Zion, your King is coming to you!

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Sermon for Ad Te Levavi – Advent 1

Jeremiah 23:5-8  +  Romans 13:11-14  +  Matthew 21:1-9

The new Church Year begins today, on the first Sunday in Advent.  Advent means coming, arrival.  It’s the season of expectation.  And so we wait and expect the coming of Jesus, our King.  We long for His coming. We prepare for His arrival.  And the name for this Sunday in the Church Year really summarizes the whole Church Year, every single Sunday from now till next December.  Every Sunday it’s Jesus who comes to us in Word and Sacrament, with His rebuke, with His correction, with His mercy, with His love, with His forgiveness and with His strength.  He comes in Word and Sacrament and we gather to meet Him.  Ad Te Levavi, “to you, O Lord, I have lifted up my soul.”  That describes the waiting Church perfectly.

Do you know what it’s like to wait for someone to come who never comes?  It’s depressing, isn’t it?  You stand in the schoolyard, waiting and watching.  Did mom and dad forget about me?  You sit at the restaurant and watch the door for your friend or for your date to walk in. You stand at the window and wait and watch.  You pace back and forth.  Nothing.  They promised to come and meet you but they don’t.  People are like that sometimes.

But God never is.  What He promises, He fulfills.  What He says, He does.  And nothing in the universe can get in His way. He promised to come to Zion.  But He didn’t say exactly when He would come.  For four thousand years He told His people to wait and watch, from generation to generation to generation.  He gave them signs and prophecies to reassure them that, yes, He was still coming. Most gave up waiting, but not all.

In today’s Gospel, we see the King fulfilling His promise to the Daughter of Zion.  Of course, by that time He had already fulfilled His promise and come into our human race through His conception and birth of the virgin Mary.  That’s the coming of the King that we’re getting ready to celebrate in just over three weeks.  But we celebrate the birth of Christ, we celebrate Christmas because Christmas prepares the way for today, the last ride of King Jesus up to the gates of Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week for the battle between life and death, where death won a battle, but life won the war.

The Spirit-inspired, Spirit-filled words of the Gospel take you back to that day.  They place you in front of the window so that you can watch with the people of Jerusalem as your King fulfills His promise and comes to the daughter of Zion, so that you can see this King for yourself and know Him for yourself, not by sight, but by words.

The first words you have to understand in order for it all to make sense are the words St. Matthew quotes from the prophet Zechariah, “Say to the Daughter of Zion, behold, your King is coming to you.”  Who is this Zion?  And who is his daughter?  Zion is the name of the mountain on which the city of Jerusalem is built, and the daughter of Zion is the people of Jerusalem.  But Scripture means more than that.  Zion is the place where God chose to dwell among men in His holy temple there, and the daughter of Zion is the Church herself, the Bride who is watching and waiting for her Bridegroom to come, as we heard in last week’s Gospel.  Two thousand years ago, Jesus came to the daughter of Zion in Jerusalem.  But now that He has died and risen again, the Gospel has brought both Jews and Gentiles into the One Church through faith in Christ Jesus, and at the same time the Gospel has kicked out of Zion the Jews who reject Jesus as the Christ.  Zion is no longer located in just one city on earth.  Zion and the daughter of Zion are located wherever the Gospel of Christ is preached and the Sacraments are rightly administered.  There are believers in Christ.  There the daughter of Zion is found.

That’s here and now.  So, listen, daughter of Zion!  Because God commanded his prophet to write down words that He intended for you to hear.  “Say to the daughter of Zion!”  This is the ministry of the Word.  This is the ministry by which God reaches down into the world to crush the arrogant and to kill those who are secure in their sins.  This is the ministry by which God speaks grace to the humble, life to the dead and to give spiritual food to those whom He has brought to life through the baptismal water of rebirth and regeneration.

