Blessed Is the One Who Comes!

“Blessed Is the One Who Comes!”

Luke 19:28-40 (19:38) – April 10, 2022

            The Palm Sunday procession is a much-loved tradition in many churches. Some churches get the whole congregation involved! Have you ever been in a Palm Sunday procession? I have, when my older children were small. Families were encouraged to march together that year. The whole congregation was invited to participate!

            Have you ever thought of what Jesus might do if He were making a Palm Sunday procession today? If Jesus were to ride into our town today, what would be His means of transportation? How would Jesus enter the city? Perhaps a big, shiny black SUV, surrounded by His security personnel? (I mean, His disciples?) I leave that to you to think about.

            From all the descriptions of the Palm Sunday Triumphant Entry in all four Gospels, this big procession is what we are looking at today in our scripture passage. Except, Jesus did not ride a big white horse when He rode into town. That is exactly what a powerful king would have done, in Jesus’s day! What, a donkey-riding king? How ridiculous!

Let’s take a closer look. Here’s the situation: It’s almost Passover, the most important religious observance of the year. A great number of faithful Jews from near and far come to Jerusalem, in pilgrimage, in commemoration of the exodus event.  

Jesus comes, too. He publicly, intentionally enters Jerusalem, even though the religious leaders are not very pleased with Him or what He has been doing for the past few years. Even though Luke does not mention the prophecy in the book of Zechariah (which the other Gospels do), Jesus’s disciples must have known about the prophecy of an entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. This was clearly a scene with “Messiah” written all over it.  

This Sunday is the last Sunday in Lent, and the last petition in the Lord’s Prayer we examine. This Sunday, we highlight “for Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever!” What more appropriate day to highlight this petition? Today is the day that many people in Jerusalem welcome their King, their Messiah. And Jesus does not sneak into the city, all hush-hush. No! He comes in with a procession. With crowds of people waving palms and shouting “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”

What is the meaning of those cries of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is the King?” If we look at Psalm 118, we’ll find these words written by the psalmist. This was the usual Passover greeting one person would give another, except with the addition of the word “King.” And just to let you all know, the majority of the crowd in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday morning understood what they were quoting—they were intentionally welcoming someone they hoped would be their Messiah, their King! Someone who would save them from the awful situation they were in.

            There was a disconnect between the people and their limited understanding, and what Jesus actually was going to do. But I’m getting ahead of myself by rushing on to later in Holy Week. We are still here on Palm Sunday. And many people are still excited to welcome the Rabbi Jesus—their hoped-for Messiah—into the city. They are hoping He will save them from the Romans and maybe, possibly, become their King. Except they had an earthly King in mind, an earthly, powerful Messiah!

Let’s read on in our scripture passage for today. Dr. Luke makes another striking statement. He starts to mention “peace.” “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest!” What on earth is Luke mentioning “peace” for?

This sentence is an echo of the Gloria in excelsis Deo that the angels—the heavenly host—sang at the birth of the baby Jesus, several decades before. I know the heavenly host gave the shepherds good news of great joy, but wouldn’t that be good news for anybody? I know that was good news at the time Jesus was born, but isn’t that good news for today, as well? Peace? Glory in the highest? The difference is that at Jesus’s birth, it was peace on earth. Now, the crowd is saying “Peace in heaven.”

            When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowd prays for peace in heaven. But, the coming of Jesus causes a division. It causes anything but peace on earth. The theologian Tom Mullen in his book Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences makes this statement about his denomination the Society of Friends: “They work for peace — and if you really want to cause conflict, you work for peace” So it was for the Rabbi Jesus—the Messiah Jesus riding into Jerusalem. For all that Jesus wanted to bring peace, His message created division, tension, and crisis—as seen by the violent reaction of the religious leaders.

            Thank God, Jesus is more powerful than any division, any tension, any crisis. He entered the city not as an earthly King, not as a conqueror, not to set up a nationalistic empire, but as the True Redeemer of Israel. And not of just Israel, but also of the whole world. This Holy Week is where all of the prophecies focus to a fine point, and reveal the Rabbi Jesus as not only the Messiah and King, but also as the Suffering Servant. The Lamb of God, sent to take away the sins of the world.

            As we remember this Passover time, this Holy Week, we can thank God that our Lord Jesus did enter Jerusalem. As a King, as a Messiah, yes! But, also as our Redeemer and Savior. Praise God, Jesus is our Redeemer and Savior, just as much as He was Redeemer and Savior for that crowd at the procession in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. In the first century, Jesus came to save His people from their sins. Even today, Jesus wants us to know He came to save people from their sins. Praise God, He came to save you and me, too! Amen! And amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

“Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”

Shepherds, Annunciation, Oxford Bodlean Library

Luke 2:8-20 (2:8) – December 23, 2018

Birth announcements are often greeted with great excitement and joy. In the United States, they can be detailed and specific, with details like the time of delivery, the sex and the weight of the baby, and of course, the name of the new child. The new parents are so proud of their new bundle of joy, and the new grandparents often show everyone the latest photos of their new grandchild, sometimes before the baby is one hour old.

