The King of Glory Enters In

Text: Psalm 24

Bulletin: 2017-12-06 Advent Midweek I

Tonight, we begin another period of special devotion to our God and King. We come together this evening to hear His Word, to sing His praises, and to return Him our thanksgiving for the gifts He has freely given us. Especially in this Advent season, we remember His loving kindness as we await His return in glory. In all of these things, we are united to the saints of old in the Old Testament, who worshipped God in the tabernacle and temple with the singing of psalms. The texts for our meditations this year will each be based on the Psalm of the Week. The Psalm for the First Sunday in Advent is Psalm 24. Tonight, we confess that Christ is the King of Glory, who entered into His own creation so that we might receive blessing from God.

I.

Along with many of the other psalms, Psalm 24 is one that we know relatively little about. With some of the psalms – like Psalm 51 – we know who wrote them, when, and why. Psalm 51 was written by David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. We know less about Psalm 24. The psalm is attributed to David in both the Hebrew and Greek. The Greek adds that this was a psalm meant to be sung on Sunday. In the Church’s history, this psalm has been sung on Ascension and, for about the last 400 years – on the First Sunday in Advent as well. It’s easy to see why. This psalm is a psalm of worship to God as our king.

Psalm 24 lays out right away why we worship God as King – He is the author and founder of Creation. It says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.”[1] This  topic comes up over and over in Scripture, and often it’s the first topic that we cover with our children. Our God, the Triune God, commanded the universe to exist and it did. He spoke and it came to be. He set the stars in place and knows them each by name. He set the boundaries of the seas and rules both wind and wave. The earth and all who dwell in it are the Lord’s. He gives all things their food, and they receive it from His loving hand. Truly, the Creator God is a King worthy of all praise.

II.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place?”[2] That is to say, who may stand before this God and King, who may stand in His presence to sing His praise? “He who has clean hands and pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord.”[3] God, our God, is the God of all creation. Not one thing escapes His eye or happens apart from His knowing. He deserves to be worshipped in sincerity and truth, for His Word is truth and He is the truth. Those who worship Him with pure hearts receive from Him blessing and honor.

But, as we live our lives, we find well-enough that we do not have pure hearts. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and operate outside of the truth. Those who receive blessing from God are those whose hands are clean, whose hearts are pure, who do not deal falsely or speak deceitfully. Yet, on each count, we are guilty. Our hands we have used to commit iniquity and our hearts are filled with the same. We have spent our lives pursing our own passions and desires and have often done so at the expense of our love for others. We have spoken and sworn deceitfully. We do not deserve to ascend the Lord’s holy hill or stand in His holy place.

III.

Then the psalmist sings, “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.”[4] It’s possible that this psalm was sung as the Ark of the Covenant was moved to its final resting place in the temple. In which case, the doors may be literal. In the Church’s use, these words are also sung to creation in the confidence that the King has come. Though we may not stand in the Lord’s presence nor receive His blessing because of our sinfulness, Christ Jesus is the one who has clean hands and a pure heart. He does not lift up His soul to what is false or swear deceitfully. He who is the King of Creation now has entered into His creation to redeem it from sin. Though He spoke no lies and had no guilt, He bore our sin on the cross. He suffered, died, and rose again victorious for us.

Therefore, with all of God’s people – past and present – we sing the praise of the King of Glory. He entered into the universe He made at His incarnation, being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. From there, He rose to conquer sin and death by His own death on the cross. He comes to us now, bringing with Him blessing from God in Word and Sacrament. Through these, He gathers us together and makes us a generation that seeks the face of the God of Jacob. Soon, all gates and ancient doors must open as He returns to judge the living and the dead. This Advent, may we ever be mindful that Christ, the King of Glory, has entered into His creation to bring us blessing from God.


 

[1] Ps. 24:1-2, English Standard Version.

[2] Ps. 24:3.

[3] Ps. 24:4-5.

[4] Ps. 24:7.

And Dwelt Among Us

Text: John 1:1-14

The Holy Spirit caused John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, to prophesy in Luke 2, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies.” I don’t know if I can really sum up the meaning of Christmas better than that, and that was spoken before Jesus was even born. But today, we remember, celebrate, and confess that Jesus Christ has been born. Today we feast knowing that the Savior has come into the world to rescue us from the ruinous guilt of our sins. We see in the text from John 1, that Jesus Christ is not simply a man, but He is the eternal Word and Son of the Father. Though He existed from all eternity and created all things, today He has taken upon Himself our flesh, to dwell among us with His grace and truth.

