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Ad te levavi (Advent 1)

by Christopher Esget ~ November 26th, 2011

When sin entered the world, so did death. And every child born of woman breaths the poisoned air of our world. And when those children grow older, all, without exception, act according to a selfish heart, an envious heart, a prideful heart. Though some men are great, though some women live virtuously compared to others, none could overcome what ran through their veins and permeated their minds: contagion, rebellion, mortality. But promised to our first parents was a Seed, an offspring, a male child who would crush the head of the serpent, undo the work of the tempter.

The story of the first testament, the Scriptures revealed to Hebrew prophets, is the story of that Seed, the ever-increasing specification of the promised Son who would redeem, rescue, save mankind. From our first parents, the Promise passed to Seth, to Noah, to Abraham and Sarah, to Isaac and Rebekah, to Jacob, to Judah, down to David, down to Joseph, husband of Mary and the adoptive father of Jesus.

One of the specific prophecies of the Messiah is recorded in Zechariah, and repeated in today’s gospel: “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey.’ ” (Matthew 21:5, NKJV)

The “daughter of Zion” means the people of Israel, and when the Israelites see Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, they see this as the fulfillment of the promise in Zechariah. That’s why they hail Jesus as their king. They know that He is the Son of David, the great king, and they even begin to sing Ps. 118, acknowledging Jesus as the king: “Hosanna to the Son of David!”, the heir to the throne.

You can see why the authorities want to kill Jesus. You simply can’t have multiple claimants to a throne and maintain order. So while the Jewish leaders capture Jesus later that week under cover of darkness, and the hasty trial finds Him guilty of blasphemy, the charge with which Jesus is handed over to Pilate is treason: “He makes himself a king.”

But what kind of King do the Scriptures prophesy? We heard another prophecy in the first reading this morning, from Jeremiah: ““Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 23:5–6, ESV)

The descendant of David will be a “righteous branch,” He will “execute justice and righteousness,” but finally, His name will be “The LORD is our righteousness.”

Now it’s one thing for this king to be righteous in his dealings. That’s what we hope for when we encounter a police officer, or a judge, or a politician: someone who will be fair, honest, who will do what is right according to the law, acting in the best interest of the people and nation, and not in his own best interests. The king prophesied by Jeremiah is described that way, but there is something more, something far more important, revealed in His name: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

Why is this significant? Because our righteousness is always insufficient. There is a great difference between the Law of God as presented in the Scriptures, and the kind of Law presented in American Evangelicalism. What much of the American religion and spirituality will present to you is a law you can do, a law you can perform, things that are possible for you to achieve and attain. But a hard, severe, honest look at the Law as given in Holy Scripture reveals a Law that you can never do, commandments you can never perform. You know what Jesus says, for example, about murder: if you call your brother a fool, you’ve broken the Fifth Commandment. And you know what Jesus says about adultery: if you glance at a woman with lust, you’ve broken the Sixth Commandment.

But the problem is even deeper than that. What the Law really reveals is a problem with your will. God sees your heart, and He is not impressed when (in the words of St. Augustine), “someone who fears the law does something different from what he would prefer to do if it were allowed.” [Repeat] The question is not, “What have you done?” but, “What would you prefer to do?” Do you do what the law requires because you are afraid of punishment? Then that is not real obedience. You are acting out of fear, and not love of God. For the commandment, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind,” requires you to love His Word, love His will, and not just go along with it because you know you can’t get away with disobedience.

Would you skip your prayers, if you knew you could get away with it? Would you skip church, if you knew you could get away with it? Would you let the offering plate pass you by, if you knew nobody would see? Would you disobey your parents, if you knew you could get away with it? Would you not pay your taxes, if you knew you could get away with it? Would you have an affair, if you knew you could get away with it? Would you get out of your marriage, if you knew you could get away with it? Would you tell a lie, if you knew you could get away with it? If in your heart you would not do what God commands, then even when you do what God commands your obedience counts for nothing. It may appear virtuous before human beings, but before God even your obedience makes you guilty.

This is what is so wonderful about Christ being our King. He is a righteous king not just in the sense that He is righteous, that He acts justly and fairly; but He is a righteous King in that He gives us His righteousness. Where we have obeyed the law only out of fear, He perfectly kept that most difficult of commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God.”

Out of love for you, He gives to you His love for the Father. His love becomes your love, His perfection becomes your perfection, His righteousness becomes your righteousness. As it is written, His name shall be called, “The LORD is our righteousness.” This is why He comes on a donkey. Not just to fulfill the prophecy, although that is part of it. He comes on a lowly animal to show us that He is not a king come to threaten us who justly deserve threatening; He does not come to judge us who justly deserve judging. He does not come to cast us into hell, although our rebellion, our selfish pride would merit hell and everlasting death. No, He is a king who comes not only to be righteous but also to give us His righteousness. So that name given to the Son of David, the Son of Joseph, Christ Jesus of Nazareth, that name “The LORD is our righteousness,” is the most beautiful name that our King could bear. For He gives us what we do not have and could never acquire. He gives us what His own Law demands: He gives us His righteousness.

So the great message of this Advent Sunday is that Christ is our King, the King of Righteousness. Christ our King gives to us unrighteous, who have not loved God nor our neighbor as God demands, He gives to us His love, His righteousness, and His salvation.

That is why we sing with joy the song of the crowd when Jesus comes to us in the Supper: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” +INJ+

Christopher S. Esget

Immanuel Ev.-Lutheran Church (LCMS), Alexandria, Virginia

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