Monday, December 22, 2008

Sermon on Luke 1:26-38, for the 4th Sunday in Advent. "Jesus: the Forever-King"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. I want to draw your attention to a common theme between our Old Testament and Gospel readings today. The theme of God’s promise to establish a “house” for David. In order to make the connection more clear, I’m going to read the few verses that were left out, 2 Samuel 7:11-16:

“I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, 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. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

The sermon is based on this reading, and the Gospel from Luke 1, Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would conceive and give birth to a Son. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

2 Samuel 7 describes King David after God had given peace from his enemies. David was settled and secure in a palace of cedar, Israel was at peace, and he desired to build a house, a temple for the Lord—to replace the tabernacle, or tent of worship that had been used for about 400 years since the Exodus. God denied David’s request to build a house for the Lord. But He did say that after his death, God would establish a house for David. God was going to raise up one of David’s own physical descendants to not only build a house for the Lord’s name, like David wanted, but also to establish his “house” forever. As you can probably tell, the word “house” is being used in more than one sense here. David wanted to build a physical house, a temple, for the Lord. And his son Solomon eventually would build a physical temple for the Lord in Jerusalem.

But this wasn’t the house that God was promising to David. God was promising him that his own offspring would be established to rule on his throne forever. The word “house” was now being used in a figurative sense, to speak of the dynasty of David’s family. The family lineage that would rule on his throne. God promised that David’s house and his kingdom would endure forever before God, and his throne would be established forever. But how could an earthly kingdom and dynasty be established forever? Was God promising an eternal political rule for David’s family? Did He just mean a really, really long time? No, God said that it would be “forever before me.” The problem is that earthly kings always die, and political kingdoms don’t last. So how could even a family lineage be preserved forever? Even the political nation-state of Israel that exists today, can’t claim to be the succession of David’s throne. As a recent theologian wisely observed, “You can’t have a forever-kingdom, unless you’re a forever-person.”

And further, the house that God was establishing for David, wasn’t just for him, but it was to be a house for the name of the Lord. So when we fast-forward 1,000 years after David, to the Galilean countryside, in a tiny, despised town called Nazareth, we can begin to appreciate the significance of the angel Gabriel’s message to Mary. The angel Gabriel came to a godly young virgin, pledged to be married to an honest carpenter, both who were descended of the great family of David. But 1,000 years after the Golden Age of David and Solomon’s reign, there was no descendant of David ruling on the throne, and they were certainly not living in cedar palaces. And what does the angel Gabriel promise to this young virgin Mary, but that she’ll conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, and give birth to a son named Jesus, listen carefully—who the Lord God will give the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. She was to be the mother of the One through whom all of God’s promises to David would be kept. She carried those promises in her womb. She was to be the mother of the “forever-person” who’d be able to rule the “forever-kingdom” from the throne of His father David.

She wasn’t a queen or princess, or living in royal palaces, but to her, a humble virgin, would be given the high favor and honor of the Lord, to be mother to Jesus, the King who would take the throne of David. The significance of Gabriel’s message, was that God was fulfilling His promise to David, to establish his house forever, and to make it a house for the Lord’s name. Further, God was fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, that a virgin would conceive and give birth as a sign to the house of David. By choosing a descendant of David, God kept His promise that it’d be one of David’s own physical offspring that would rise to the throne. By performing the miracle of Jesus being divinely conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, God entered Himself into human flesh—a true forever-person, who could reign and establish David’s throne forever. And not just for David himself, but for the name of the Lord.

But Jesus, though presented with gifts for a King at His birth, didn’t become a political king, as so many anticipated. Nor did He grow up in wealthy palaces. He wasn’t placed on the throne by the loyal subjects of David, realizing that David’s heir had come to claim His throne. No, Jesus first had to pass through the ordeal of His arrest and mistreatment by the Jews and Roman authorities. He faced the scorn of His own people, His own subjects. He was rejected as a king, but mockingly given a crown of thorns, a reed for a scepter, and a purple robe. Flogged and bloody, He stood before the people while Pontius Pilate cried: “Behold, your King!” They shouted for His crucifixion. Pilate asked if he should crucify their king, and they said, “We have no king but Caesar.” A King whose subjects disowned Him, He was unceremoniously enthroned on a crude wooden cross; a sign affixed above His head, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

It was through this ordeal that Jesus would rise to His father David’s throne, because He bore this chastisement, this punishment, for the iniquity, the guilt of the people. He was truly called Great, and Son of the Most High, for this king bore the judgment of His own people. He took our scorn and guilt, so that He might be vindicated in His resurrection from the dead. Conquering such an evil death, He was exalted to the Highest Place, so that He’ll reign forever. His resurrection from the dead proved that He was a forever-person, that death had no hold on Him. So He’s worthy to be the Forever-King to rule on David’s throne. And of course if His throne is forever, that has implications for all of us. So why should it matter to us, what promises God made about establishing the house and throne of David, over 3,000 years ago? For one, Jesus’ rule as the Forever-King extends over us as well, and all humans are under His authority. And secondly, He invites us to become part of His “house,” members of the house of David, accepting by faith His reign over us, and obeying Him.

Jesus’ kingdom, as He told Pilate, wasn’t of this world. It was a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly or political kingdom. And His rule extends over all, so that at His coming, every knee shall bow. In our epistle reading this theme of eternal kingship comes out too, as Paul spoke of the gospel being proclaimed so that all nations might believe and obey him (Rom. 16:26). How is Jesus’ kingship and reign spread among us and throughout the world? It’s not by political force. It’s not by advancing armies of Christians into pagan lands and converting people at the point of the sword. It’s not by secluding ourselves from the outside world and forming insulated Christian communities that are protected from outside influence. It’s not by becoming Christian chameleons and blending into the surrounding culture. No, the kingdom of Jesus’ reign, the Son of the Most High, is advanced by the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, where it’s received in our hearts by faith. The Holy Spirit works the spread of this kingdom, within people’s hearts.

Here we see and follow the example of the virgin Mary, who upon hearing Gabriel’s great message of blessing, responded in faith: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” She expressed that she was a willing and loyal subject of the Lord, prepared to do His will. May we respond to Jesus’ reign in the same way. May we stand together as Christians, saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Knowing that whatever God has planned for our lives, it’ll work together for our good. Mary was given stunning news, that would seem inexplicable to many or all who heard it. She was asked to carry out a hard task, that involved self-sacrifice. But she willingly trusted herself to the reign of the King who would be born from her womb. She trusted the Son of the Most High, the King of a Forever-Kingdom. She accepted the difficulties of her task with the words: “May it be to me as you have said.”

God often calls us to difficult tasks and places. Life as a family provider isn’t easy in these economic times, trying to make ends meet. Life as person of responsibility over a school, preschool, church, business, or community group may present unique challenges, tests of character, stands of conviction, and honesty. Life as a student or youth isn’t easy in a time when authority isn’t respected, when pleasure and money seem more desirable than self-control and wisdom and education, and your character will be tested. Each of us have unique callings in life that present us with the chance to be a servant of the Lord, and to act with integrity and obedience to Him. To seek to follow His ways, trust His reign over us, and to be able to repent and seek His forgiveness when we know we’ve failed. May we accept the difficulties of our task with the faith-filled statement: “May it be to me as you have said.”

To speak those words isn’t just to accept the hardship of life, but it’s also to receive His blessing, just as for Mary. For as she accepted the Lord’s will for her to bear the Son of the Most High, the Forever-King Jesus, she also received the Forever-Kingdom that He was bringing into the world. By faith, she became part of God’s working of salvation, to bring the reign of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation, and rest from our enemies of sin, death, and the devil. So when we speak those words: “May it be to me as you have said”—we’re acknowledging Jesus’ kingdom coming among us, with His same forgiveness and salvation. He works for our good, because He’s a just and merciful King. For us who stand in His kingdom, who’re members of His house, we are truly “highly favored,” by the grace of God. And we can wait in confidence and joyful expectation for His Second Advent, and the full realization of His reign over the New Heavens and Earth of His Forever-Kingdom. Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
1. How did Jesus rise to the glory of His eternal throne?
2. How are we part of the “house of David?”
3. What was the only way that God’s promise to establish a forever kingdom could be fulfilled?
4. How is Jesus’ reign exhibited in your life?
5. In what ways is His reign tested in your life?

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