God has a message for you, Zion, right here in the book of Zechariah and again in the Gospel of Matthew, brought to you right now through this ministry of the Word.  “Behold, your King is coming to you.”  Behold!  It’s like standing at the window, staring out at the road, watching and waiting for your loved one to arrive, and someone calls out, behold!  Look!  And you look out, and you see.  Here He comes!

Who is He?  He is your King.  Your King. Yes, in a sense He is King of all.  “Let earth receive her King!” we will be singing in just a few weeks.  But!  Most of the earth remains outside of His kingdom, still sitting in darkness, still slaves to sin, enslaved by the devil in his vile and wicked kingdom.  Most people are governed by this King’s rod of iron and not by His shepherd’s staff.  And many, even some who now call Him “King,” will bow down before Him when He comes, not in grateful worship, but in dreadful defeat.

But now, before that day comes, He calls to you with these words of our Gospel to believe in Him as your King who wants you to be in His kingdom—no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done or not done—and who has called you into it through the Gospel and even now keeps calling you to remain in it, to trust in Him as your King who is mightier than every other king or power or ruler or authority.  He calls you to acknowledge your sinfulness, to repent and to flee to Him for mercy, because He is a merciful King who rode up to the gates of Jerusalem so that He could take up His cross and die for your sins.  He did that, whether you believe in Him or not.  He did that so that you may believe in Him and call Him your King.

Your King, Zechariah says, is coming to you.  See, you don’t come to this King.  You aren’t the one who comes to Jesus, who brings Him down out of heaven or who reaches up into heaven to find Him.  You don’t make yourself worthy for Him to come or deserving of His gifts. Your King comes to you.  He prepared it all—world history, the virgin’s womb, the events of Palm Sunday and Holy Week, the events that led up to you hearing the Gospel today, the water that washed you clean of your sins, the very wheat and the grapes and the words and the preacher through which the Son of God comes to you today.

He comes to you humble.  Zechariah also adds “righteous and having salvation.”  Or as Jeremiah foretold, He comes to make Israel dwell in safety.  He comes gentle, riding on a donkey.  As Matthew points out, it’s a beast of burden.  It’s not a war horse.  It’s not meant to intimidate or to frighten you or to exalt the rider and make Him look good or exciting.  On the contrary, your King comes to you in the humblest way possible so as not to frighten you, but to move you to trust in Him as your Savior and as your righteous Substitute before God.

The King of all, the Creator of all, comes to you, not to receive gifts from you, but to give gifts to you—the gifts of righteousness and peace and forgiveness of sins.  He comes to make you right with God and to promise you a kingdom that will never end.

Isn’t that better than Santa Claus?  Honestly.  Santa has a list and checks it twice.  He’s gonna find out who’s naughty, who’s nice.  He’ll reward the naughty ones with a lump of coal. He’ll reward the good boys and girls with material things that will rust and decay, or soon be thrown away.  He comes in a jolly red suit with a jolly red face, riding on a jingling sleigh—a magical ride that inspires children’s fantasies and dreams.

And all the while, there’s Jesus.  He makes a list and checks it twice and finds that all are naughty, none are nice.  He knows your sins and that you don’t deserve anything from Him at Christmas. And yet He comes anyway, with rewards of grace and with gifts that last. He’s never depicted as jolly.  Sometimes stern, usually serious, once in awhile weeping, and always compassionate and loving, and joyful as He faces the cross for the sake of the daughter of Zion.  He rides, not on a cool supernatural fast-flying sleigh, but on a humble, average, slow-walking donkey, coming down to our house, not through a chimney, but through Word and Sacrament. With no toys, but with words of eternal life.  With no jolly red suit, but with garments stained in blood for our salvation.  Best of all, Jesus is not a figure of fantasy who exists if we believe in Him.  Jesus is real and lives and reigns whether or not we believe in Him. 

So let us put our faith in Him and prepare for our King to come.  Cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Daughter of Zion, your King comes to you.  The season of expectation has begun.  Lift up your soul to watch and wait.  Amen.

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