Sermon preached on the First Sunday in Advent at St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church in Matthews, NC, December 3, 2023.
“Behold, thy King cometh.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen
In a way, I would like to say, “Happy New Year” as we start a new, liturgical Calendar-year this morning with the Season of Advent, and likewise I would like everyone to stay alert to the events and themes our Prayer Book chooses to emphasize over the next couple of weeks. For they will be crucial for being rightly prepared for Jesus’ “coming” (the literal meaning of “Advent”), because they set the stage for us to better understand Jesus’ mission and purpose. If our Calendar were a movie, each of these themes would function like a flash forward at the start of the movie. And in between Advent 4 and Christmas eve these scenes would fade out, and we would read on the screen something like, “33 years earlier.”
Now, the first thing we will be shown, which we will look at today, is that the babe to be born at Christmas is none other than the long-awaited King who comes in the Name of the Lord. Secondly, we will see that the Jesus’ mission will be in accordance with the Scriptures, which He caused to be written and preserved. Then thirdly, we will see how, far from being a mission to simply bring people to heaven, the success of His mission will restore His people to their original vocation of bringing heaven to earth. And finally, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, after having grasped these mysteries just a wee bit better we will heed John the Baptist’s call to prepare the way for the Lord and pray, “O Lord, raise up thy power and come among us.”
But today, we begin at the beginning with the flashforward scene of what is commonly called the “Triumphal Entry” (Matthew 21:1-13) – where a donkey, the same animal that will welcome Jesus into the world (cf.Isa.1:3), is shown carrying Him in the first steps toward His leaving it. This scene, which seems so strange to be an Advent reading, gives us the first clue of the true gift of Christmas.
If there was any image to fulfill the “hopes and fears of all the years” it was this: “Behold your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey… his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zech.9:9-10). The king that had been promised since the days of King David when the Lord had said, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2Sam.7:11-16) – that king had come.
And this was not just good news for Israel, but for all the world, because He had come to restore not just Israel but all of humanity to their created purpose under God. Consider how, when God had created man, He empowered and commissioned them to serve as His prophets (truthfully proclaiming “thus saith the LORD” cf. Gen.3:2-3), His priests (“serving” and “guarding” God’s sanctuary, cf. “serving” in Num.3:7-8; 4:30; 7:5; 8:15; 16:9, and “guarding” in Num.1:53; 3:28,32, 38; 18:5; Ezek.44:8,15), and His kings (God’s co-regents over physical creation, cf.Gen.2:19). Yet as we know, Adam and Eve rebelled and sinfully abdicated their subservient roles under God’s rule, and all of creation was left groaning because of it (cf.Rom.8:22). Yet now, through Jesus, that vacancy would be filled. As King, Jesus the Son of David rides in on a donkey; as Priest, he rides in and guards the temple by cleansing it from corruption (Matt.21:12-17); and as Prophet, He speaks and proclaims thus saith the Lord, “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (v.13).
Are you getting a better picture of just Who is coming this Christmas? It is none other than Zion’s Prophet-Priest-King who is coming to reestablish Heaven’s connection and rule on Earth, as well as humanity’s identity as, and role of, being imagers of God. This is why when we sing “Come, thou long-expected Jesus,” we acknowledge Him to have been “Born thy people to deliver, Born as child, and yet a king, Born to reign in us for ever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.” What better way to prepare for Christmas than making sure we understand that the gift of Christmas is the coming of a King, who has come to “rule in all our hearts alone”? Think of it this way:
Who here believes that Charles the III is king over the UK? How many here obey all His commands? None of us because He is not our ruling King. But it does help us see how believing Jesus is King is one thing, and letting Him rule over us is another. Let us make the most of this Advent Season, by making sure we are ready to accept not only His kingship, but also His rule.