Summary: Advent 1 (B) Christ is more than a baby born in Bethlehem, He is King of all. We should not confine worship of Christ to the holiday only, nor failure to recognize Him as more than just a baby, but as God and Lord who will return as Judge.
“Don’t keep Christ in Christmas”
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight,
O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Thanksgiving is over, and Advent is here. But our Gospel reading today presents us with Mark’s account of the Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. That’s Palm Sunday. That belongs with Easter. This is Advent. It’s December. Ask any school kid, and although they may not know the word, “Advent,” they all know that December leads you to Christmas. Christmas is coming.
If fact, Christmas has in many ways already arrived. Holiday items were stocked on store shelves even before Halloween, and the red kettle ringers have appeared at the store entrances this weekend. Christmas is coming.
So why the Palm Sunday reading? It seems like a misfit, we are in Advent, you know. So what is Advent? Advent means to arrive. During the season of Advent we prepare for and look for the arrival of Christ at Christmas, at His birth in Bethlehem.
This remembrance of our Savior’s birth is good and right. Christmas is coming, but Christmas seems to be filled with everything but the story of Christ. “Happy Holidays,” “Season’s Greetings”, but you dare not say, “Merry Christmas.” Just as Happy Thanksgiving has been replaced by Happy Turkey Day (lest anyone actually be reminded to stop and give thanks to the Lord), Christmas has been reduced to a Happy Ho-ho-ho to you !! Sometimes it seems as if the Grinch has actually stolen Christmas.
So there is a campaign to “Keep Christ is Christmas.” The focus of the campaign is for Christians to consciously and purposefully act on the religious aspects of the occasion. Send Christmas Cards with a Christian picture and message, and use the religious postage stamp to do it. Sing Christmas carols, not the holiday songs. And whatever you do, always say, “Merry Christmas,” never “Happy Holidays.” And doing this, we are told, will help to “Keep Christ in Christmas.”
But “Keeping Christ in Christmas” is not the point of Mark’s Gospel, or of our reading today. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: “Don’t Keep Christ in Christmas.”
What do we see in the Gospel? We see Jesus coming to Jerusalem. He is arriving at Jerusalem for the Passover. So this is His Advent, His arrival, into the city. How does He arrive? He is riding on a young donkey colt. The robes of the disciples are on the donkey. People have lined up everywhere, all along the road. Some have put their coats on the road, and others have taken palm branches and are waving them, saying, ““Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (verses 9-10).
The people knew that conquering kings returning from a triumphant battle would ride proudly into the capital city. And the people knew that it was a promised sign that the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. The people are welcoming Jesus as King. The Pharisees and rulers knew the prophecy, too. They knew what the people were saying, but they did not believe.
What then, does this have to do with Advent and with Christmas? This text is an Advent text. We just mentioned how this parade was Jesus’ advent in Jerusalem. Jerusalem sits on the top of a mountain, Mt. Zion, which is why sometimes in the psalms Jerusalem is referred to as Mt. Zion. From this mountain top, we have the vantage point of looking back, and looking to the future.
From here we look back, and we see Christ coming in Bethlehem; His arrival, His Advent. It is this Advent, this First Advent, which we will remember again and celebrate at Christmas. It is the coming of a King, “Hark the Herald Angels sing, Glory to the newborn King.” The King, the baby Jesus, arrives with great glory as the angels fill the sky. In this Palm Sunday entry, Jesus arrives as King with great glory, as the crowds are cheering and shouting “Hosanna.”
No, We must not keep Christ in Christmas. For the birth of Christ is great news. Not because a baby was born, but that a Savior was born. But to be the Savior means leaving Christmas, it means moving from Bethlehem to Golgatha, from the cradle to the cross. As much as the world pushes against Christmas, it really has not objection to the babe in the manger, so long as He stays there, as long as we keep him in Christmas.
True, the “little baby Jesus” of Christmas, if He stays a little baby and stays in Christmas cannot save us. But we don’t want to be saved. To be saved means having to admit we have something to be saved from. That something is sin. But not just sin in the abstract, in the particular. Yes, we need to be rescued from the devil and the world, but were that all, we would be glad of it. The greatest enemy is us, our sinful, prideful, selves. We have seen the enemy, and it is us. So we want to “keep Christ in Christmas.” Where He’s safe. Where He can’t confront us. Where we need not confront ourselves.