I.

St. John starts with the beginning of the Bible as the foundation of his Gospel. We read, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Here, and other places in Scripture, we learn the beginnings of Jesus – there are none. Instead, Jesus is the eternal Word of God, for whom there is no beginning. He has always existed as the Second Person of the Trinity, in perfect unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Though He has no beginning, He Himself is the beginning of all things. Praying in the Garden of Eden, Jesus said, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” We also know His words in the book of Revelation, “I am and the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Everything that now exists, including our own bodies, was created directly through the eternal Word of God and by His hand. There is nothing that now exists that was not made by His work and nothing exists that the Jesus did not make. As it says in Psalm 33, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,” and as our Epistle text from Hebrews 1 states, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Jesus Christ, the eternal Word and Son of the Father, is true God. He existed before all things and all things were created by Him.

II.

The Gospel text continues by stating that in the Word of God, in Jesus, was life. This life within Him was light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overtaken it. We have here a picture of the reality that we live in, a reality being crushed under the weight of sin. Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, is Light and Life, but there is also darkness. Darkness, of course, is the absence of light. In the same way, sin is the absence of things pleasing to God. In the beginning God created all things good. He created the earth and all things in it; He created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden. He gave them free will, and they used it against Him. Tempted by the Devil, Adam and Eve doubted God’s Word and rejected Light and Life.

God’s Word says that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The language the Holy Spirit uses says that the darkness tries to grab the light and make it its own, to possess it, and control it. The darkness doesn’t win, but it still tries. Isn’t that the nature of our sin? St. John describes it like this, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” John shows a distinct difference between the true light and everything else. The True Light was coming into the world, the world which He made, and yet it did not know Him. The Light of the World came to His own people, and they did not receive Him; instead, they preferred the darkness to the Light.

It’s easy to point fingers at history, at people who obviously preferred darkness; but you know the cliché – when you point a finger, three point back at you. Every one of us has been corrupted by sin. Every moment of every day it’s hiding in the corner, waiting for us to loosen up to catch us off guard; it’s even at work within our own bodies, driving us to do and think shameful things in pursuit of the desires of the flesh. Our natural inclination as human beings is to put ourselves first. We determine what we want. We determine what is right and wrong. We determine what is true and false, and we determine whether or not our truth applies to anyone outside ourselves. We are like the darkness that tries to overtake the light and claim it as our own. We are sinners and deserve the just rewards of our trespasses.

III.

The Gospel continues, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” On our own, we are nothing but darkness and sin. Jesus is Light and Life; we are not. The text says that the children of God are not those born of blood, nor of the will of flesh or of man, but those who are born by God’s will. St. Peter writes that those who are in Christ have been caused to be born again by the mercy of God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He says that those born again are not born of perishable seed, but imperishable, through the “living and abiding word of God.”

The natural person is darkness and doesn’t accept the things of God, but the children of God are made so by His action. As we learn in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” This is where the last verse of the Gospel comes in: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The eternal Word of God became flesh. He did this not by changing from God into man, but by bringing humanity up into Himself, becoming both fully God and fully man. The magnitude of human sin, the painful reality of death and decay, made this the only way. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. He lived among us, fulfilling God’s will perfectly, and then was crucified for our sins.

At His death, darkness and the Devil had one last hurrah, thinking that the darkness had overcome. But it didn’t. Christ burst triumphantly from the grave and now lives forever, having destroyed death itself. And now He dwells among us. Christ, the eternal Word of God, never changes. He never leaves, He never forsakes. Instead, He has come to dwell among us with His grace and truth, His free and plentiful forgiveness. In Him is life, and this life is the light of all mankind. Amen.

He Will Save His People from Their Sins

Text: Matthew 1:18-25

Tonight we gather together to celebrate the birth of the world’s savior, Jesus Christ. We’ve spent about the last month, the whole season of Advent, hearing the promises of the Messiah through the mouths of the prophets. We’ve heard the assurances of the Apostle Paul that the return of Christ is near, and we’ve heard the preaching of John the Baptist – that we are all sinners in need of repentance and salvation. All of these things, the hopes and fears of all the years, are met in Christ tonight. This evening we meet with joy and expectation knowing that the promises that God has made throughout all time now find their fulfilment in the birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God and existed before all time but, in order to save us, has now in our time taken upon Himself human flesh. He did this to be Immanuel, “God with us,” and to save us from our sins.