Nothing is new about babies being born. As long as humans have been on earth, babies have been born. As the old saying goes, “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should continue.” One particular, super-special birth announcement happened one night, two thousand years ago. Not with fancy paper, balloons, or glitter, but with something a lot more special.

We need to back up a bit. We all are familiar with the basic details of the Christmas story. Since the Roman Empire wanted to discover exactly how many people they had living in all the provinces and regions of their vast empire, a law was passed that said every adult male needed to go to their ancestral town to register, or report. So, Joseph, descendent of King David, needed to go to David’s home town, Bethlehem, to report in.

Except, Joseph and Mary find themselves on the road at an awkward time. Not only were there lots of other people traveling to their ancestral towns, but added to that, Mary was greatly pregnant. So pregnant, in fact, that soon after she arrived in Bethlehem she went into labor. Mary delivered a newborn boy, as Dr. Luke tells us in the verses previous to our reading.

There was something quite different about this birth. Several somethings, in fact.

In most birth announcements, one of the main things people want to know is the baby’s name. This newborn baby had a great name: Jesus, Yeshua, or Joshua, meaning “he saves.” We know—because one of the prophecies from the book of Isaiah told us so—that this Baby, this Child is also known as the Prince of Peace. Plus, the newborn baby is also of the house and lineage of King David. Added to which, the birth of this particular Baby was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. Impressive bloodline and backstory, indeed.

After all this build-up, many people would expect a grand birth announcement, sent to the very best people. People like nobility, royalty, other V.I.P.s. But who is it who receives this birth announcement? Shepherds. Common, ordinary, lowly shepherds. As Dr. Luke records in his Gospel, “shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” For the shepherds, it was an ordinary night. Nothing special, they were just minding their own business. And, if you have worked on a farm or with farm animals, you might know what herding animals smells like. Not very appealing, to modern minds—or noses.

Shepherds were not considered well-to-do, upright citizens. Quite the opposite! Dr. David Lose tells us “And the shepherds? These were the undesirables of the first century, the folks on the lowest of the low rungs of the socio-economic ladder.” [1] Today, we might look on people like these shepherds as street sweepers, or rag-pickers, people who emptied latrines, menial workers of the lowest variety. One step above indigent, homeless people.

Yet, these demeaned shepherds were the super-special chosen ones, the ones God favored with a super-special, divine birth announcement. Complete with a light display that lit up the whole sky, an angelic spokesperson, and angel chorus, God wanted the shepherds to know first of all. Not the rich people in town, or the president of the synagogue, or the elders on the ruling board. Not the King of Judah in his palace in Jerusalem, or the nobility who lived in fine houses with fancy clothes, or the Pharisees or members of the Sanhedrin. No, God wanted the lowest of the low to find out, first.

Isn’t it strange—or odd—or funny that God wanted these shepherds to be the first to know? Actually, no. Since God could choose absolutely anyone on earth to hear about the divine birth first, God must have had a really good reason for choosing these despised shepherds. And, God wants all people to know of the birth of the newborn King, the Prince of Peace.

“In spite of their poor reputation as a class of people, these shepherds seem to have been godly men, men who were looking for the coming of Israel’s Messiah. All the others of those who were directly informed of the birth of Messiah in Matthew and Luke were described as godly people, and so it would seem to be true of the shepherds as well.” [2]

Believe it or not, these despised shepherds were sometimes compared to God, in the Bible. God being the shepherd, and the people of Israel the sheep. As uncomplimentary as it may be, people are often compared to sheep in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

As I have noticed before, the behavior of sheep and the behavior of human beings do have some similarities. Yet despite all of these negative attributes, the Jewish and Christian holy writings repeatedly talk about people being compared to sheep.

I found this lovely poem by William Blake (1757-1827). A poet and visionary, he was a committed Christian. He also was a creative writer and some called him even mystical.

As long as we are considering the shepherds coming to see the baby Jesus, I also wanted us to reflect upon the sheep—the flocks, shepherded by the workers on those cold, windswept hills around Bethlehem.

 

Meditation on the Lamb

 

Little Lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee,

gave thee life, and bid thee feed

by the stream and o’er the mead;

gave thee clothing of delight,

softest clothing, woolly, bright;

gave thee such a tender voice,

making all the vales rejoice?

 

Little Lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee:

He is called by thy name,

for he calls himself a Lamb.

He is meek, and he is mild;

He became a little child.

I a child, and thou a lamb,

we are called by his name.

Little Lamb, God bless thee!

Little Lamb, God bless thee!

 

Jesus is called a Lamb. We are called sheep. Not very flattering, is it?  The lowest of the low, the shepherds, heard of the birth of the Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God. However, it matters nothing to God about our position, or honor, or wealth, or influence.

God does care about our hearts, and how we receive God’s Son.

“In Christ we have the promise that God will not stop until each and all of us have been embraced and caught up in God’s tremendous love and have heard the good news [as proclaimed to the shepherds] that “unto you this day is born a savior, Christ the Lord.” [3]

Let us joyfully follow the shepherds’ example, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.” Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1612

“Something More,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/4-birth-messiah-luke-21-20

Robert L. (Bob)Deffinbaugh graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with his Th.M. in 1971. Bob is a pastor/teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, Texas.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1612

“Something More,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!