The First Sunday in Advent
December 1, 2013
“Your King Comes to You”
St. Matthew 21:1-9
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, `The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them." All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: "Tell the daughter of Zion, `Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.'" So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their garments on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David! `Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!' Hosanna in the highest!" St. Matthew 21:1-9
The idea of having a king is rather quaint, if not absurd. We Americans have been free of any kind of royalty since our founding as an independent republic well over two hundred years ago. We don’t think much of kings here in America. Oh, some of us may follow the news concerning the royal family of Britain, but that’s on account of their status as celebrities, not because any of them wield actual power as in governing a kingdom.
We Americans dismissed the very idea of having kings when we drove King George’s soldiers off our land and sent them back to England. King George set himself up above the law. The American Revolution was grounded in the rule of law. What is the point in having a king if he is going to place himself above the law that he is obliged to enforce? Hypocrisy! We Americans prided ourselves in our respect for the law of nature and nature’s God. And pride goes before the fall. Today, the law is whatever the political clique in power says it is. The very idea that there are permanent standards of right and wrong that apply to all people everywhere is as old fashioned a notion as having kings and queens and the trappings of royalty. Today, everyone does what is right in his own eyes, and woe unto you if you stand in judgment of the sovereign conscience of another!
But there is the King, and he is coming. We celebrate his coming on Christmas. Christmas is celebrated all over the world, but most people who celebrate it don’t really celebrate it. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ the King. You need to know what kind of a king he is and what kind of a kingdom he rules over if you are to celebrate his birth rightly. Most of the paraphernalia of Christmas celebrations is so far removed from a true celebration of Christ’s birth as to be more of a distraction than a celebration. Christmas is cheapened and distorted, whether by the humanistic sentimentality of the popular culture or by the frenzy of buying and selling. Our need for this King is denied.
But we need him. Whereas other kings impose taxes on you, send your sons off to fight wars, impose arbitrary and burdensome laws, and generally push you around, this King relieves you of your burdens, taking them on himself. But only those who feel the burden will care to have their burden taken away. And this is why Advent is largely ignored by a people who are ignorant of their sin but nevertheless pretend to celebrate Christmas.
The daughter of Zion is Christ’s Church. The King comes to his Church. This we must understand. Christmas belongs to the Church. Consider the word, “Christmas.” What does it mean? It means literally “Christ-mass” – the mass, or Divine Service, at which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Christ came to the daughter of Zion. The events described by St Matthew in the Gospel Lesson for the First Sunday in Advent (which is also the Gospel Lesson for Palm Sunday) were foretold by God through his prophet, Zechariah in Zechariah 9:9 where we read:
The King who was born on Christmas came to his people just as he had promised. He came to his Church. The daughter of Zion is the Church. She is not the state, whether ancient Israel or present day America. He doesn’t come to the state. His kingdom is not of this world. His authority transcends the authority of any world power. He is almighty. No army can defeat him. No nation can destroy his kingdom, though many have tried. The Psalmist records for us the conversation between God the Father and his only begotten Son in Psalm 2 where we read:
Make no mistake about it. This King is ruler over all. We sing “Beautiful Savior, Lord of the nations.” That he is. As we confess in the Creed, his kingdom shall have no end. Do not be deceived by the siren song of self-centered spirituality that tries to pass itself off as Christian. You do not choose your own lord or determine your own authority. He comes to you. You don’t go to him. You do not choose your own way to God. That’s because you cannot. You cannot find your way to God. Your sins keep you away. God must find his way to you or you will never find him. He finds his way to you riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.
Confess him now or confess him later, but everyone will confess that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father. He is King of kings and Lord of lords and he shall reign forever and ever. He comes in humility. He comes to those who need him. The crowd that sang hosanna when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on the donkey is the same crowd that sings hosanna when Jesus comes to give us his body and blood under the bread and wine. He came and he comes in humility. He comes to rule over you in humility. Those who will not be ruled by Jesus remain under the power of the devil. Your King comes to you. He comes to where you are. And he sees you as you really are. So we must see ourselves, if we are to be ready to meet him.
He comes to helpless sinners who have soiled themselves spiritually and cannot make themselves clean. The humble king comes to those who in blind pride broke his holy law, dishonoring God and hurting their neighbor. He comes to failures who are tired of failing. He comes to the poor, the blind, and the lame. “Behold, your king comes to you. He is just and having salvation.” He is just and he gives covers you with his righteousness. He rescues you from what you deserve. For he doesn’t come into the holy city to bask in praise. He comes to die outside the city walls, to be crucified between two criminals, to suffer and die for the sin of the world.
And sinners flatter themselves with false claims of spiritual prowess, as if they, by following their own inner light, will find their way to God. As if they, by exercising their own free will, will will their way up to God and to heaven. Martin Luther preached several sermons on this text. Listen to a portion of one of them. Commenting on the words, “Your king comes,” Luther writes:
There are really only two religions in this world. There is the religion by which we find our way to God and there is the religion by which God finds his way to us. There is the religion of human works and there is the religion of divine grace. The religion of human works rests on pride. The religion of divine grace rests on humility. The almighty Son of God assumed his kingdom by taking on the form of a servant and meekly submitting to the agonies of the cross. That’s how he takes away our sin. That’s how he rescues us from the punishment we deserve. That’s how he brings to us true justice and salvation. He submits in meekness and humility to supreme injustice. That is why he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.
He doesn’t come in a display of power. He comes as if he is weak. But he isn’t weak. He is our almighty God coming to us in the only way we can receive him. He comes to us where we are, trapped in sin, and he lifts us up out of our sin, washes us clean by his blood, and sets us before God as pure and holy saints.
Our way back to the God from whom we fell is for the God from whom we fell to become our brother and to do as one of us what none of us was willing or able to do. He pleased his Father and thus made us pleasing to God. We look at our humble King and we see the good life we are called to live. We put on Christ, crucifying the flesh, and claiming Christ’s life as our own. He is the LORD, our righteousness. He has come to us to rule over us by taking off of us our sin and guilt. This is the kind of authority to which we poor sinners are happy to submit for it is divine authority to make us saints.
Rolf D. Preus