The first Sunday in Advent often carries over a theme from
the previous week – the Kingship of Christ.
But instead of concentrating on the fulfillment of the Kingdom, Advent
places us back in our temporal surroundings.
It reminds us that the Kingdom comes humbly. It comes by invitation and promise. It comes one heart at a time. And yet it is a Kingdom. We are called to watch. It has a King.
This sermon is a meditation in a busy week of what it means
in our day to have a King. And I think
that most realistic analogy is when we talk identities. This is an advent pondering on putting on
The text as I read it has two clear parts. There is the introductory part which is the crucible around the man with dropsy. This part to me carries the full gospel – Jesus embraces sinners, heals us and releases us in peace. The second part is the parable or the parables. But these stories are not the cute little tales of fathers and sons or sheep and shepherds. These parables are less invitations to understand the goodness of the Father and are more warnings or wisdom sayings. (Hence the OT reading being from Proverbs.) They invite us not to ponder who God is, because Jesus has already demonstrated that clearly and completely in his action. Instead they invite us to consider how do we live having seen the revelation?
The world seat people, chooses honors and awards, in a certain order by its rules. Jesus knows this and gives that order the side eye. The warning is that we should know this as well. How the Father honors is different. How eternity with order itself is different. And if we are made for eternity, we should be acting that way today. As another parable puts it we should be using today’s mammon to be welcomed into eternal dwellings. If we eat up all our providence today, claiming the great seats now, when that day comes the shame will be known to all.
The text for the first Sunday in Advent is usually Palm Sunday. The theme is the Advent of the King. There are multiple ways that Advent invites us to ponder the Kingship of Jesus. We can reflect on the first advent in a holy longing for the second advent. The first time in grace and humility, the second in judgement and power. We could reflect on the King as stand-in for His people. In this case the King on the way to the cross and our penitential need. That is Advent as a penitential season. The Isaiah text which is just as much the sermon text of the day invites a third meditation, Advent as the dawning and growing of the light. What this sermon attempts to do is think about what it means to have a King. It posits a couple of forms of human kingship – modern and ancient. It then contrasts those with the Biblical picture of the Kingship of Jesus. It concludes with the encouragement as the natural light grows shorter, to let they spiritual light brighten. Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Worship notes: The other voice you hear is our Seminarian Tim Bayer. He was in town for Thanksgiving and it is always great to be able to include him in the service. Since the break is a short one, he and his wonderful voice handled the liturgy for us. I’ve left in two hymns. At the start LSB 343, Prepare the Royal Highway. At the end LSB 331, The Advent of Our King. Both carry the Kingship theme and explore it is ways similar to the sermon. I love the hymns of Advent. I’ll often try to work some of them in during the year itself because the season itself is made to short. The other reason is that the themes of advent are so deep and worthy of reflection.
The parable and the life picture in the text may not on first glance appear to go together. What do the a compare and contrast of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector at prayer have to do with mothers bringing babies to Jesus? But the theme running through both is humility and spiritual pride. The kingdom belongs to the children, the tax collector went down justified, while the Pharisee exalted himself, and the disciples subtly sought to do the same.
This sermon grounds humility/pride in the second commandment, how we use God’s name. It examines the coarse form of pride of the Pharisee, but also the subtle pride of the disciples, and how both of these play in our life. It presents Jesus as the one who humbled himself for us and was exalted for us. It concludes with the response of faith both now as children under the cross and then when we come into our inheritance.
Recording note: Two items: 1) I think the recording is good, but the line volume was quite low, the raw file had to be amplified which often has the effect of bring forward background noise. I don’t think it is too bad, but if it is worse than I think, please let me know. 2) I left in the recording our final hymn, LSB 573, Lord ‘Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee. I think this hymn captures perfectly the spiritual humility or childlikeness the text call for. Stanza one covers the coarse spiritual pride that I can be righteous in myself, I cannot. Stanza two ponders how that grace works on us while the world yet enthralls, the spiritual pride of claiming the grace, but not for the Kingdom itself but for our own glory – “to thy heavenly glories blind. And stanza three ends as all theology must, in the praise of a doxology, the calling on the name of god in praise and thanks. One of my top 10 hymns. It doesn’t hurt that the tune it is set to is a the slightly melancholy catnip of O DU LIEBE MEINER LIEBE shared with the great Lenten hymn by Savonarola (he of the bonfire of vanities) Jesus, Refuge of the Weary. The life of Savonarola is fitting meditation for the theme of spiritual pride and humility.
The text is our only glimpse of Jesus from the infancy narratives until his baptism. This time is traditionally called the silent years. Because this is the only text of that time, it bears a lot of weight. What was important in the silent years? That is what this sermon looks at largely from a devotional perspective. By devotional perspective I mean how can we apply it directly to our Christian life.
And no, I didn’t have a challenge to work Pride, Prejudice and Zombies into a sermon. It just seemed like a good example of a difference between this text and the “childhood Jesus” apocryphal stories. One you can ponder for devotional purposes, the other is just good clean fun.
Our world is awash in various forms of credential checks. What I mean by that is various ways of authorizing or legitimizing certain behavior or positions. The opening comparison is how we as American used to be by looking at Abe Lincoln’s credentials to be a lawyer vs. what we require to be a hairdresser today. (Hint, I think we require more of the cosmetologist than Abe had to provide to practice law.) We then look at what credentials mean to theology and the pastorate.
The reason I do that is hopefully to evoke the uneasy nature of theological credentials. The text has this idea running throughout it with two conflicting groups. There are those who accept Jesus at the word of his disciples. The Lord has need of it at which the colt’s owners let it go. And there are those who reject the word of Jesus. The Pharisees telling the “teacher” to “rebuke your disciples.” Both scenes are a form of credential check. Those with the perfect Jerusalem credentials fail the city. Those without have the freedom and hearts to join the triumphal entry.
The theological truth that the Kingdom of God comes humbly always makes theological credentials tenuous. The best are learned through prayer, study and trial – represented by the margin notes of my grandfather.
It is the humility of those credentials that free us. The false messiahs and false prophets – the laws and priests – that Bethany and Bethphage represent (per o]Origin) always try and keep us bound. It is the humble credentials of Christ and his word that free us, and free us for his need. The Lord has need of us. Do we hear his credentials, or do we demand better ones?
John’s gospel is what is sometimes called thick. This is my attempt to ponder John’s Last Supper, which is a Last Supper and not one at the same time. The icon at the left is the footwashing. That is what John talks about when the synoptics relate the institution of the Lord’s Supper. This sermon meditates on how John captures the sacramental life: Baptism, Lord’s Supper and Confession in one scene. And then relates how we live that sacramental life.