Come, Lord Jesus! That is the Church’s prayer. Even as the Lord has taught her, so does she pray: Thy Kingdom Come. Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come. Rend the heavens and come down. Come and dwell among us, rescue us speedily, and reign over us in love.
Such is the prayer of Advent, that our Lord Jesus Christ would come and save us. And there is (or ought to be) an urgency to that prayer. Not an urgency that is borne of fear or anxiety. Not an urgency of desperation and despair. But an urgency that flows out of the Church’s confidence and confession, that Christ our Lord is coming. That He shall come to judge the living and the dead. That He shall come to set us free from the bondage of sin and death.
And when you are aware of just how serious your predicament is, then you do pray all the more urgently that Christ Jesus would come. When you realize how many are the enemies who stand against you on all sides — and when you are brought to a real awareness of your own sins, the guile of your own heart, and the mortality of your own flesh — then you pray, as you should, that the Lord Jesus would come and set you free from sin, death, and hell.
On a daily basis, left to your own devices, you are more likely aware of the difficulties and hardships that press upon your body and life, your job and your relationships in this world. You feel it when the money is already tight and the costs of living go up. You feel it when you and your loved ones are sick, or when your possessions are lost or stolen or destroyed. And of course the headlines are constantly reminding you of how much trouble there is on all sides, close to home, across the nation, and around the globe. It is overwhelming.
So, you dig in your heals and do the best you can, or you throw up your hands and give up. But either way, you know that you can’t go it alone or make it on your own. Nobody can. You look for help and long for someone to come to your rescue. Family and friends, to be sure, and maybe the kindness of strangers. Various agencies and institutions are available, as well. Scholarships and grants, stipends and handouts. Everybody needs a helping hand.
And every four years or so, everyone hopes and hollers for new political leaders. It almost doesn’t matter who’s in office or who’s in charge, there’s always the sense that everything should be different than it is, and that everything could be so much better, if only the right person would come along to shake things up and set things right. It’s been over a year since the last presidential election, but surely none of us will soon forget the process leading up to that event. Some are still cheering, some are still weeping and shaking their heads, and many others are already working on the next election cycle. But most of us, and most of our neighbors, are inclined to pin our hopes or blame our fears on the man behind the big desk.
Sad to say, it’s not much different when it comes to the life of the Church on earth, either.
So, too, in the life of Israel when our Lord Jesus came in the flesh, conceived and born of St. Mary, and made His way into Jerusalem on the cusp of His Passion. The people then were living under the thumb of Rome. They had a king, so to speak, but Herod was no son of David in any sense. There was corruption at every level of government, in both church and state. There were factions and insurrections here and there. There were economic hardships, spiritual trials and tribulations, political unrest, and a pervasive party spirit.
Most everyone was looking for a king to come, or for some kind of leader to come and put things back together again. Many of them waited for the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed — for the Son of David to be That Guy. But they were certainly not all of one mind as to what He would be like, what He would do, and how He would go about it.
You hear their longing for the Lord to come in the words of Isaiah this morning, in the prayer of the people for deliverance. That the Lord would rend the heavens and come down. That He would get vengeance against the enemies of Israel. That He would make the very mountains and the nations quake and tremble. That He would come and save His people.
You can relate, I am sure, and I expect that each of you has prayed in similar ways, if you have prayed at all. Be careful what you ask for, though. For if the Lord would rend the heavens and come down in royal majesty, in power and great might, with vengeance, then it would be not only the nations round about who tremble and quake. The earth itself shakes at the coming of the Lord. Sinai is cloaked in billowing clouds of smoke, and thunder and lightning and fire, and the threat of death. Do not come near that mountain or you will die.
If the Lord should rend the heavens and come down in that way, then nobody would be saved. For there is no one who is righteous. No, not you. No, not one. What you call good and right is filthy and unclean, because it flows out of your sinful heart. There is a legacy of sin and death at work within your fallen flesh, from which you cannot set yourself free.
But now, consider how the Lord does come, not to crush and destroy, but to save you and all His people from their sins. It’s not like Sinai at all. He does rend the heavens, but He does it at His Baptism for all of us poor sinners. And He does it from those waters of the Jordan to His death upon the Cross. That is how He rends the heavens wide. He opens them to you and to all by passing through death and the grave into the Resurrection and the Life.
He comes down, and He comes in flesh and blood like yours, in order to raise you up with Himself to life with God in body and soul. He comes down with justice and righteousness, not to condemn and punish you (as you deserve), but to set you free from sin, death, the devil, and hell, at the cost of His own body and life, by the shedding of His own blood.
You hear it already in the way He rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, on His way to His Cross and Passion. Therefore, do not be ashamed to receive Him as your Lord in such humble ways and means. For He comes to help and save you, to forgive and heal you.
He comes as your King, not with an iron fist, but with His arms stretched out and His hands nailed to a cross, with a crown of thorns, that by His flesh and blood you should be saved. And in His suffering and death is the blessed coming of the Kingdom of the Son of David.
