Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sermon: Advent 1 (Ad Te Levavi)

29 November 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 21:1-9

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Once again, the Christian Church finds herself in Advent, a season of hopeful waiting for her Bridegroom to come.

For most people, their wedding is one of the rare times in which they participate in extraordinary pomp and formality. The wedding party might dress in tuxedoes and elaborate gowns. The bride and groom might be transported in almost royal fashion – in a prestigious foreign car, or a limousine, or maybe even in a horse-drawn carriage.

Not many modern brides would be too thrilled to see their beloved bridegroom showing up on a donkey, without even a saddle, but rather sitting on some spare clothing.

But love conquers all. For in this scene, the Bridegroom is not conveyed by a Rolls Royce or a Bently, but is rather “lowly, and sitting on a donkey.” And see how His bride greets Him! “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest!”

And this Bridegroom is not just anyone, for this is a royal visitation: “Behold, your King is coming to you.” This King is not a pretender like Herod, nor even a temporary Caesar waiting to be assassinated by his own family. This Bridegroom-King is Jesus, Christ the Lord, the King of the Universe, very God of very God! And yet here He is, entering the Royal City of His royal ancestor David, plodding along like David’s lesser son Solomon mounted on a donkey. This Jesus is David’s greater Son, who is also the Son of God.

He describes Himself as “the Lord” – not just a silly title of nobility or a clever nickname that entitles the bearer to wear baubles and elicit the bows and scrapes of those around him. No indeed! He is the very King of Kings and one and only Lord of Lords! And this is His royal triumphant entry into Zion. He is drawing near to His throne and crown. The name “Lord” is how the children of Israel, seeking not to take the Holy Name of their God in vain, addressed their God. When we confess “Jesus is Lord,” we are proclaiming “Jesus is God!”

The idea of God in human flesh is the literal beating heart of the Christian faith, the Incarnation of the Divine in the bodily form of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is why His bride again celebrates His Advent, His drawing near, His coming. For in coming into our flesh, He redeems our flesh. In dying, He dies as our Most Holy Sacrifice, the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.” His Advent leads to the cross, the tomb, the resurrection, and His eternal reign – all in human flesh.

And though our Lord’s royal entrance into Jerusalem would be followed in less than a week by His ignoble expiration on the cross – He is still God. And as God, He is still in His wise and perfect providence – calling the shots. As our Lord prepares to celebrate the Passover to end all Passovers with His disciples who are soon to be apostles – our Lord finds Himself in need.

What a bizarre turn of phrase from the mouth of our Blessed Lord Himself: “if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them.” When He says “the Lord has need,” He is not only identifying Himself as Almighty God, but declaring Himself to be “in need.” This Greek expression can be understood as “to be in want” or “to lack.” Obviously, Jesus needs his donkey and colt for His triumph. He “needs” them. But since when does God ever “need” anything? What kind of a Lord do we have who “lacks” and then sends people to run errands for Him to fill His needs?

We’ve often heard Dr. Luther’s famous quote from Freedom of a Christian, where he says: “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.” And while this is true for us today, at that point at which our Lord prepares for His triumph, we see the Lord “in need.”

Of course, His riding in on a donkey instead of a stallion is illustrative of both King and Kingdom. Our King is a humble King. To be in human form is a degradation for Him from His divine state. Even if Jesus were to be the Caesar, the conqueror of the world by might of arms – His Incarnation would be a humiliating demotion. And so here He is, God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, whose Kingdom will have no end, sitting on spare cloaks on a donkey. And His humiliation is nowhere near complete.

Our Kingdom is also not like the kingdoms of this world. It is not a state, not a bureaucracy, not a dominion by force of arms, not an empire of governors and satraps, of laws and armies – rather this Kingdom is rooted in love – divine love of a Creator who refuses to turn His back on His rebellious creation, His wayward children, His errant bride. He endures the ultimate humiliation for her sake, out of love, and in spite of all appearances, remains the Conqueror – even while being at the same time, the Victim.

For in having a King who “has need,” a King who knows what it is to be in a state of want, of hunger, of thirst, of grief, of anxiety, of temptation, of pain, and even of death – we also have a High Priest and Advocate who can sympathize with our want and need. We have a Good Shepherd, who, by virtue of His taking away our lack, we can proclaim: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

Dear brothers and sisters, our Bridegroom withholds nothing from us, His bride. Nothing is too good for us, no gracious gift is too costly. Just as every husband vows to do, our Bridegroom lays down His life for His beloved, to protect her from being ravaged by the devil, to cloak her nakedness and protect her modesty, to bring her joy, and to provide for her a beautiful home. There is nothing our Bridegroom will not do, no humiliation too great, no pain too severe, no amount of His body and blood to be given and shed is too voluminous for Him to share with His bride, His Church, His Zion, His sheep, His people.

And so, here we are, dear brothers and sisters, waiting and watching anew, like the virgins with their lamps trimmed in expectation, with the time drawing near, with excitement building, and with our joy hard to contain. And yet we continue to wait. We continue to be vigilant. This is a time of focus and devotion. For “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”

Our Lord is coming soon! He will come at the end of time to restore us to eternal newness. He will come at the end of our lives to take us home to live with him in His kingdom forever. He will come today, lowly, veiled in the forms of bread and wine, bearing gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Our King comes to recreate the world anew; to remake us whole, wholesome, and holy; to redeem His Church and bring them into eternal fellowship and communion with Him whose Name we praise with our shouts and chants of “Hosanna.” “Blessed is He who cometh in the Name of the Lord!” For His Name is above every Name. And it is a Name given to us even as a bride takes her bridegroom’s name as a gift and a pledge.

Our Bridegroom, our King, our Lord, our God, our Priest, our Savior is coming in the flesh “for us men and for our salvation.” And “this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Amen.

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

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