We are not worried about the other end of the journey. We are sure a good meal and comfortable bed will await us there. The journey itself seems so long - especially to the children.
At last we see the beckoning lights. As the door opens, we hear the familiar voice, "Welcome! Come right in! We've been expecting you!"
Of course, there are TV dramas that paint a different scenario. An innocent victim is in the hands of the "baddies". Their aim is to lure the hero into a trap as he tries to rescue the victim. The hero is aware of the danger, and, at risk of his own life, walks into the trap. He knows he is surrounded as the door opens and an evil smirk confronts him - "Welcome! Come right in! We've been expecting you!"
The Jewish people were expecting someone. For centuries they had been expecting someone. God had promised someone special. Their Hebrew word was "Messiah", the anointed one - the Greek equivalent word is "Christ".
For centuries, anointing oil had been poured on the heads of priests and kings alike - a sign that they were set apart - by God as well as by the people - for their very special tasks among the people of God.
But, amid all their rising and falling fortunes as a nation, God was making it clear that someone was coming - not just any other priest or king, but the Messiah.
What would the Messiah be like? What would he do? There was a mixture of strands to this person they were expecting. He would be a prophet like Moses, a king like David The Essene community at the Dead Sea seem to have been waiting for two Messiahs - a priest and a king.
Probably the expectation became strongest during periods of exile or occupation. What a welcome awaited the coming of the Messiah! Yet for the Jewish leaders there was also apprehension. A Messianic movement might destabilise the land, upset their delicate relationship with the Roman authorities. And - who knows? - it might jeopardise their own position too. The kind of welcome they might have for a Messiah was uncertain.
For three years now Jesus had been moving throughout the land - preaching, teaching and healing. "The Kingdom of God is near!" he told the people. "Repent and believe the Good News!"
Already the disciples of Jesus had become convinced that he was the long-awaited Messiah. But the continued resistance and opposition of the Jewish leaders puzzled them. Then they were worried by the words of Jesus. They would go to Jerusalem all right, but the Jewish leaders would have him arrested, tried and executed. The disciples could understand the Roman threat, but not the danger from the Jews.
They went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication. People wanted to know, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly" (Jn 10. 22-24). But when Jesus said, "I and the Father are one" (v. 30), they picked up stones to throw at him. This was more than they had bargained for.
In private, Peter had declared Jesus to be "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt. 16.16). To have someone else say this about you in private was one thing. To claim it publicly for yourself was blasphemy - unless, of course, it is true.
Jesus withdrew from the angry crowds - went across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptising. The people here weren't antagonistic - "many people came to him. They said, 'Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.' And in that place many believed in Jesus" (Jn 10.41-42).
While they were there, word came that Lazarus was very ill (11.3). Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, were their close friends in the little town of Bethany on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Jesus didn't go to Bethany immediately. He knew the time wasn't right, that Lazarus would die and that the raising of Lazarus to life would be a trigger for his own final welcome and rejection in Jerusalem.
We are told that the raising of Lazarus led many to faith in Jesus. Yet others took a report to the authorities in Jerusalem. The members of Council said, "What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation" (vv. 47-48). From that day the plot to kill Jesus became more deliberate and urgent (v. 53). In fact, they made plans to kill Lazarus too "for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him" (12.11).
The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!" (vv. 12-13)
Those who had witnessed the raising of Lazarus had reported what had happened (vv. 17-18). People from across the Jordan joined the Bethany folk to form the welcoming crowd. As they waved the palm branches, they were certain that their long expectations were being fulfilled. Crowds of pilgrims already in Jerusalem for the Passover feast came out to swell the welcome.
Psalm 118 was set by their lectionary for that time and so aptly fitted the situation. The cry "Hosanna" comes from the Hebrew of that Psalm.
Welcome, Jesus! Come right in! We've been expecting you!
But the Jewish leadership was deeply concerned. "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!" (v. 19) Jesus, it seemed to them, was riding an unstoppable wave of popularity.
Jesus, however, had no illusions. At the end of John 2 we read, "Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man" (vv. 23-25).
Jesus knew that many people who just now join in the call of "Hosanna!" may just as well cry out, "Crucify!" Crowds are like that.
Politicians know this. There is always a proportion of voters who aren't really thinking the issues right through. They will be influenced by a perception of how the majority are voting. That is the key to those TV debates where members of the audience control the "worm". It becomes a matter of technique to use phrases, words, ideas to which the audience will respond - in the hope of influencing the wider audience. Both politicians and TV evangelists keep an eye on their ratings. But that isn't the way Jesus seeks followers.
It comes back to that simple call with which Jesus began his ministry - "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mk 1.15) This is still the beginning point for following Jesus.
People's interest in Jesus may be aroused by his teaching, his life, his miracles - as well as the words, attitudes and life of his people today. But the entry point is still repentance and faith - a conscious and deliberate two-fold turn from our self-centred sinful way to God's way, a turn that opens up the good news of God's love, forgiveness and welcome, that opens up a whole new life, a whole new dynamic for living.
"Hosanna" comes from two Hebrew words in Psalm 118.25 - "save now" or "save, we pray." Many Jews wanted a Messiah to rid them of the Roman occupation, to restore national pride and identity.
Jesus had indeed come to "save now." But his salvation wasn't in the area of political cosmetics, but a radical change of heart and life - and whole new relation with God himself.
Hosanna, Lord Jesus! Come on in! You're welcome! We turn to you in repentance and faith! We open our lives to you! You are our Saviour and Lord forever!