I.

Our text from St. Matthew’s Gospel begins by providing some background to the birth of Jesus so long ago. Matthew writes, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew is of course writing this after Jesus had ascended, but it’s important that he provides context for his hearers. Scholars say that Matthew wrote his gospel to proclaim to the Jewish people that Jesus is the messiah that they had long hoped for. They knew that the Messiah had to come as an offspring of Abraham, of the tribe of Judah, of the lineage of David – which is exactly what we find as Matthew traces the earthly genealogy of Jesus back 42 generations.

Now, in this list there is a mixture of both good and bad people. Many sermons will focus on that and show that God uses people who aren’t perfect for His perfect plan, and that’s true. But the important part in all this is that it shows us that God keeps His Word, even through 42 generations of sinful men.

But, now at the end of the line, something’s different. A young Mary is betrothed to Joseph, through whom Jesus is reckoned to be descended. Before they had come together she was found to be with child. This child had been conceived in her by the Holy Spirit. Joseph didn’t know that yet, and being a righteous man and not wanting to shame Mary, made up his mind to divorce her quietly. “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”

As just as Joseph may have been, he was still a human. What would you do if you found that your fiancé is pregnant, and you’ve been honoring the Lord and each other with your bodies as you prepare for marriage? He wanted to save Mary as much shame as he could, and so he wanted to proceed subtly. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, assuring him that it was okay to take Mary as his wife. The child conceived in her is not of man, but of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the child was a son, and His name is to be called Jesus. St. Peter speaks of this child before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Never in history has there been a more important name, a more important child. This child is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His name is Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

II.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” St. Matthew cuts right to the point of it all. This child, conceived by the Holy Spirit and soon to be born of the Virgin Mary, is what has been so long prophesied. This is a clear instance of the Scripture interpreting Scripture, showing that the text from Isaiah 7 is a reference to Jesus. Back then Ahaz was king of Judah. God assured him that though enemies were preparing to wage war against Jerusalem, he need not fear, for God is with them. As proof His promise, He told Ahaz to ask for a sign, but he refused. Therefore, the Lord Himself gave a sign: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son. This son shall be called Immanuel, God with us.

The prophecy has now reached its fulfilment. The child, the savior long hoped for, is now come. But He didn’t come just to be here, but to be with us. This child born of the Virgin Mary is all the power of God to save. He is born fully God and fully man, perfect in every way, so that He can save His people from their sins.

We mentioned Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus just a moment ago. It contains 42 generations, and every single generation, marred by the guilt of sin. Beginning with Abraham, who in various times doubted God’s Word and was yet declared righteous by faith, each succeeding generation was filled with the likeness of sinful man. King David was an adulterer, as well was King Solomon in addition to being an idolater. Each person in the list, a sinner. We are sinners, too.

Sure, we are here this evening, but how often do we find ourselves putting our desires above the needs of others, or pleasing ourselves rather than spending time before the Lord? We are quicker to praise ourselves and those around us than to pray a simple prayer for forgiveness to our Father in heaven. Tonight we gather to celebrate the impending birth of a baby boy, while still, in our country, too many are robbed of birth. These things, and many more, show that we are sinners, living in a sinful world wracked with the guilt of perpetual iniquity.

But, dear friends in Christ Jesus, this is exactly why He was born. He was born to be God with us. He made this possible by His perfect life – His fulfillment of God’s Law at every point, in place of our failures. This He made possible by His brutal suffering – taking what we deserve. This He made possible by His death on the cross – the eternal payment and atonement for our sins. By His death, He has removed the guilt of our trespasses. He won for us the forgiveness of sins. This forgiveness He freely and continually gives to us through His Word, in Holy Absolution, in the gift of Baptism, in His body and blood given to us from this altar. Scripture says that Jesus came to save sinners. This He does and He is true to His promise to never leave or forsake you.

As you depart this evening to be with your families, and as you celebrate tomorrow, you may know that in Christ, sins are forgiven. He is the promised Messiah, the Son of God, yet born of Mary. He was born to be God with us, your Immanuel. His name is Jesus, because, by His death, He saved us from our sins. Amen.