On this first Sunday in Advent, Jesus speaks to you saying,
“If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord needs them,' and he will send them at once.”
Consider the donkeys. They are not parade horses or Rolls-Royces. They are not flashy or attractive, yet Jesus frees one and rides one in order that it be known that He is King of kings. Yes, we are to see that this humbles Jesus, but what does that mean?
The hymn of the day will give us our first clue. As printed on your bulletin, Jesus is on His way. He comes from the Father and returns to the Father. His road goes down to hell, but He returns to the right hand of God. Partly by using this donkey.
Consider this donkey who worked for a gardener. Because the gardener made the donkey work very hard but gave him very little food, the donkey prayed for another master, so the donkey was sold to a potter. The donkey also found this situation unbearable, since he was forced to carry even heavier loads than before. He prayed again, and this time the donkey was purchased by a tanner. When the donkey saw the kind of work the tanner did, he said, 'Oh, it would have been better for me to have kept on working for my previous masters in a state of starvation! Now I have ended up in a place where I won't even get a proper burial after I die.' (The donkey and his masters)
Repent! Even though the crosses you bear are from God Himself as good for you to have, you wish to be free of them. You turn to sin in order to blind your eyes from burdens you may carry saying, “Let someone else worry about it” or “I have to take care of myself”. In this sense you have much to be freed from.
In the second half of the Gospel reading, the donkey is freed only to be ridden. Now, that seems a might backwards. You’d think freedom would be getting to do whatever you want and not what someone else wants to do.
In fact, another parable comes to mind about a donkey that had turned aside from the main road and was heading for a cliff. The driver shouted at him, 'Where are you going, you wretched beast?' He grabbed hold of the donkey's tail and tried to drag him back from the cliff, but the donkey did not stop and instead kept going forward. So the man pushed the donkey even harder than he had pulled him back and said, 'Go ahead then! You can take the worthless victor's crown in this blasted contest.' (The driver and the donkey)
Repent! Had you been born a donkey, you would have been happier having at least the excuse for being stubborn and selfish. Yet, since you are human, you consider it your right to be such a person, diving head-first into sin, especially in front of those whom you despise.
With all this in mind, Dr. Luther compares humanity to donkeys. Really, the scripture does so, but in a nicer way. Isaiah says that we are all like sheep and have gone astray (53:6). That means: away from belief. Dr. Luther puts it in a harsher tone. So strong is the desire to sin in your bones that you need to be ridden in order to be free.
Thus you are either ridden by the devil or ridden by Christ.
Dear Christians, can you now see that having Christ as your master is true freedom? Satan does not even ride you, he simply binds you up and leaves you in your sin, watching as you destroy yourself in it. “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle…” (Ps.32:9)
However, it is not enough just to cut the rope, for a loose donkey is still a donkey. No, the donkey must be changed in order that he see clearly, think clearly, and act clearly.
Jesus becomes a man. He is born of a virgin into the bondage of sin and death; your sin and death. He takes on your chains of burden and torment that steer you towards a cliff and bathes you in His glory, allowing all those near to shout “Glory to God in the Highest!”
Christ baptizes you into His majesty. By becoming bound by our sin and dying, He opens the kingdom of heaven to you. Jesus leaves His pure and kingly hall to ride around on a donkey in order to take back His kingdom through the cross. God of God yet fully man, Jesus unties the sinner in His sacraments.
The sinner made saint is not ridden in slavery, but ridden in love. Such love our Lord has for us, that He gives us a right spirit and a clean heart in order that we hear only good news from His lips. This is neither slavery nor bondage, it is true freedom.
To hear the Word of God and believe is faith-giving. To hear the command of Jesus, to be baptized and believe, is salvific. To hear the invitation to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins is not oppressive, but liberating.
True life is found only in Christ and true freedom is only given out by the only Son of God. As slaves of Christ you have been untied from sin, death, and the devil. As bearers of Jesus’ Gospel, you have been made to see, talk, and think clearly. As recipients of all that Christ has won for you on the cross, you are free.
The truth is, we are not neutral. We either have one master or the other and Jesus makes it so that the choice is easy and that all the work associated with it is accomplished. For, as He comes to take on the flesh of man, He comes to set you free.
Jesus came in the flesh, as one of you, yet with out sin. He came humble and riding on a donkey, heading towards the cross. Through this, Jesus accomplishes the mighty task of salvation, which we prepare to see the beginning of at Christmass.
Thus, with the whole Church, and the donkeys, we wait to hear of this wondrous love that elevates a lowly donkey to a noble steed; that glorifies you as the object of Christ’s love so much, that He hands Himself over to death, in order that you see, smell, taste, touch, and hear the holy things of God.
G.K. Chesterton writes this poem from our friend the donkey’s point of view:
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
In Advent, we wait for our hour that Jesus gives to us. The hour when the Son of Man is glorified. The hour when God is reconciled to sinners. The hour when Christ takes on human flesh, dies upon the cross and frees us from our bondage of sin.