You may or may not remember the story, but when King David was approaching the end of his life, one of his sons, Adonijah, sought to take the kingdom for himself. And Bathsheeba came, and the Prophet Nathan came, and Zadok the priest came, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, they all came to David and said, “Is this good and right?” And David said, “No. The Lord has spoken, and I have sworn, that my son Solomon shall sit upon the throne.”
And here is what he did. He instructed his servants and supporters to get his mule, to put Solomon upon it, and to ride him into Jerusalem, declaring him to be the king.
So now, also, in the case of our Lord Jesus, by riding a donkey into Jerusalem, He shows Himself to be the true Son of David, the true Solomon, the King of Peace, the Wisdom of God incarnate. He is the One who has come in the flesh, conceived and born of St. Mary, to reign over the House of David forever and ever. As the Lord has spoken, so He does.
None of this happens by accident. Jesus not only knows what’s going to happen, He orders and directs it. He sends two of His disciples to retrieve the donkey and bring it to Him. He tells them exactly what they will find, exactly what they should say, and exactly what they are to do. For He is going with deliberate determination into Jerusalem, knowing full well the Throne that awaits Him there, that is, the Cross of wood and the crown of thorns.
Do not be ashamed of this Lord Jesus, who comes in such royal humility to suffer and die. For He is not ashamed to be your King. And in Him, all of God’s promises to David are fulfilled. He comes to establish peace between God and Man, and to give His people rest.
God had promised that He would establish a House for David and put a Son upon his throne forever, if only his sons would walk as David walked, that is, by faith, a man after God’s own heart. And here is the Son of David who walks in all the ways of the Lord, the Man who is and has God’s own heart, a heart of love for you, a heart of forgiveness and peace.
God had also promised that David’s Son would build a Temple for the Name of the Lord, a place where God would cause His Name and His Glory to dwell among His people. And this, too, the Lord Jesus has done — by the way and the means of His Cross and Passion. For the true Temple of God is the Body of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.
He fulfills all the promises of God in His Body of flesh and blood. He is not only the Son of David, the King of Israel, but the great High Priest who is merciful and faithful in all things pertaining to God. And not only the Priest, but the Temple itself. And not only the Temple, but the once-for-all Sacrifice of Atonement by which the sins of the whole world are removed; the Sacrifice by which your sins are removed and no longer held against you.
His forgiveness of sins is the source of true and lasting Peace. Wars will come and go on earth, so long as earth remains. But the Peace that Christ has established between God and Man is forever. Which is why you need not tremble and quake with fear at His coming, but you are able to lift up your head in hope because your redemption is drawing near in Him.
He reigns over you in love, as your King, from His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead. For He has brought life and immortality to light by His Gospel of forgiveness. He thus reigns from the Cross with mercy, grace, and peace. He does so in and through His means of grace. Those are the donkeys He now rides into His Church, among His people.
Do not be ashamed of those ways and means by which He comes to you. For He comes to you in and with the Gospel, now, in order to redeem you, and to prepare you for that great and terrible Day of the Lord when He shall come in glory to judge the living and the dead.
He thus deals with you in much the same way that He dealt with that donkey in this Holy Gospel. But do not take offense at the comparison. Our Lord Himself has become a Beast of burden, in order to remove the burden from your back and bear it in your stead. But so has He also sent some of His disciples — He has apostled them — He has called, ordained, and sent them in His Name, to speak His words to you and to work His works in you. To find you tied up and out in the street, and to unloose you and bring you to Him. To lay upon you the garments of disciples. And more than that, to set Christ Himself upon you.
As Dr. Luther has so beautifully said, the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ would do you no good, except the Holy Spirit has laid Him upon your heart by the Gospel. And the Holy Spirit works through these tangible means of grace, the means of Christ Jesus, the donkeys of His Word and Sacrament. That is how Christ Jesus comes to His Church.
He sends His ministers of the Gospel to unloose you from your sins, from death and the devil, by His Word of forgiveness. And to bring you to Jesus in faith. And to clothe you with the garments of discipleship, as once in Holy Baptism, so through the forgiveness of all your sins. You are robed in righteousness. You are dressed as a bride for her Husband.
Christ Himself and His Cross are the only burdens that you are now given to carry. But His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. For He is laid upon you in gentle mercy, not to crush you, but to bring you to life, to cover you with Himself, and to redeem you for His Father.
Go with Him, therefore, into His Jerusalem. Go with Him into His Church. Praise Him with palms of thanksgiving. Remove your old garments, place them beneath His feet, and be clothed only in Christ and His Righteousness. Come into His City. Come into His House. Come to His Altar, and there receive the fruits of His Redemption, His own holy Body and His precious Blood. By and with these means He comes to set you free, to rescue you speedily. For thus does He forgive your sins and give you eternal life within His Kingdom.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.