a colt, the offspring of a beast of burden. "
Notice that the fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy from Zechariah 9: 9 is mentioned before the event itself. Mark and Luke do not mention the prophecy, nor the two animals. John quotes the prophecy in abbreviated form, mentioning only one animal. Matthew quotes almost the entire prophecy, involving both animals. The Messiah would not come in the manner of a conquering hero, but as a king who wants to make a pact of peace.
At the top of the Mount of Olives, the ranks of the early singers swelled with great crowds of newcomers, and as the latter turned and marched forward, the others followed the Lord. And in antiphonal shouts, they openly proclaim him as the Son of David, as the true Messiah, wishing him blessing and salvation from on high. Everywhere, people joined this demonstration in honor of the humble Nazarene. They happily sacrificed his festive garments and brought the palm branches and waved the green leaves of early spring to give full expression to his joy, to his confession of the Messiah.
The demonstration before Jesus continued all the way up the western slope of the Mount of Olives, through the Kidron Valley and into the city of Jerusalem itself. As is customary under the circumstances, the excitement quickly spread and took with it many who knew nothing of the real motive. Even the city of Jerusalem, with its multitude of festive pilgrams, was shaken in the most violent way, as by an earthquake. Popular enthusiasm spread to all kinds of people. Everyone began to question the identity of the man who thus entered the city. The inhabitants of Jerusalem had had many opportunities to meet him, but many had forgotten the great miracles performed among them, others had come from afar and had never had contact with his glorious work and message. Everywhere it was openly announced to him that he was Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth in Galilee.
Was this all mere talk or was it genuinely intended? We must say that there were some genuine believers in the crowd. Everyone knew the meaning of Zechariah's prophecy. To proclaim Jesus as the Messiah was a dangerous undertaking in Jerusalem because of Jesus' enemies among powerful men. At the same time, to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is easier between a large demonstration in the streets.
However, on Good Friday, the same streets were filled with people who shouted, Crucify him, crucify him! Saint Peter denied the Lord three times and only Saint John and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and some other women were left before the cross. Because even the disciples at that time understood that Jesus' victory was on the cross. Many of those who shouted "Hosanna to the Son of David" understood the Messiah as earthly king even though he was not seated on a white horse.
It is the same today. Many people sing Christmas songs thinking of peace, not between God and those who believe in Jesus Christ, but as the end of wars between nations. For them, Christmas means a brief season of goodwill and attempts at reconciliation. But the Christmas season does not last all year and afterwards the world will return to its conflicts and instability.
As Christians we sing many of the same songs, but with a different understanding. We know Christ crucified and risen. So his coming as the Child of Bethlehem is just the beginning of Jesus' mission and the celebration of Christmas is an anticipation of his death, resurrection, and his second coming in glory. In this anticipation, we have true joy, hope, and peace that passes all understanding. Amen.
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