Saturday, November 30, 2013

Your King Comes to You

Sermon on Mathhew 21:1-11
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
December 1, 2013 (First Sunday in Advent)

“Your King is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey.”  A king, humble?  The Ruler of heaven and earth, relying upon a donkey, of all animals, to get Him to where He is going?  For that matter, during His whole three-year ministry, the Creator of the world walking around as a pedestrian when He could simply “be” where He wished?  What is going on here?  Why would our Lord stoop to this?  The adoration and praise He receives from this crowd is nothing compared to the triumphant symphony of angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven which cry, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth!” eternally.  The carpet of cloaks and palm branches is nothing compared to the adoration of the six-winged seraphim which bow humbly and modestly in His presence and praise Him, His Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Well, His kingship is different than that of any other king in recorded history.  His own ancestor, David, tried to be a king in the model of his great Descendant, Jesus Christ, but being a mere man he never lived up to it.  Power corrupts, they say, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Ancient kings would have been called totalitarian dictators in today’s language.  Even though David and his son Solomon were believers in the true King who would eventually spring from their line, they seldom lived up to His example.  One need only look at that whole Bathsheba scandal, or the many foolish things that wise king Solomon did which he wrote about in Ecclesiastes, to see that even the best worldly kings are still motivated by the desire for wealth, power, and control that dominates all of fallen humanity.  Yes, Solomon concludes that all human, this-worldly striving is vanity and a chasing after the wind, but he admits that he used his power and wealth to engage in these vanities in order to come to that conclusion, when simply looking at the Ten Commandments really should have been sufficient for him to realize this.

Since all earthly kings, including our Lord’s own ancestors, rule the way human beings corrupted by sin will always rule, we tend to think that a king whose only desire really is to give himself for his people, to sacrifice himself so that his people can be free, is the exception rather than the rule.  And with good reason.  Someone once said that one of the most frightening things someone knocking on the door could ever say is, “We’re from the government; we’re here to help you.”  To be sure, as St. Paul points out in the passage that immediately precedes today’s epistle, God Himself rules even through bad governments, and it is out of respect for Him as well as the need to carry out our vocations without jail time getting in the way, that should motivate us to respect those who have a legal claim (whether just or unjust) on our time, talents, and treasure.  And make no mistake, none of us, whether liberal or conservative, whether libertarian or socialist, would ever do anything different under the circumstances, because we are the same as they are, curved in on ourselves and using whatever power we have to glorify ourselves and increase our own popularity and power, something that all politicians do no matter what side of the aisle they are on.

But the effect of all this is that when we look at the true King, the true Ruler of heaven and earth, we think that His method of ruling over His people is downright bizarre.  And yet, it is the Creator whose method of ruling is actually normative.  It is He who rides on a donkey and comes to His people to die, rather than expecting them to come to Him and pay tribute, who is the true picture of what it means to be the king.  It only looks bizarre to us because He’s the only human being who can truly rule the way God rules, because He is the only human being who is God.

And how does God rule?  God rules by serving.  He demands homage, but the homage He demands is to receive from Him His gifts.  He is God precisely because He gives.  He is God precisely because He is the one who made us.  And that means He is God, and He is acclaimed by his people as God, precisely in the things He does to provide for and sustain them, rather than in the things they do for Him.  He comes to us to serve us.  He comes to earth to die.  He comes humble and riding on a donkey.  His people’s praise is not given because He likes to hear people saying nice things about Himself.  What He did during Holy Week leading up to Good Friday seemed almost calculated to drive away those who followed Him and sang His praises on Palm Sunday.

And that’s what He does here, today.  He comes to serve.  Our homage to Him is to receive Him, not to do things for Him.  He serves us by giving Himself as the food of heaven.  He serves us by taking our disasters, sicknesses, sins, and vicious selfishness upon Himself and burying them in the ground with Himself.  And so His coming is something worth singing about.  It is precisely because He created, sustains, died for, rose again for, sanctifies, and glorifies us that moves us to sing with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven as well as with the crowd on Palm Sunday, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth!  Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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