First Sunday in Advent

~ Ad Te Levavi ~

Readings: Jeremiah 23:5-8 | Romans 13:8-14 | Matthew 21:1-9

Text: Matthew 21:1-9

“Your King Comes to You”

This is the beginning of Advent, the season leading up to Christmas.  This word, Advent, is handed down to us from generations of Christians before us. It means, “to come to” (ad + venire), It’s about Christ’s coming—first to save His people from their sin, and again at the Last when He “will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him” (Heb. 9:28)

“Say to the daughter of Zion,

       ‘Behold, your king is coming to you,

humble, and mounted on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”

Behold says Zechariah. Wake up! Pay attention! Why? Because your King is coming. He alone shall reign among you. What does it mean to have a king when we live in a democratic republic? We did not choose Him, but He was given to us.

Christ alone is your king, not Moses with his law. Sin, death, and the devil are not your master. Let none but Christ your Master be. All these tyrants who have long plagued you are vanquished by your King, Jesus.

Jesus alone is chosen, promised, and sent by God to you. He has purchased and won you.

He came in this way because He is King—more than a personal King, but King of Creation.  Above His cross, He bore the inscription, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” but He is so much more.  It would simply be a tragedy if Jesus came as the rightful King of the Jews, they didn’t receive Him and rather crucified Him.  But in fact by their rejection, God established His reign, so that after He rose from breaking the power of His enemies, He proclaims, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” (Matt. 28:18)

What sort of King He is

            He is not an earthly ruler of an earthly kingdom.  He is a spiritual King whose Kingdom is one of faith (yet one day of sight).  The Jews had it wrong when they heard of God’s Messiah coming as King.  They heard terms like kingdom, land, and Zion, and they were confined to merely physical interpretations.  Right before His ascension, the disciples still asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)  By which they meant, are you going to set up a nation state, establish a worldly government, choose people to be your “right hand man” and so forth. Some false teachers even still say that Christ will come to establish an earthly kingdom in a “golden age” for a 1,000 years. But if we listen to all of Scripture, and to Christ Himself, it’s clear this is not how He reigns.

We are at a severe disadvantage to think of the Kingdom, of Zion, of Israel, and our King in merely earthly ways.  He is God, so His reign extends not borders found on a map but extends over the whole universe—“He upholds all things by the Word of His power.” (Heb. 1:3)  His Zion is not merely a special name for the earthly city Jerusalem, but for His dwelling in the midst of His holy people—“For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place: “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” (Ps. 132:13-14)  His Israel is not the blood descendants of the patriarch Jacob, for “All who receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

At Jesus’ entry into the city Jerusalem, it was expected that He was an earthly king, for He was riding in as Solomon, the natural son of David (1 Kings 1:44).  Yet, it was soon clear that His reign would not be a continuation of King Solomon.  God raised Him up, not to a dazzling throne with fanfare.  The shouts of Hosanna quickly came to a close.  Instead of a gold-clad throne, He was raised up to reign from the tree of the cross.  The justice He established was the “temporal death and eternal punishment” that we “justly deserve.”[1]  The righteousness He established was the sinless, obedient heart and life that no son of Adam could do.  He was indeed righteous and having salvation, as Zechariah foretold (Zech. 9:9).  But what earthly King could do this for His subjects?  As the King of the Jews breathed His last and was laid in the tomb, it became all too clear that His reign would not be limited to Jerusalem.

How He reigns

            Among earthly rulers, you find power, politics, sway, and even corruption.  Not so with King Jesus.  He comes “humble and mounted on a donkey.”  He comes not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28)  He comes not with threats of condemnation but with words of comfort for the broken, the sinful, those “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36)

That is how He still comes, in humble means, as a servant-King.  He brings people into His Kingdom, under His reign, not by coercion and threats, but by His humble, yet powerful Word.  He doesn’t display His power in mighty acts of destruction, but in the peaceful fruit of sins forgiven and the hope of eternal life.  He nourishes His people, not with glorious power to overcome every obstacle, but with His crucified and risen Body and Blood.  All this so that His power might be perfected in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

            Indeed, the Day is coming when He will come in power, but now is the day for His Kingdom to grow.  We often grow impatient with His ways, but He who knows the hearts of all also knows what truly “work” to extend His reign.  When we’re surrounded by businesses and churches-modeled-after-consumerism that seem to thrive we grow envious of their visible success.  But if we are to be faithful to our Lord, we too remain humble servants, waiting to be exalted by our God.

Why He Comes

Lastly, we consider why He comes.  It might occur to us that we get by just fine without a King.  But who is able to face the Judgment Day without fear?  King Jesus intercedes for you.  Who is able to face the spiritual warfare that would deceive us, make us complacent in our sins, and drag us ignorantly to hell?  King Jesus is able to loose our chains and fight for us.  Which one of us can do battle with death and overcome?  King Jesus comes to give you His victory over the grave!

The crowds who saw Jesus coming into Jerusalem cried, “Hosanna!” This wasn’t just praise for Him. It’s a cry that means, “Save us, we pray!” So that cry is still on our lips every week. Our King comes to us with His victory, His intercession, and the victorious host, and gives it all to us His Body and Blood. That continues to be our cry, “Hosanna!” and He answers us with His might!

He purchased and won you from sin, death, and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death.  He did all this so that you would belong to Him and live with Him and serve Him in His Kingdom.  In this life, that Kingdom may not look like much—it is sometimes hard and painful, take sacrifice, even cost you your life—but it is a Kingdom which endures beyond time, gives victory over death, and promises you eternal prosperity and blessing from God.

Behold, daughter of Zion, who are the faithful of God in this place, your King is coming to you, and God grant you to receive Him.  Amen!

[1] Lutheran Service Book, p 184

First Sunday in Advent (Ad te levavi)

Readings: Jeremiah 23:5–8 | Romans 13:11–14 | Matthew 21:1–9

Text: Jeremiah 23:5-8; Romans 13:11-14

The Lord promises three things through the Prophet here: Salvation, security, and righteousness. 

We know salvation most of the time from the lack of it.  Nobody asks to be saved from good days, joys, and pleasures.  Instead, people cry out to be saved from disaster, betrayal, and danger. 

Security is something we long for—the health and wellbeing of our loved ones, and protection of our property.  In our time and place, we’ve become accustomed to a certain level of security.  Police and military, safe food and water, courts, and technology all afford a feeling of security.

Righteousness is freighted with religious associations, but I would argue that every person knows righteousness.  Perhaps not by that name, but as “being in the right” or “being accepted.”  It is the quest for this that drives both the transgender to demand affirmation from society and that drives the excuses we make for our failures.  We long for righteousness, even though we often look for it in the wrong place.

Salvation, security, and righteousness are basic human needs.  And it was these which the Lord had once promised to Israel.  When they were under the cruel yoke of Pharaoh in Egypt, the Lord promised to save them from their taskmasters.  As they stood on the other side of the Red Sea, Moses led them in song, “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:2)  Repeatedly, as the records of Joshua and Judges and Samuel record, the Lord continued to save His people.

He promised them security, as they would dwell in their own land, safe from their enemies all around.  “And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field…the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground… Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you.” (Deuteronomy 28:2-7)  They came close to this under righteous kings, but it never remained long.

Righteousness was handed down to them by the just decrees the Lord gave.  As opposed to the ways of Abraham, the wandering Aramean [Deut. 26:5], before His call; against the practices of their Egyptian neighbors; abhorring the worship of the people of Canaan, the Lord revealed truth to correct man’s darkened imagination.  So, He said to Israel, “Righteousness, and only righteousness, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deut. 16:20) 

But all of these blessings seemed to pass away by the time of Jeremiah.  Their salvation dissolved into captivity by the Babylonians; their hedge of security was torn down because of mass apostasy; their righteousness was in tatters so that they became a byword among the nations [1 Kings 9:7; Jer. 24:9].

In their low position, their Lord sends Jeremiah with His Word:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

Salvation and security for Israel were promised in the land, a nation with rulers and borders.  But that was hardly realized before it crumbled away.  Even after the Exile, the return to Jerusalem was incomplete.  It missed the goal because they forgot the Lord who brought them out of Egypt [John 8:33]. Security was lost to a strained tension with their Persian, Greek, and Roman rulers.  Under the rabbis, righteousness had become a matter of obeying human precepts. 

Nevertheless, “the days are coming,” the Lord declares.  It will be sure, sure as the promise He made to Abraham: “‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” (Genesis 15:5)  Where Israel had failed because of sinful weakness and disobedience, the Lord would succeed in His purpose.

However, His manner of saving and bringing security, of becoming our righteousness is not what we expect.

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”

In our thinking, salvation means taking away the problem immediately and permanently.  Wars are won when the enemy is defeated and retreats.  The Red Sea deliverance was nice because it was visual, and the Israelites could see the dead Egyptian forces on the shore [Ex. 14:26-30].  But God’s salvation is immediate and permanent: “It is finished,” the Lord says from the cross (John 19:30).  And He declares that salvation to you surely: “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:3-5)  It’s a salvation that is received through faith in the Lord’s Word.

Security is a feeling most of the time.  We feel safe because of our confidence in created things—trustworthy authorities, locks on our doors, vaccines, a gun in the safe.  But creaturely security can quickly be shattered.  Even worse, a false security can tell us not to worry about how God will judge us.  But when God promises security, there is no higher authority and nothing can overturn it. When God gives security, it is sure: 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)

As I mentioned before, human righteousness is always seeking affirmation—whether it’s before the true God or before other people.  To be right is to be able to stand without shame and have some proof of being blameless.  This is what the society does by making protected classes. The Lord our righteousness works in another way.  He declares us righteous through His Son, who is without sin and who Himself took the blame and bore the shame as He hung naked upon the cross.  That righteousness, He reckons to you through faith.

It’s to us that St. Paul writes:

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

The days have come, which the Lord declared.  But our reason and experience still cry out that something’s missing.  His salvation, security, and righteousness are now.  And we also look forward to even more: we wait for our salvation to be manifest, our security to be tangible and permanent, our righteousness to be revealed and not obscured by ungodliness.

We despise the ongoing burden of sin, death, and the devil, but we are sure that our God will deliver us from every evil.  We long to live securely, yet we will not find it in this mortal life.  Yet we will rest secure eternally.  We hunger and thirst for righteousness, even while we see unrighteousness all around.  Nonetheless, the Lord will surely satisfy us. [Matt. 5:6]

Beloved in the Lord, your God is faithful.  He has done what He promised before and He will surely bring it to completion at the Day of Jesus Christ [Phil. 1:6]. Amen.