First Sunday in Advent

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“That’s It?”

Mark 11:1-10

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

That’s it?  This is what the “coming kingdom of our father David” looks like?  A guy on a donkey?  You could forgive the people of Jerusalem if they were less than enthusiastic.  But if they were anything, they were enthusiastic.  “Those who went before and those who were following were shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest” (Mark 11:9-10, ESV)!  How is it that the people of Jerusalem can see in this carpenter’s son the fulfillment of every promise given to their ancestors?  It is because they have known the Scriptures from infancy (2 Timothy 3:15), and their eyes have been opened to see this man as the fulfillment of those Scriptures.  They have heard Jacob’s blessing of Judah, ten generations removed from David the King, from whom the man on the donkey was also descended (Matthew 1): Genesis 49: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.  Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes” (Genesis 49:10-11, ESV).  These people have heard the prophet Zechariah’s promise of the coming King: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9, ESV).  And they have heard, marked, learned, and inwardly digested Psalm 118, which they speak from memory: “Save us, we pray, O [Yahweh]!…Blessed is he who comes in the name of [Yahweh]!” (Psalm 118:25, 26, ESV).  This is the long-promised King, this is the one to whom obedience is due, this is the righteous one who rends the heavens and brings salvation to the earth in the holy Name of Yahweh.

The people of Jerusalem, spreading cloaks and branches on the road, see in this man riding on a donkey the fulfillment of the kingdom of David; they have spoken the promise of that kingdom to their children again and again, in the morning and in the evening, at home and walking down the road; they have written it in their minds, burned it into their memories; they refused to let the promise go unspoken from generation to generation (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).  Like the shepherds years before, they saw by the light of faith what no one could see by natural light.  Jesus came into the world in a cave meant for animals such as donkeys, and He came into the royal city on a donkey on which no sinner had ever sat, only to go out of the city on a cross meant for a criminal.  He came in, blessed because He bore by divine right the Name of Yahweh; but hear how Psalm 118 speaks of Him: “[Yahweh] is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.  Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!” (118:27, ESV).  And so He was bound, and so He was led up to the horns of God’s eternal altar, hung there in shame to give life to the world.  “Once He came in blessing,/ All our sins redressing;/Came in likeness lowly,/Son of God most holy;/Bore the cross to save us;/Hope and freedom gave us” (LSB 333, st. 1).  To see in this one the King, the fulfillment of all the promises of patriarchs and prophets, requires the gift of faith.  No one without faith would look at the baby in the cave, at the man on the donkey, at the crucified one, and see a King.

They would say, that’s it?  That’s the King you worship?  We might be forgiven by unbelievers for being less than enthusiastic.  But will God forgive us for being less than enthusiastic?  How is it that we come and go, come and go, from His presence as if it were drudgery and an imposition on our time?  Perhaps it is we who are lazily imposing on God’s eternity, receiving His gifts with iron ears and steel hearts.  How is it that we can pray the song of men and angels, “Blessed is He, blessed is He, blessed is He that cometh in the Lord.  Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest,” with so little joy?  We look forward with eager expectation to the Christmas holiday, but how eagerly and expectantly do we look to the Mass of Christ on His weekly holy Day?  Today He comes; today your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation.  Do you recognize Him?  Do you receive Him as He chooses to come, His glory just as hidden in the words of a sinful man, in bread and wine as in a man on a donkey or a baby in a manger?  Here He puts into your ears and hands and mouth the sacrifice of the Golgotha altar.  “Now He gently leads us;/With Himself He feeds us/Precious food from heaven,/Pledge of peace here given,/Manna that will nourish/Souls that they may flourish” (LSB 333, st. 2).  Yes, the heavens and earth are full of the glory of the Lord God of Sabaoth, but only for those with eyes to see.  His Kingdom, promised to Judah and David and the exiles of Israel, has come to you; He blesses you from His House, from the horns of the altar, and from the mouths of these who worship Him with you.  “See, the Lamb, so long expected,/Comes with pardon down from heav’n./Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,/ One and all, to be forgiv’n” (LSB 345).  Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord!

His Kingdom comes-now in hiddenness simply to be believed, then in glory for every eye to see.  “The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself; but we pray…that it may come unto us also.  How is this done? When our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead a godly life, here in time and there in eternity” (SC, Second Petition).  O heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit to us now, that by your grace we would believe your holy Word and receive your Son by faith as He comes to us in promises of forgiveness fulfilled, and with His Body and Blood in the bread and wine from Your holy altar.  Preserve each of us in a godly life, because we know that “Soon will come that hour/When with mighty power/Christ will come in splendor/And will judgment render,/With the faithful sharing/Joy beyond comparing.  Come, then, O Lord Jesus,/From our sins release us./Keep our hearts believing,/That we, grace receiving,/Ever may confess You/Till in heav’n we bless You” (LSB 333, sts. 3-4).  That’s it?  This is the King we worship?  Yes, and He is all you will ever need.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/25/08

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