Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sermon: Advent 1 (Ad Te Levavi)

2 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 21:1-9

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Behold, your King is coming to you.”

A royal visitation can only be one of two things: bad news or good news. If the king is angry, on the march with an army, ready to extract revenge, and bearing a sword – this is bad news. Likewise if the king is a madman on a rampage – like the Caesars the early Christians were familiar with – this is likewise not a happy occasion.

But listen carefully to the next word in the ancient text: “Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly…” The word translated “lowly” means gentle, humble, meek. It carries with it a kind of easygoingness. For your King is not on a mission of vengeance, and nor is He a power-starved lunatic. He is the Prince of Peace, the one who has come to sign, seal, and deliver the everlasting treaty to end all hostilities between God His Father and each one of us, His brothers and sisters.

This lowly King mounted on a donkey is not just one more false Messiah in a long train of deluded egomaniacs and religious charlatans. No, indeed, for what false Messiah would come in such humility, in a way that would make the unbeliever mock, if not laugh out loud?

Conquering kings ride stallions, chargers, steeds, war-horses that huff and puff, stamp their feet, rear, and let out proud snorts. They do not make triumphal entries on small, slow, lumbering, braying asses.

For this is a different kind of King – one who has no need to resort to marketing and salesmanship, shows of force and political muscle to establish His reign. This is a different kind of Kingdom – one that is rooted not in the lust for domination but rather in the love of service. For this King is not a Caesar, but the Christ. This emperor does not send innocent men to the cross for fear that some hated rival will take his throne, but rather this Potentate and Sovereign of all the universe endures the cross in His innocence to share His throne with the creatures He so dearly loves.

The fear this King desires is not that we be afraid of His wrath, but rather that we stand in awe of His mercy. For we not only fear, but also love and trust in this King through whom we can call His Father our Father.

The reign of King Jesus is a supernatural and eternal reign. His Kingdom is the everlasting Kingdom promised to the seed of Judah, the ancestor of both the mighty King David and the Mightiest King Jesus. A thousand years before our blessed Lord entered the city of His father David on a donkey, so too another son of David, King Solomon, likewise entered David’s Royal City on a donkey to make his claim upon the throne of Israel.

Jesus is the new and greater Solomon: wise, wealthy, and yet without the sins of ambition and idolatry. Jesus is the new and greater David: a Man after the heart of God Himself, courageous and compassionate, and yet without the sins of lust and abuse of power. Jesus is the new and greater Adam: the progenitor of the race of man, immaculate in flesh and in perfect communion with God, and yet without the sins of rebellion and deceit.

This King is God in the flesh. This King is the One all creation has been groaning for since the fall in Eden. This King is riding into Zion to take His throne.

The crowds sing his praise: “Hosanna to the Son of David.” They understand that He is the heir of David, the King who has come to save them. The cry “Hosanna” means “save us!” They spread their garments on the road, demonstrating that even the clothes on their backs are His. They cut tree branches to use to welcome Him, showing that all living things are likewise His property to be used for His glory. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” He is the Blessed One, the One who bears the holy Name, the unpronounceable divine name of the Lord. Their hosannas are not only hosannas, but hosannas “in the highest.”

Of course, those early followers of Jesus were in for a shock. For this was, is, and always will be a radically different kingdom than those of this world. For King Jesus did not take up residence in a marble palace. Rather it was in the marble palace that he was condemned. He was not set upon a golden throne to hold a scepter, but was rather nailed upon a rude wooden cross and beaten with a rod. He was not to be robed in purple and wearing a gleaming crown of gold, rather he was mocked with a purple robe, beaten black and blue, and crowned with painful thorns.

This is a different kind of Kingdom indeed.

If any triumphant king ever had reason to ride a mighty war-horse in majesty and might, seeking vengeance and annihilation of his enemies, showing a display of raw force and righteous wrath – it was this King. And yet He does none of these things. He accepts the hosannas that would become “crucify Him!”, remains seated on the donkey, makes no effort to free Himself from a false trial, endures the shame and spectacle of His passion and crucifixion, and humbly submits to a death He is not obliged to suffer. And instead of dying in defeat, he shouts a cry of victory: “It is finished!”, descends as a conqueror into hell, and then bursts triumphantly and gloriously from the tomb on the third day.

This is a different kind of victory. It is a victory of sacrifice. It is a victory in which not only is the enemy destroyed, but the Victor Himself is willing to die for that which He loves.

Citizenship in this Kingdom is a different kind of citizenship. It is not a spectacle of flag waving, of boasting, of conquering territory for the glory of the empire, of seeking to dominate those not of our Kingdom, but rather our citizenship is one of service, of humility, of glory only to our King, of the expansion not of an empire but of a Church, a gathering of people, a communion of saints who have been redeemed by their King.

We seek the growth of the Church not for the sake of the Church, but for the sake of those not in the Church!

For our different kind of citizenship in the different kind of kingdom ruled by our different kind of King only makes any kind of sense at all when it is understood what citizenship in this kingdom is all about.

When our King came among us, He had every right to come in wrath. Instead, He rides on a donkey and tells us He has not come to condemn but to save. He is not merely our sovereign, but also our Redeemer. He has not only come to rule us, but to free us. He has given us life through the forgiveness of sins. He has made us citizens through the washing of Holy Baptism. He continually brings us to the precincts of His palace to join in the banquet of Holy Communion. We, who deserve His wrath, receive His mercy.

And what’s more, we receive His favor. We are made His heirs. We are promised to be co-regents in this Kingdom. For as God became man, man became God. As the Divine took on flesh, our flesh took on divinity. Through Him who died and rose, we too rise and live forever.

This is the meaning of Advent – the “adventus”, the “coming near” of our King – which we today anticipate just as Israel kept watch for her Messiah and just as Mary awaited the birth of her Son. We wait in joyful hope for the final coming of our Redeemer King, even as we sing with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven, week after week, year after year, even unto eternity: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!”

“Behold, your King is coming to you.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

No comments: