First Sunday in Advent
December 2, 2018
“Who Is King?”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Do you know what this is? I see that the smartest among us was able to identify it as a Crock-Pot. You’re wrong. This is a marriage destroyer. Yes. This wonderful little thing designed to have your soup or chili ready when you walk in the door after a long day at work is actually a device that will wreck your home. I know. It almost ruined mine.
Marilyn and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage this coming summer. But because of this thing we almost didn’t see past 5. One Christmas I had to think long and hard about what the perfect gift for her should be. Jewelry? Clothes? Lotions? Chocolate? Perfume? But that year I went to Sears. I got her a Crock-Pot. I knew that she would love it. It would take the stress out of life – at least that is what the commercials promised. But at the moment she opened it I think it added a little stress to our marriage. It is a miracle that we even had any more kids after that Christmas gift.
I did it wrong. And I knew it right away. Doing Christmas right is not so easy. I bet I’m not the only guy who has messed up on getting a gift that they thought was actually a good one that wasn’t. Doing Christmas right is hard. We want to get the right present. We want the party to be memorable. We want to get the letter or the cards out on time. Don’t burn the cookies, right? The list of doing an entire month right is a little much.
Today begins the season of Advent. We have a whole month, 4 Sundays, 4 candles on the Advent wreath, to try to get things right. But the right that we talk about here is not about the externals of the season, the gifts and parties, cards and cooking, but the internals of the heart. “Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty – he is the King of glory.” (Psalm 24:7-10)
A number of commentators think that Psalm 24 was written after David had rescued the Ark of the Covenant, Israel’s holiest piece of furniture from their enemies and was returning it to Jerusalem. As it entered the city God’s elect would say, “Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” God had come to His people. He again was their King.
This is an Advent psalm because of what we celebrate at Christmas. Immanuel, God with us, is with us. Jesus, God in flesh, was not content staying in heaven but He came to dwell with us. Isaiah’s urgent appeal made of God, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1a) was answered.
How do we get ready? How do we do this right? Psalm 24 talks about how to get ready for God’s arrival, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.” (Psalm 24:3-4)
Do you want to do this Christmas thing right? Do you want December 24 and 25 to mean something great and lasting and even eternal? The something has to happen in here – in our heart. If our heads are going to be lifted up in faith and praise to God for Jesus coming as the true King, then our soul, first, has to bow down in humility.
I’ve read the whole Bible but it wasn’t until a study about this Advent psalm that I read about the significance of Psalm 15 for a true and ready heart. It is a short psalm but is quite clear about matters of the heart. I’d like you to read it with me. It is found on page 561 in your pew Bibles. Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.
Waiting for the King of glory to come calls for a pure and right heart. Doing Christmas right begins rather deep – evaluating the soul. It means repentance over sin, sorrow over self, and looking for a better way to live. In our Elder’s meeting this past Tuesday we were talking about having Pastor Mike Paulison with us last Sunday. Pastor Mike doesn’t like to be in this cage (pulpit). He is a walker. He is about twice as tall as me, and I’m sure he was going to hit his head on the eternal light. And the Elder’s said that they couldn’t fall asleep when he was preaching. He walked right toward them, looked at them when he spoke and it appeared that he wanted them to answer his questions. They noted that he was quite direct in his preaching. Well, God is quite direct about how He wants us to be. “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous…”
Do you know who does Christmas right? God does. Christmas is not complicated but it rather simple. Quite humble. Quiet. Micah the prophet speaks of His coming in this way, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2) It is true that our Savior is King, He is the King of glory. And as King of glory every one bows to Him. But at His birth “she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7) He is King of the humble and lowly and needy and of sinners. He comes to our level and experiences our sorrow and loss and pain and trouble. He is so much more than a King who is great and mighty, He is King who is compassionate and caring.
When Paul begins to talk about the greatness of Christ, the King, he says of Him, “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)
Do you know who can do Christmas right? We can. (Just keep me out of Sears, right?) Psalm 24 the phrase “lift up his soul” is used. The Lutheran Study Bible says of this phrase, “An expression meaning to trust, dedicate your life, or worship something. The true worshiper lifts his soul to God alone.” (Page 866)
We look to our King alone. We see His greatness, we seek Him alone, we come with a humble heart, we want to get our life in a right order, we want to do the will of God in all ways. And then we live in a trust, a faith in Jesus. We lift up our soul to Him. We do Christmas right, we do Advent right, we do life right, because our God has done all things right and we always look to Him. In the epistle for today in I Thessalonians this benediction concludes the reading, “May he strengthen your hearts so that you may be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” (3:13)
Getting things wrong for Christmas stinks. We want all the gift giving and gatherings and greetings to go well. Getting things wrong in our soul concerning Christmas and the faith in Christ, our King, is much worse. True repentance and a true life are necessary. Following God’s will for our life must be our will. Lifting up our soul to Him is our only hope.
“Lift up you heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” He has come. We invite Him to come again. Who is King? Christ is King. Christ is our King. Amen!!