Sunday, November 28, 2004

Sermon: Advent 1 (Ad Te Levavi)

28 November 2004 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 21:1-9

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today we join Christians around the world in beginning a new year. This Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent, the time of anticipation of our Lord’s coming. Of course, in many ways the world has already gotten a jump on us. Before Halloween (or should I say Reformation Day?), WalMart had already placed toys, trees, and treats for Christmas on its shelves. And certainly, by the time of the commercial world’s Solemn High Mass of the Day After Thanksgiving, all eyes look forward to Christmas. It is now officially okay in the eyes of the secular culture to dust off the Bing Crosby and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and to begin praying to St. Nicholas for a plasma TV.

Don’t worry, I’m really not Pastor Scrooge looking to tear down our Christmas traditions. But I do want to point out the Church’s being out of step with the world. While our culture is rapidly heading toward Christmas, we in the Christian Church are going another direction. While the secular part of us rushes, the churchly part of us lingers. While the world will soon be kicking off the season of office parties, the Church begins a time of penitence and expectation. While the secular world begins to decorate in red and green, the Church starts with royal purple [blue].

Furthermore, here at Salem, we join centuries of Christians today in reading these specific passages of Scripture to commence the new ecclesiastical year. Instead of a Gospel text that calls to mind the anticipation of the birth of Christ, we begin with Palm Sunday. Today’s Gospel is a familiar and beloved account of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey amid palm branches and shouts of “hosanna!” Instead of being on our way to our Lord’s birth at Bethlehem, we find ourselves approaching our Lord’s death in Jerusalem.

There is a reason for the Church, in her centuries of collective wisdom, presenting us this text for this day. For to really appreciate and anticipate the glorious and mysterious birth of our Lord, we must come to grips with who he is.

So, who is this Jesus? This, dear friends, is the most important question in the history of the universe.

People all around us are eager to tell us just who Jesus is. Every year at Christmas and Easter it becomes critical for Time and Newsweek to tell us what they think about Jesus. It’s a priority for our non-believing friends to “debunk” the “myth” of Jesus. It’s also important for many people to use the name of Jesus as a curse word. Political groups are eager to enlist Jesus in their causes, whether it be animal rights or influencing what kind of car to drive. And I defy anyone to listen to a rock music station for a half hour without the name “Jesus” coming up in one context or the other.

So, what does today’s Gospel confess about Jesus that led the fathers of the church centuries ago to make this the very first Holy Gospel reading of the new Church year?

In short, it is that Jesus is the King of the Jews. Not that he is only the king over Israel, but rather he is the king of the universe who emerged from the Jewish royal line of David in fulfillment of the Old Testament. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah who is more than merely a prophet, teacher, friend, role model, faith-healer, or preacher. This Jesus is God in the flesh, the King of all creation. He governs all things. There is nothing out of his control – not even his own execution. This is the king before whom, on the great and terrible Day of Judgment, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess as Lord – even the tongue of Pontius Pilate, whose name has been uttered by our tongues every Sunday in the Creed for nearly 1700 years. For even as he was on trial before Pilate, our Lord reminded him where Pilate’s own power comes from – from God himself. The power to execute Jesus did not come from Caesar, but from a higher King, the King of the universe himself. It is the divine Jesus who is in control – even while he bled to death beneath a sign proclaiming the truth of his kingship. And it is King Jesus who would defeat sin and hell once and for all by crushing the serpent’s head and refusing to recognize the rule of the prince of darkness.

While Jesus was making his way to his execution in Jerusalem, he remains firmly in command of all creation – from the fate of the mightiest empire, down to the movements of electrons. He miraculously provides for his royal transportation into David’s Royal City, giving his disciples instructions as to where to find the donkey’s colt that would fulfill ancient Scripture. King Jesus gives his disciples the royal right of imminent domain by attaching his royal name – that is “the Lord” – to the disciples act of confiscation. For being the King, all things are his property. Just as God himself richly and daily provides us with house and home, wife and children, land and animals, our Lord and King may indeed recall any of these at his royal pleasure according to his royal will. On this day, the King, the Lord, had need of two animals.

And so Zechariah’s ancient prophecy is fulfilled: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a colt.”

And notice how unusual this King is! Lowly. Humble. Riding coach instead of first class! How many Hollywood celebrities could truly be described as lowly and humble? How many barons of industry? Senators? Football coaches? Shift supervisors? Pastors? What kind of a King is this who eats with tax collectors and sinners, and washes the feet of his subjects? What kind of a King allows himself to be nailed to a cross after being mocked with royal robes, beaten senseless with a scepter of wood, and a crowned with a wreath of thorns? What kind of a King gives his Body for food and his Blood for drink? This is indeed a king who rides a donkey as opposed to a fine stallion. This is a King like no other.

For this King had spent three years preaching what the Kingdom of Heaven is, and what it isn’t. And this King would stand bloody before Pilate and proclaim: “My Kingdom is not of this world!” And this King “will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”

The people of Jerusalem are, like Christians in Advent, waiting in anticipation for their long-promised king. They, like us, sing “Hosanna…. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And like the host in heaven arrayed in white, “they stand with palms and sing their psalms before the throne of light.” And many of these same people, no doubt witnessed this King’s gory coronation upon a throne of wood, hearing his first royal edict: “Father forgive them!”

For unlike all other kings in history, this King is also prophet, priest, and victim. This King is truly man and truly God. This King is the only king we may indeed worship. This King is he whom we should fear, love, and trust above all things. This King has become the most lowly subject so that we might become Kings. This Prophet came to fulfill all prophecies. This Priest became the sacrifice so that we might become priests. He is the one sacrifice for all, whose death frees us from death itself.

So, dear Christians friends, let us eagerly anticipate the coming of our King, our Priest, our God, our Redeemer, confessing our sins and receiving his royal pardon. For he is truly Israel’s promised King who was to come at Bethlehem in a manger, who made his royal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, who came into his kingdom on the cross, who comes to us today in Word and Sacrament. He will also come again at the end of all time as the triumphant ruler, rescuing his people so that they might “be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true!”

Even so, come Lord Jesus! Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments: