Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent: December 24, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
✝ sdg ✝

epiphyllum leaf, backlit

epiphyllum leaf, backlit

Something just didn’t look right, and David knew it. The enemies were conquered, the kingdom was secure, and he lived in a beautiful palace in Jerusalem. So far, so good: except for the tabernacle. The house of worship for the one true God of all heaven and earth was still merely a tent. It was the same one that had been in use for 400 years, for it was constructed soon after the Israelites followed Moses out of Egypt. King David was now living in a mansion built out of cedar, but the Lord God was still camping out there in a temporary structure. It didn’t look right: to passers-by it must have looked like David was far more important than Almighty God, and David wanted to fix that image right away. He called Nathan the prophet and announced his plans to build a glorious temple, and one can imagine his excitement. Oh, to be there when the building was finished, when the Lord would appear in a glorious cloud, then overshadow the temple and enter inside! It sounded perfect, and Nathan gave his blessing to proceed.

But the Lord said no. He made it very clear– He didn’t want a temple, at least not yet. He didn’t need a temple, either. David’s son, King Solomon, would say it rightly, that even the highest heavens could not contain Him. But as for that building—the house of God— it was designed for the people’s benefit, not His. And God said for now, the building plans would have to wait; but, in addition, the Lord had better news for David. He reminded King David that He had taken him, who was only a lowly shepherd boy, and made him ruler over all of Israel. That is to say, David was king only by God’s mercy and faithfulness. But more important was this: the Lord was going to build a house for David, and that house would last forever. We’re not talking about the cedar palace: no, that would likely decay like everything else. Solomon’s temple would be destroyed in 586 B.C., then Herod’s replacement structure would be destroyed by the Roman army in 70 A.D. Instead, God announced that David’s household, meaning his family line, wouldn’t end. Ever. While David himself lived in a world of violence, death and re-drawing of boundary lines, the house of David would rule and reign secure for eternity. One of his descendants would sit on the throne forever. And this king would be the promised Savior, the Messiah.

As history would see it, King David would not live to see his son Solomon build the temple; he did not see the Lord overshadow the Holy of Holies in a cloud before entering. For up until then, though it was certainly strange to the eyes, the Lord was content to live in a tent while a human king lived inside cedar walls. David would then be dead for nearly a thousand years before the Savior was born. But while he did not see these things with his own eyes, he still had God’s Word on it. He had God’s promise. It would surely happen. And so he declared a confident Amen that accepted this promise for himself, “Now, O LORD God, the word which You have spoken concerning Your servant and concerning his house, establish it forever and do as You have said” (2 Sam 7:25).

God had said. It would happen. And so it did. God kept His promise; and nearly a millennium later, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. Mary, who was pledged to be married to the descendant of King David, was certainly marrying no king. She lived not in the plush Jerusalem palace, but in a humble place tucked away in the out-of-the-way hilltop town of Nazareth. “You have found favor with God,” said Gabriel, “and you’re going to give birth to a Son. He will be the Son of God, and He’ll sit on David’s throne forever.” It wouldn’t be a throne of this world, which would watch this planet spin to its eventual destruction. His would be an eternal throne, not made with human hands, for God’s Son would rule forever.

Mary asked the practical question, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Gabriel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” Once God had overshadowed the temple before entering in; now He would overshadow Mary and she would carry the Christ child in the temple of her womb. And as David had once added his amen and prayed, “Lord, do as You have said,” Mary faithfully added her amen, saying: “Let it be to me according to your word.”

It was like the palace and the tent all over again. Herod’s kids could play around in the best day care in ancient Jerusalem, that is, warm and secure in royal mansions, while Mary and Joseph would continue their life of poverty in Nazareth, then Bethlehem, then on the run down to Egypt, then back to Nazareth. Herod would sleep in a luxurious bed, but the Royal Son of David would first be laid in a manger. And so it would go: Herod and Pontius Pilate and Caesar would have their proud war horses, but Jesus would ride a colt, the foal of a donkey. They would possess their golden thrones and crowns, but the Savior would have His wooden cross for His throne and a crown of thorns pressed upon His head.

To the passer-by, Jesus would seem like nothing compared to those earthly rulers; but Herod, Pilate and Caesar all died and remain dead. Jesus died. Jesus is risen. And, as the Lord gave His Word to David and later on to Mary, so Jesus reigns forever as King. He is your King—because He died and rose for you.

And so it goes, in the past two thousand years since the birth of Christ, countless kings have ruled and then they died. Empires have risen and fallen, civilizations emerged and disappeared. That is how kingdoms go in a dying world. But Jesus remains King of kings and Lord of lords—for now and for eternity.

But why? Does Jesus hold this title just because Christians say so, and they hold out hope and insist it to be true? Do you have to make-believe all this just because you can’t see it? No. Jesus is King because He says so. His Word has the power to create a believing heart of faith within you. He who gave His Word to David and Mary still gives His Word today. Throughout the kingdoms of the world, in spite of nations rising and falling ruled by just men and evil despots, the Lord still speaks His royal decrees, which means certain pronouncements. You hear Him ruling at the baptismal font, where He says, “I am the King who has conquered even death, which is why I live forever. I share that victory with you now: I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You hear Him speak His final judgment through the mouth of His called and ordained messenger: “I have conquered sin and devil, and I set you free from that kingdom of darkness: I forgive you all of your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You hear Him speak His invitation at the altar: “This is the King’s table, and I give you My body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.” That is where the King rules today: by His means of grace. Not just in church, but wherever His Word is preached and His Sacraments administered according to His Word: in the hospital, the battlefront, the nursing home, the school, and the deathbed.

So be duly warned. You’ll always be tempted to look for Jesus in the glitz and glamour, the flash and sizzle of this world—in feelings and excitement and big numbers, fat bank accounts and more. Those things already have their reward and then they’re over. Or other times you’ll be tempted to despair because the world around you continues suffering all those cataclysmic signs of the end times and the Lord still does not return. But when you are so tempted, remember that He has made you part of His household of faith, not some household of sight. Remember the tent, not the palace. Remember Mary in Nazareth, not Herod in Jerusalem. Remember the manger and cross and crown of thorns, for these things tell you that your King comes humbly to save you through suffering, that you might be in His glorious kingdom forever. He is not far from you; He gathers you here to rule with mercy, to speak to you His Word and feed you His Supper.

So like David and Mary, you add your amen that receives the promise into your own heart: “Let it be to me, Lord, according to your Word.” Your King rules and reigns forever, and you are His forever, too: because upon hearing His Word you are forgiven of all of your sins, and highly favored of the Lord. It may not look right, but in reality, nothing can be more right.

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

Advent Wreath, 4 candles lit

Advent Wreath, 4 candles lit

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